The show’s organisers are the Royal Horticultural Society. Prior to the move to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea for the 1913 show, Spring shows had been held in Kensington, The Temple Gardens in The City and in Chiswick since 1862. Some articles confusingly refer to 1912 being the first year at Chelsea, the 1912 show was the one-off Royal International Horticultural Show. It demonstrated the suitability of the venue leading to the move from The Temple.
The Chelsea Flower Show is officially The Great Spring Show. Three companies; McBean’s Orchids, Blackmore & Langdon and Kelways Plants, present in 1913 are still exhibiting today. Apart from the war years, it has been held every year since.
Overcrowding during the 1980’s became so severe that alternative venues were considered. Instead they set a maximum admissions of 157,000. Other shows have been developed to meet demand, significantly The Hampton Court Show bought by the RHS in 1993 and now larger than Chelsea. In 2014 it grew from 4 days to 5. Two days are for RHS members only.
In about 30 days, 800 workers transform the 11 acres of grassland to a small town. Main Avenue houses a Chelsea Flower Show highlight, the main show gardens. Exhibiting here requires big budget sponsors. These were thin on the ground in 2017 resulting in only 8 designs. Top designers from around the world compete for the prestige of being here.
Designs vary widely, the 2017 winning garden was influenced by a disused limestone quarry in Malta, a controversial choice. Others are more traditional. Some gardens find new homes up and down the country.
The Great Pavillion
Today’s fine structure took over from the former giant marquee in 2001, it covers nearly 3 acres, a significant proportion of the show. The old tent material found it’s way into bags and aprons. For floral displays, this is the place to be. Around 100 exhibitors painstakingly plan to achieve perfection hoping for a prestigious gold medal.
Shopping and Eating
Find the latest gadgets for your garden. Catering ranges for snacks to fine dining.
The BBC covers the show nightly. Most national newspapers cover it, the Daily Telegraph is a regular garden sponsor.
- Around 500 exhibitors
- Over 10,000 glasses of champagne
- Hillier nurseries have the record for gold medal wins
- In 1927, campaigners tried to ban foreign exhibitors
- Heavy rain in 1932 led to damage
- 500 buses can fit in the Grand Pavillion
- The 2018 show starts on 22nd May