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.
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 ...
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.
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).
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” ...
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.
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.
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 sculpture ‘The 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
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