Introducing the Chelsea Flower Show

 Demand for the New Zealand garden and other show gardens in the Rock Garden Bank necessitated two viewing lanes. We took the slow lane.
Helping Gardeners Move with the times

The Chelsea Flower Show has its roots in a Kensington Garden in 1862 when it was known as the RHS Great Spring Show. Fifty years later, the show moved to its current location at the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. The Chelsea Flower Show is the flagship event in the UK gardening calendar and is the start of the RHS Big Three - Chelsea, Hampton Court and Tatton.

The show was a mere three days long until 1925 when it changed to its current five-day format. There is talk of an extra day being added next year to cater to the increased demand for tickets. In the days leading up to the show the site is a frenzy of activity. Check the time-lapse web cameras of Chelsea 2003 to see what five days of flower show compressed into one minute looks like.

The Chelsea Flower Show Gala Dinner

Work continues on some of the gardens around the clock to meet the judging deadline. That evening, while gardeners work by arc lights, celebrities brush shoulders with the Rich, the Famous and the Invited at the Chelsea Flower Show Gala Dinner. Chelsea heralds the start of the London High Society Summer and tickets the capital's premiere horticultural dinner fetch up to £1000. The press stay away, in return for a day to themselves and access to the royal family the following day.

(If you would like to extend a complementary invitation to Mooseys Country Garden team for the Gala Dinner in 2005, please contact the website manager and note that Moosey only flies business class now to protect her old lady gardening knees.)

The first day - by invitation only

Monday, the first day of the Chelsea Show, is open to the press, celebrities, the Royal Family and invited guests, some no doubt nursing sore heads from the gala dinner the evening before. Chelsea has a long history of Royal Patronage, with the Queen only missing a single show in the past fifty-one years.

Prince Charles, known for his green thumb, kept a low profile this year after his gardens won silver medals in 2002 and 2003. The rest of the Royal family put in a good show with The Queen's Niece Lady Sarah, TRH Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, Dukes and Duchesses, Earls, Countesses and Commodores all attending. Sophie, HRH the Countess of Wessex, had a white shrub rose named after her.

Her Majesty the Queen in stylish green talking to the designers of Ora - The Garden of Wellbeing. Photo courtesy of the RHS.
Her Majesty the Queen Greets the New Zealand Garden Design Team
Photo by Michael Walter/Troika - Courtesy of the RHS

New Zealand gardeners will be pleased that the first garden the Queen visited was the New Zealand entry.

There was also a trademark Prince Phillip gaffe, when he asked the designers of the Ora, New Zealand Garden of Well Being if they had bought any biological pests into England with them.

Just returning them, your Highness?

Two Days for Members Only

The Tuesday & Wednesday are for RHS members only. RHS membership is strong at over 300,000 people, and both days sold out in well in advance in 2004, the Society's bicentennial year. Judging from the conversations in the queue outside the show, the membership requirement isn't strict. I'm sure many of the gardeners we talked to thought the same after talking to us, especially a rather surprised old lady welsh gardener when I identified an angelica for her and promised a Bee Hotel within 2 weeks.

If you're interested in joining the RHS and taking advantage of the Members Days check the RHS membership details here.

Two Days for the public

The final two days are open to the general public. The show is well organised and the Gardens and displays are kept in great condition until the end of the show. Designers ensure that plants come on throughout the week. When we visited on Tuesday afternoon there were many plants a couple of days before their best.

The Chelsea Plant Sell-Off

The RHS President claimed this year's show 'The Best Show Ever' and rang a bell to end proceedings. At 4:30pm on Friday RHS members can attend the traditional Chelsea Show Plant Sell-Off. Plants and garden material is surgically removed from the gardens and exhibits and sold off to be trundled, bagged, manhandled and dragged back home. The route taken by all of these plants is as varied as the plants themselves.

From five o'clock onwards, the need to leave quickly combines with the need to carry as many plants as possible. Buses cars, cabs, and coaches surrounding Chelsea start to look like Giant Garden Centre trolleys as old lady English gardeners haul their plant purchases home.

The 2004 Chelsea Flower Show is over. The designs for Chelsea 2005 can now begin, as they are due in by November...