Chelsea Flower Show - A History by Emma Cowlam

Photo by NICK FEWINGS
Photo by NICK FEWINGS

Photo by NICK FEWINGS

Photo by NICK FEWINGS

REFLECTIONS ON THE RISE OF THE MOST FAMOUS FLOWER SHOW ON EARTH FROM ITS HUMBLE HORTICULTURAL BEGINNINGS.

The Great Spring Show, later to become known as the Chelsea Flower Show, began on 20th May 1913 as a 3 day event in a single tent in the now vanished RHS garden in Kensington.  The outbreak of World War One paused the show in 1917/18 when compulsory conscription began and many RHS staff members were called to war.  Naturally, there was a feeling that ornamental gardening was an inappropriate indulgence.  When the show re-commenced in 1919, the government demanded the RHS pay an Entertainment Tax for the show, threatening post-war Chelsea.  Thankfully, this was wavered by the RHS convincing the government the show had educational benefits.

 

In the 1920s Chelsea expanded into a collection of specific tents which included roses, pictures, scientific exhibits and garden design displays.  In the late 1920s, two residents of Chelsea, the Countess of Lovelace and Jacqueline Hope, held tea parties for celebrities and titled guests to mark the show.

 

Rock gardens became the most popular feature of the show in the 1930s and drew large crowds.  The show’s programme evolved in 1932 with Tuesday becoming the iconic judging day and the day for royal visits.  In 1939 the ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign became the RHS focus, discontinuing the show until 1947.  The first show after World War 2 was hailed a triumph, in a determined effort to keep flying the flag for British horticulture.

 

REFLECTIONS ON THE RISE OF THE MOST FAMOUS FLOWER SHOW ON EARTH FROM ITS HUMBLE HORTICULTURAL BEGINNINGS.

The Great Spring Show, later to become known as the Chelsea Flower Show, began on 20th May 1913 as a 3 day event in a single tent in the now vanished RHS garden in Kensington.  The outbreak of World War One paused the show in 1917/18 when compulsory conscription began and many RHS staff members were called to war.  Naturally, there was a feeling that ornamental gardening was an inappropriate indulgence.  When the show re-commenced in 1919, the government demanded the RHS pay an Entertainment Tax for the show, threatening post-war Chelsea.  Thankfully, this was wavered by the RHS convincing the government the show had educational benefits.

 

In the 1920s Chelsea expanded into a collection of specific tents which included roses, pictures, scientific exhibits and garden design displays.  In the late 1920s, two residents of Chelsea, the Countess of Lovelace and Jacqueline Hope, held tea parties for celebrities and titled guests to mark the show.

 

Rock gardens became the most popular feature of the show in the 1930s and drew large crowds.  The show’s programme evolved in 1932 with Tuesday becoming the iconic judging day and the day for royal visits.  In 1939 the ‘Dig For Victory’ campaign became the RHS focus, discontinuing the show until 1947.  The first show after World War 2 was hailed a triumph, in a determined effort to keep flying the flag for British horticulture.

 

PHOTO by FOUNDRY Co

PHOTO by FOUNDRY Co.

PHOTO by MAN CHUNG

PHOTO by MAN CHUNG

PHOTO by AUGUSTIN MOLINA

PHOTO by AUGUSTIN MOLINA

PHOTO by FOUNDRY Co

PHOTO by FOUNDRY Co.

PHOTO by MAN CHUNG

PHOTO by MAN CHUNG

PHOTO by AUGUSTIN MOLINA

PHOTO by AUGUSTIN MOLINA

When Queen Elizabeth II came to the thrown in 1952 she was made the patron of the RHS and made her first visit to Chelsea in 1955.  Significantly the show’s collection of tents was replaced by a single marquee.  Bigger than anything seen before at 1.5 hectares and supported by 278 tent posts, it spent years in the Guinness book of records.   

 

The 1960s decade was celebrated at Chelsea with the largest display of orchids ever staged at the show - 5000 square feet!  The popularity of rock gardens dwindled, replaced by an affection for tree and shrub gardens.  Trends in horticultural design come and go with Chelsea being the place to discover the next best thing.  

 

The rise of the celebrity gardener culture we know today became significant in the 1970s.  Legendary 'plantswoman' Beth Chatto made her first appearance at the show in 1976, presenting gold medal winning gardens consecutively for a decade from 1977.  With the show’s popularity ever increasing, admissions had to be prevented for the first time in the show’s history in 1979 to prevent overcrowding.

 

When Queen Elizabeth II came to the thrown in 1952 she was made the patron of the RHS and made her first visit to Chelsea in 1955.  Significantly the show’s collection of tents was replaced by a single marquee.  Bigger than anything seen before at 1.5 hectares and supported by 278 tent posts, it spent years in the Guinness book of records.   

 

The 1960s decade was celebrated at Chelsea with the largest display of orchids ever staged at the show - 5000 square feet!  The popularity of rock gardens dwindled, replaced by an affection for tree and shrub gardens.  Trends in horticultural design come and go with Chelsea being the place to discover the next best thing.  

 

The rise of the celebrity gardener culture we know today became significant in the 1970s.  Legendary 'plantswoman' Beth Chatto made her first appearance at the show in 1976, presenting gold medal winning gardens consecutively for a decade from 1977.  With the show’s popularity ever increasing, admissions had to be prevented for the first time in the show’s history in 1979 to prevent overcrowding.

 

CONTEMPORARY FLOWER GARDEN ORNAMENT

CONTEMPORARY FLOWER GARDEN ORNAMENT

 

CONTEMPORARY FLOWER GARDEN ORNAMENT

CONTEMPORARY FLOWER

GARDEN ORNAMENT

 

The much talked about, show-stopping conceptual gardens expressing a theme arrived in the 1990s.  This started the trend for gardeners to experiment with ever more daring designs.  A big change came to Chelsea in the 2000s with the removal of the old marquee.  It’s remains were recycled into 7000 handbags, jackets and aprons!  It was replaced by a pavilion. Gardeners experimented with ever more daring designs. 

 

From 2010 edible gardens became the in thing and in 2016 'Jardin Blanc' was unveiled at Chelsea, with Raymond Blanc pioneering a revolution in the show’s catering options.     In 2020 the show went digital for the first time, delivering inspirational articles, informative videos created by designers, judges and plant experts to millions of people in the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic. 

 

Today Chelsea is ranked number one in the hierarchy of flower shows and possesses an unrivalled status as the premier event in horticulture in Britain and beyond. 

 

Our designer Michelle finds much inspiration for Fox & Chave’s silk tie and scarf collections in flowers and horticulture.  This week we are looking forward to indulging in the glamour of Chelsea 2022, show-stopping horticulture, world class gardens, glorious floristry and innovative exhibits. 

The much talked about, show-stopping conceptual gardens expressing a theme arrived in the 1990s.  This started the trend for gardeners to experiment with ever more daring designs.  A big change came to Chelsea in the 2000s with the removal of the old marquee.  It’s remains were recycled into 7000 handbags, jackets and aprons!  It was replaced by a pavilion. Gardeners experimented with ever more daring designs. 

 

From 2010 edible gardens became the in thing and in 2016 'Jardin Blanc' was unveiled at Chelsea, with Raymond Blanc pioneering a revolution in the show’s catering options.     In 2020 the show went digital for the first time, delivering inspirational articles, informative videos created by designers, judges and plant experts to millions of people in the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic. 

 

Today Chelsea is ranked number one in the hierarchy of flower shows and possesses an unrivalled status as the premier event in horticulture in Britain and beyond. 

 

Our designer Michelle finds much inspiration for Fox & Chave’s silk tie and scarf collections in flowers and horticulture.  This week we are looking forward to indulging in the glamour of Chelsea 2022, show-stopping horticulture, world class gardens, glorious floristry and innovative exhibits. 


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