Thursday 23 May 2013

Chelsea Flower Show celebrates its centenary ... a potted history

The century has not passed without incident: three Kings, one Queen, two world wars, a man on the moon, social changes and vast technological leaps that have seen pen and paper be replaced by smartphones, styluses and/or ipad ...

The Royal Horticultural Society’s roots can be found in the ‘Chiswick Fêtes’ of the late 1820s.  Then there was the Great Spring Show in 1862 at the Society’s gardens in Kensington. 

International Horticultural Exhibitions were staged to showcase the Victorian nurserymen and plant hunters range of plants.

After trialling the IHE’s Spring Show at the Chelsea Hospital Grounds in 1912 – this became the Society’s permanent annual Show home ...

In 1913 there were 244 exhibitors within the single tent covering two acres, while outside there were 17 gardens.

Wisteria pergola
Japanese dwarf trees made an appearance, now known as the art form bonsai, new varieties of Wisteria were lusted over ... American cacti were exhibited in 1929 against a painted backdrop depicting the Mojave Desert.  (The exhibit remained here and is now absorbed into the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew).

Extra omnibii and trams were scheduled for the route to the hospital – while some local residents complained about the noise and traffic ...

Premier Events ... 'flower tea-time'
Lunch menus were in French, afternoon teas were priced at 1s 2d (one shilling and two pence) ... and an enterprising ‘barrow boy’ was said to have enjoyed a roaring trade in notebooks and pens ...

Royalty has always graced Chelsea .. and their passion for horticulture shows no signs of abating ... Prince Charles having famously revealed he ‘talks to plants and trees’ ...

... now in 2013 Prince Harry has worked with a landscape designer to create the ‘Forget Me Not’ Garden, which is raising awareness for his African charity, Sentebale (Forget Me Not’) ...

... highlights of the garden include a hearts-and-crown motif that Princess Diana loved and the Trifolium repens ‘William’ plant (pasture clover).

Sentebale, the charity, aims to ‘help vulnerable, children, the forgotten victims of poverty and Lesotho’s HIV/AIDS epidemic’.

The cream teas, the sudden showers, the panama hats; few events on our green and pleasant isle seem quite as quintessentially English as the Chelsea Flower Show.

And yet, few fixtures in the UK calendar can rival Chelsea for international flavour.  Any visitor will find themselves ‘transported’ to diverse destinations – whether they be the balmy tropics of Grenada’s rainforest, a rocky lagoon landscape in Corsica, or a cottage garden in New England.

Such exotic exhibits are not, by any means, a recent addition to Chelsea.  There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the early pioneers of the show were just as keen for foreign flowers to be in bloom under English skies.

In 1927, campaigners trying to protect the interests of British companies asked the RHS to boycott exhibits from overseas – a firm rebuttal was issued, with the words “Horticulture knows nothing of nationality”!

The Royal Horticultural Society also knows ‘nowt about gnomes’ ... not beloved, not wanted, not admitted, ruled against ... but this year the RHS has relented, in a way!  A gnome amnesty has been called for the first time in its history.
Entering into the gnome spirit

Gnomes have made an appearance at the Show.  The white gnomes have been decorated by artists and celebrities – and will then be auctioned off on ebay in aids of the RHS’s Campaign for School Gardening.

The Show  in 11 acres has grown to more than 500 exhibitors from around the world, including 15 show gardens, eight artisan gardens and 11 fresh gardens (see what happens when top designers set their imaginations free: outlandish, outrageous, colourful and controversial, these gardens are guaranteed to fascinate). 

Delphiniums and Begonias from
Blackmore and Langdon
There are some 150 exhibits in the Great Pavilion, predominantly from nurseries and florists, and almost 250 trade stands across the site.

Three floral exhibitors, who exhibited at the first show in 1913, will be on display in the floral pavilion: McBean’s Orchids, Blackmore +Langdon (delphiniums and begonias), and Kelways (peonies and irises): with stunning stands ...

Kelways, as designers, plant growers and suppliers, have also been involved with 11 stands including the Australian “Trailfinders Garden” (best in Show) and the Best Fresh Garden being awarded to “After the Fire” ...
An orchid from McBean's Orchids,
outside Lewes, Sussex

Gardens being featured raise awareness in our society ...

  • The Food and Environment Research Agency garden will highlight the threat that British trees and plants face from harmful imported pests and diseases and the adverse impact of invasive non-native species;
  • The Massachusetts Garden is inspired by the works of poet Emily Dickinson;  apparently Emily, during her lifetime, was known more widely as a gardener, perhaps, than as a poet;
  • The Wasteland Garden – an existing derelict urban space transformed into a garden using lots of waste materials;
  • After the Fire: Cancer Research Garden;
  • Arthritis Research Garden – reflects the personal journey and emotions of someone with arthritis;  Chris Beardshaw the garden-designer tells his story here ...
  • First Look: The SeeAbility Garden addresses the issue of sight loss.
  • H2O: Royal Bank of Canada’s roof garden (Professor Dunnett had masterminded the Olympic Park arena) aims to highlight urban water management.  It’s an urban rooftop garden, integrating recreational space with innovative biodiversity and habitat features.
  • Trailfinders Australian Garden – won the best in show – an off-grid garden made using recycled water ...
  • A celebratory centenary concert, hosted with Opera Holland Park, will be held within the RHS Chelsea showground.
  • The RHS Lindley Library will plot the history of the show with an exhibition of historical photographs, and others being shown throughout the showground.
Primula Auricula Silverway
Brigitte Daniel
 - print held
in Lindley Library

The preparation for the event runs in a 15 month cycle, and so before this year’s centenary Show opened, the plans for 2014 are already on the drawing board.

While the 161,000 visitors stream through the gates on the five days, two reserved for members, the last three are when the public can come in, while the Monday is Royal and invitation only day ...

The set up takes 25 days, and will be taken apart in only eleven days: returning the site to the way it was found – some mean feat.

Chelsea embodies an important human endeavour – that of working with plants for the enrichment and sustenance of the earth, our lifeblood  ...

The RHS mission statement includes ‘to encourage excellent in horticulture and inspire all those with an interest in gardening’ – an ongoing legacy.


Marc Quinn sculpture
Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show 2013

The Lindley Library, London 

The Daily Mail RHS Chelsea article – they have also produced a souvenir edition, from which much of this information came from.

The Guardian – Gnomes at Chelsea
ParamountPlants – Marc Quinn sculpture
RHS –Marc Quinn’s Flower sculptureThe Rush of Nature’ will be auctioned by Sotheby’s to help raise funds for the next generation of horticulturalists.

Chris Beardshaw should now be in a wheelchair - arthritis article in The Express

My July 2009 historical post on the acceptance of plants into urban living – pre Chelsea

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I bet it's really beautiful. And smells good. Not dressing as a gnome though.

Manzanita said...

This must be the most spectacular sight, ever. 11 acres.... you couldn't possible see everything, even in the 3 days for the public. How I'd love to be there and breath in the exotic fragrances.

Mike Goad said...

That must be beautiful and interesting. We've never really been to a major garden show, but have visited a few really wonderful gardens.

Chatty Crone said...

I have never heard of this - but it would be worth going there just to see that!

Those flowers were breath taking and I love the little gnomes.

Love, sandie

Denise Covey said...

I was so proud when the Aussies won for their Trailblazer garden...who better to know how to conserve water? Wonderful history Hilary.


Optimistic Existentialist said...

That Delphiniums and Begonias exhibit looks AMAZING!!!

Anonymous said...

I've bookmarked this one to savor! Such beautiful gardens. And yes, what an amazing century, the 20th century. The good, the bad, the good... There really is so much to cheer, so much to enjoy. We CAN choose the kind of world we want to live in. Can choose to be positive. Can "Choose to Shine." A gorgeous post, dear friend. Jen loves it, too. She's big on smiley faces! (Don't worry about reciprocating on my blog. I haven't blogged in almost five months. I don't know if I'll be able to start up again. I just keep in touch with some of my best friends, stop by their blogs occasionally to see what they're doing. I smile every time I visit you. Just wish I could do it in person! Someday, maybe.... :) ((( )))

Betsy Brock said...

Beautiful! I should put this on my bucket list!

Those gnomes crack me up! ha.

Michelle Wallace said...

From Japanese dwarf trees to bonsai... wonder how they arrived at that word?
The delphiniums and begonias are beautiful!
And that Marc Quinn sculpture is stunning...!

Writer In Transit

Jo said...

I lived a kick and a spit from Kew Gardens and passed Chelsea all the time and in all the years I lived in London I never went to either the show or the Gardens, I can't imagine why not, I always wanted to. Have you actually been Hilary? I bet the three public days get very crowded.


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Alex - it is an incredible show - way too much to see, but fun .. and no I wouldn't have dressed as a gnome either!

@ Manzanita - you are certainly so right there .. getting round, negotiating the crowds .. is hectic. It is an extraordinary Show to visit .. and the floral pavilion's fragrance is to die for!!

@ Mike - I haven't been to another Show .. and there are now quite a few around the country - but this is the creme de la creme of them. Gardens too are gorgeous ...

@ Sandie - it's a very British thing - but a definite in our lives, when we had the chance to visit. I'm afraid I'm not that keen on gnomes, but many are ...

@ Denise - yes ... the Aussies were over the moon for their awards - and they seem to have produced an amazing garden complete with Billabong spring pool ...

@ Keith - all the flowers are extraordinary .. I was taken aback by the Orchid .. and the nursery is a few miles away - I think I'd better go!

@ Ann - how lovely to see you and am so pleased Jen found the last post fun to look at, and I know she loves plants ... and I'm sure the gnomes.

Choose to Shine - we can all do that too .. if we choose to ... I loved your blog, but understand your circumstances and feelings .. I think of you.

@ Betsy - oh yes - you'd love the Show .. and do put it on your bucket list ... but the gnomes won't be there again til 3013 comes up!

@ Michelle - bonsai is fairly easy = 'bon' = a tray or low-sided pot, while 'sai' is a planting or planting .. it's a Japanese art form used for growing miniature trees in containers.

The lupin stand was amazing .. I wish I'd found a picture of those .. but I love delphiniums and the begonias .. their stand looked incredible.

The Marc Quinn sculpture is stunning as you say - the link takes you through to how he made it ..

@ Jo - I think that happens to all of us .. we don't 'do' the things on our doorstep .. but museums, gardens, exhibitions etc are so much more accessible now and user friendly ...

I've been to Chelsea a few times as a Member .. but never on the public days .. way too hairy scary as everyone is 'running around' .. and the plants get sold on the last day ... very scary! I've been to Kew recently .. and need to visit again - to see the botanical drawings ...

Cheers everyone .. lovely seeing you .. Hilary

Romance Reader said...

Thanks for such an interesting and insightful post and alll the photos.


JoJo said...

Beautiful! I have such a brown thumb...I love looking at and taking pics of flowers but I can't grow them. We need a garden gnome for our yard though.

A Lady's Life said...

This was a fun post with all the flowers and gnomes.
Perfect for spring. :)

Juliet said...

The logistics of setting up the Chelsea Flower show are amazing. I can never understand how horticulturalists can bear the tension of creating such beauty from such ephemeral and unpredictable raw materials. Not for me; words are much more malleable.
Thanks for another lively post, Hilary.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, Hilary. What a beautiful event this must be. All the different flowers, trees, and greenery.

TALON said...

Hilary, I'd be in seventh heaven! How gorgeous. And I love the messages that can be conveyed through the beauty of plants.

Amanda Trought said...

I am hoping to visit this year, I have always planned to get there but never got round to it. The Peonies are another one of my favourite flowers, I had managed to grow some many years ago but they didn't survive past 5 years. Have a great weekend.

Laura Eno said...

The gnomes! How wonderful - both the small ones and the human variety. It sounds like an extraordinary show...I think of English gardens as the top of the chain, so it's even more amazing to have so many international entries showcased as well. Although, I really don't understand some people's rabid appreciation for cacti.
It's nice to hear of Prince Harry becoming involved in charities and gardens like his mum.

Rosalind Adam said...

This is one show that I'd love to go to. One day I will! I'm watching it on the TV as I write this. There's an advantage to doing it this way. I get to be taken into all the show gardens and I don't get wet when it rains.

Silvia Writes said...

Wow, Hilary, these are just amazingly beautiful places. I'm looking at the Marc Quinn sculpture as I type this and can't even begin to say how beautiful it is in that shot. Must be spectacular in person, like all the rest.

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,

Well you got be totally engrossed with this posting. The Chelsea Flower Show and gnomes. Having been born in Chelsea just off the King's Road and fairly near "The World's End Pub", this one resonates with me. Thank you!

And here's hoping for some decent weather over the weekend and get some of my own gardening done. Like actually mowing the lawn would be good.


scarlett clay said...

I'd be there in a second if I lived over there!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Nas - the Shows are so beautiful .. glad you enjoyed the post ..

@ JoJo - my green fingers have never really been given rein .. so I could join you in the brown thumb corner! I hope you find a colourful gnome soon ... and brighten up your yard - someone to talk to too!!

@ A Lady's Life - delighted you enjoyed the history .. thank you and if we had Spring - it would be perfect .. but we await it!

@ Juliet - the entrants seem to enjoy the challenge and this year ... it was definitely a challenge - the plants are about a month behind! Then they have to match previous entries and achieve ..

But I agree the stress .. yet, they're younger than us! I love seeing what comes out .. and perhaps you're right words are more malleable .. and long lasting .. delighted you enjoyed the post.

@ Susanne - it's part of the things to do each summer .. especially for gardeners, designers ... the full 'feel' is via the tv .. it has lots of visitors!

@ Talon - it's a wonderful Show to visit .. and yes the messages via flowers/plants - continue on that long tradition through the centuries.

@ Amanda - sadly I think you'll have to add it to next year's 'to do' list ... the Peonies are just lovely .. I used to buy fluffy pink ones for my mother and she always appreciated them. How sad .. the peonies I've known (deep red ones) were there in the garden and just grew .. but I'm not green fingered ..

@ Laura - the gnomes: once in a centenary! The national gardens are usually stunning ... especially those in the floral pavilion and really showcase each country.

We each have our own tastes don't we ... I'm not sure if I'd prefer cacti over your Death and Chronos stories!! Cacti produce wonderful flowers and can survive incredibly arid conditions ...

Prince Harry is certainly doing his bit for charities .. and highlighting peoples who need much support, as did Diana.

@ Ros - glad the RHS Chelsea is on your list .. the tv certainly shows the plants off so well, and we get to find out their names, also as you say we don't get frozen or soaked in the process ... we see more on tv as people don't get in the way!

@ Silvia - the gardens are always so interesting to look at. The Marc Quinn sculpture has shown me an artist, whom I hadn't heard of .. and I certainly hope a great deal of money is raised.

The link takes you to a short video on how the sculpture has been made ...

@ Gary - how fun to find out it is your home territory (or was) .. "The World's End Pub" is well known and still resonates with characters ... glad it takes you back to those early days.

Today looks hopeful down here .. some sun, clear skies - yet the wind is still blowing! Enjoy getting out and about ...

@ Scarlett - would love to see you here ... I can imagine you'd have lots of inspiration here ...

Thanks and lovely to see you all - have a peaceful Memorial weekend - cheers Hilary

Julia Hones said...

Gardens are therapeutic... I wonder if those peonies have a scent and what kind of scent. I love their color. Beautiful post and stunning pictures, Hilary.

Rhonda Albom said...

Sounds amazing, beautiful and fragrant. Loved Alex's comment about not dressing as a gnome.

loverofwords said...

Sigh, we don't have anything like that here in Colorado, too cold and too dry. Another reason to visit the UK. I did check your blog archive and read about Kipling's home, both posts. I think you should call your blog "The University of Hilary." I always learn so much. Now I want to learn more about Kipling's Hookah.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

This sounds absolutely glorious! And I love the comment about horticulture knowing nothing of nationalities. Taking in all that beauty at one time must be quite a sensory overload, though. (But I'd be willing to risk it!)

Martha said...

How gorgeous and amazing! I especially love the Wisteria pergola photo.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Julia .. gardens are just lovely aren't they .. and totally therapeutic - those these are slightly frenzied.

The pink peonies I bought for my mother had a lovely scent - quite gentle .. not sure I can describe it exactly! Good to see you ..

@ Rhonda - well a place you could visit now you're back travelling again ..

@ LoW - sorry that you can't get to see this or something similar .. but it'd be great to see you here.

Delighted you read the Kipling posts - they tied in so well with your Memorial Day post 2013 .. very sad times for Kipling and his wife.

Perhaps it's something I can do when I next visit Batemans - check on his Hookah ... could open up a den of mind bends ...

@ Susan - the Show requires stamina - but just to experience all its glory is so well worth a visit.

I loved that note about "horticulture knowing nothing of nationalities" - says much and should be considered by many today.

@ Martha - each year they produce wonders .. the designs are extraordinary .. and I loved that Wisteria pergola picture -and wanted to include it - especially as the Wisteria has just come out now.

Cheers to you all ... and hope you can enjoy some gardening and sun this Bank Holiday .. Hilary

Diana Wilder said...

I had to come back for a second sip of the wonderful photos and the text. I love the comment made in response to the push to ban any non-UK submissions. This beautiful world of horticulture is indeed, united, and beauty knows no bounds. Now to sip my tea and eye the photos again...
Diana at About myself, by myself…

Anonymous said...

The gnome spirit? Awesome!
In Medias Res

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Great photos and especially meaningful this year as my mom & sister visited the Chelsea FS last Wednesday.Except for the wet and cold and GAZILLION people they thoroughly enjoyed, the orchid "tree" in (I think) the Singapore (or was it Malaysia - can't remember they told us so much in our facetime chat!)display was their favourite.

Glynis Peters said...

I suspect mother will have me visit next year, as she loves the show. I bet it is great fun, and beautiful.

You have been tagged by the way.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Diana - that's lovely to know you've had a second visit .. the world of horticulture is becoming united - particularly with the seed banks around the world .. I hope you enjoyed your tea looking at the floral views.

@ Milo - gnome spirit this year, banned next!

@ Judy - I'm so pleased they enjoyed their visit .. it is crowded even on members' days ..

The Asian display in the floral pavilion featured often on the tv - I can't remember which country it was - having checked I think it was Thailand ..

Delighted you were able to chat to your sister and mother after their visit - there are lots of advantages of the internet!

@ Glynis - ah! something to look forward to!! It is so busy .. but well worth a visit ... wearing walking shoes!

Thanks for the tag - now where do I go!!

Cheers to you all - lovely bank holiday day here so far .. Hilary

Tina said...

Now I don't know which I want to go to first, Chelsea or Cornwall...sigh. You really make these places enticing! I can almost smell the flowers from here!
Tina @ Life is Good

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tina .. Cornwall is there all the time, Chelsea happens once a year for a few days .. both are wonderful! See you at both then?! Cheers Hilary

Mark Koopmans said...

Aloha Hilary,

I tried to leave a comment via my smart phone, but I think it's me that's the dumb one:)

Anyhow, thanks for another action-packed post!

I so wish I had of made Cornwall in the three years ('93 to '95) that I lived in good ol' Blighty (wot!) :)

Thanks for a fun, informative read - as always - and Tally Ho, old bean :)

(Sorry, I'm doing some research for WIP#2, so I may have to hit you up for some advice one day - if that's OK :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mark .. well this one came through! Glad you enjoyed the history of Chelsea flower show.

Sorry you didn't get down to Cornwall, but there's so much to see in this little island.

Well I sure hope I can help with your research .. I'll do my best - cheers to you and Tally Ho Old Bean to you .. and your small beans! Hilary