Everything you need to know about Chelsea Flower Show
Spring is definitely our favourite time of year at Door2Tour for a number of reasons, longer evenings, blossom on the trees and the anticipation of summer. But there is another very important reason why we love spring and this has to do with one of the biggest flower shows in the annual calendar – a little flower show called Chelsea.
The world famous Chelsea Flower Show has been held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital in London every year since 1913 with the exception of the war years. Chelsea was once upon a time Britain’s largest flower show, however in recent years this has been overtaken by Hampton Court Flower Show. Only three firms who originally exhibited in the 1913 show can be seen today Blackmore & Langdon, Kelways Plants and McBean’s Orchids.
As Chelsea Flower Show grew in popularity each year the organisers were forced to make changes, the show now has a cap on the number of visitors and this is set to 157,000 people.
The Queen, who is the patron of the Royal Horticultural Society regularly attends the opening of the show each year. This begins on Press Day on Monday and is followed by two private sessions for RHS members. The show then opens up to the public for the remainder of the week until Saturday. The aim is to encourage all amateur gardeners to try and achieve similar displays in their own gardens.
Chelsea Flower Show: The History
Originally called the ‘Royal Horticultural Society’s Great Spring Show’, the first form of the Chelsea Flower Show was held in 1862 in gardens in Kensington. In 1888 the show moved again to a site in central London until when it moved once more to Temple Gardens near the Embankment where it stayed until 1911.
In 1912, the show was cancelled to make way for the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition. It was Sir Harry Vietch, who secured the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea for the supposedly one-off event. Having proved a success the Great Spring Show returned in 1913 and has used the site ever since.
The Flower Show still took place in 1914-1916 but was cancelled in 1917 and 1918, as the First World War took a toll on the Country.
In the 1920’s the Chelsea Flower Show was back in its floral swing with Royal Visits and the famous Chelsea tea parties being established. The show was actually delayed for a week in 1926 due to a General Strike!
In 1937 the country celebrated the Coronation of a new King George VI following the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 after one of the shortest reigns in British History. To mark this occasion Chelsea Flower Show exhibited a superb display of flora and fauna from across the Empire including pines from Canada, gladioli from Africa and wattles from Australia.
When the Second World War broke out the Flower Show was cancelled as the site became a War Office for anti-aircraft. It was doubted whether the show would resume in post-war Britain in 1947, stocks of plants were low, staff depleted and fuel for greenhouses was only obtainable with special permits. However, the then president of the RHS felt the show should resume as soon as possible and so the show went ahead and was a great success.
By 1951, the centrepiece of the show was the 3.5 acre Marquee – the world’s largest tent. It weighed a whopping 65 tons and was constructed from 274 miles of yarn. It took a team of 20 men 20 days to erect. The marquee was carefully packed away after each show and was used until 2000, when a newer plastic structure was implemented.
Queen Elizabeth was crowned in 1953 and was another great cause for celebration amongst the public. That year almost every member of the Royal Family attended with the exception of the Queen herself, who was tied up with a string of other commitments.
In the 1960s, trained designers and landscapers began to have a dramatic impact on the gardens bringing new plants and materials. The gardens have continued to develop ever since with modernist gardens, sustainable gardens and water gardens to name just a few.
In 2013 Chelsea celebrated its 100th Anniversary, to mark this prestigious occasion gnomes which had long been banned from Chelsea were allowed in to join the fun.
Chelsea Flower Show: The Medals
Each year, Garden Designers and landscapers fight amongst themselves for a coveted Chelsea Flower Show medal. These are awarded to the Garden’s judged on certain elements on the Sunday and Monday at the start of the exhibition. On the Tuesday morning the medals are distributed to the lucky winners – full coverage is then shown in the evening on television.
There are four grades of medals available Gold, Silver-gilt, Silver and Bronze, these are awarded across the three garden categories Show Gardens, Fresh Gardens and Artisan Gardens.
The medals are decided by the following factors – bear in mind all gardens have the same climate, weather and growing conditions!
- How much like the original plan is the real life gardens?
- How fit for its purpose is the garden that has been created?
- Can the garden be used by inhabitants?
- How well do the plants used mix together?
Last year’s Gold medal winners included ‘A Perfumer’s Garden in Grasse by L’Occitane’, ‘The Homebase Garden – Urban Retreat’ and the ‘Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden. Silver-gilt medallists included the ‘Royal Bank of Canada Garden’, ‘Breakthrough Breast Cancer Garden’ and the ‘World Vision Garden’. Silver medallists included the ‘Viking Ocean Cruises Show Garden’ and ‘Brewers Yard by Welcome to Yorkshire’. The Bronze medallist was the ‘Runnymede Surrey Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Garden’.
Chelsea Flower Show: The Awards
As well as medals, there are a number of awards given out each year at Chelsea Flower Show. These are for a range of categories as follows:
- Best Show Garden
- BBC/RHS People’s Choice Show Garden
- Best Fresh Garden
- RHS People’s Choice Fresh Garden
- Best Artisan Garden
- RHS People’s Choice Artisan Garden
The big winner at last year’s Chelsea Flower Show was the Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden which won the Best Show Garden prize and a Gold medal. The beautiful show garden marked Chatsworth’s debut at prestigious flower show. Viewable on all sides the Garden represented a snapshot of the 105 acres connected to Chatsworth House. The Garden was designed by Dan Pearson, who had a real passion for the wilder side of gardening and naturalism which was displayed in the ornamental Trout Stream and rockery. The planting reflected the freshness and delicacy of the 200 year old Champagne House.
The Great Pavilion
Synonymous with Chelsea Flower Show is Great Pavilion which has been the centre of Chelsea for over 50 years. Measuring a massive 12,000sq metres the marquee and is big enough to house 500 London buses.
The Pavilion will feature over 100 exhibits at the 2016 Chelsea Flower Show, from World-leading nurseries, florists and growers. In 2016 Tom Smith Plants, Love the Plot You’ve Got and Hoggarth Hostas will be exhibiting for the first time – so be sure to pay them a visit!
In the Great Pavilion you’ll also find more than 100 specialist plant breeders, societies and nurseries who combine to create breath-taking exhibits. You’ll also be able to see the winning entries for the regional heats for RHS Chelsea Florist of the Year, RHS Chelsea Young Florist of the Year and the RHS Floristry College of the Year.
Chelsea Flower Show 2016: Your Guide
The 2016 Chelsea Flower Show is highly anticipated as it is every year. Although we’ll have to wait to see what amazing aesthetic sights will be on offer, here’s some things to look forward to.
The Show will include photographic exhibits and a floral arch to celebrate Queen Elizabeth (the RHS patron) 90th Birthday, which will be officially celebrated in June 2016.
This year in the Great Pavilion, the star of the Chelsea Flower Show, the centrepiece exhibit will be an 80ft long carriage from the 1920’s Belmond British Pullman. This is the sister train to the World famous Venice Simplon-Orient Express. The train will stand on display in the middle of a time-travel journey of plant hunters around the world, the platforms will be planted too to create a real spectacle for visitors.
Be sure to pay a stop to the RHS Greening Grey Britain Garden for Health, Happiness and Horticulture. Designer Ann-Marie Powell is creating the RHS Garden sponsored by M&G Investments. The garden is intended to raise awareness about the healing effects that gardening can have on health and happiness. The colourful garden features bright borders, benches to relax, soothing water features, a bee-friendly meadow, a stylish kitchen-garden and edible plants in pots.
Also announced for the 2016 show is ‘A Modern Apothecary Garden’, award-winning gardening expert Jekka McVicar has designed his Chelsea Flower Show garden following conversations with medical professionals about how we can improve our own health with the help of plants. The apothecary garden will be a small tranquil space with wellness at its heart. It will feature plants shown to have beneficial use to wellbeing and health. It will also offer a place for quiet reflection, highlighting the relationship between nature and medicine. Keep an eye out for the lavender-lined path, water feature and benches for stillness and contemplation.
Visitors to the 2016 RHS Chelsea Flower Show will be treated to a breath-taking display of thousands of handmade poppies which will adorn an entrance to the Flower Show this year. The designer who won Best Show Garden in 2013, Phillip Johnson, will be using 300,000 individually crocheted poppies to create his new garden. The design will cover more than 800 square metres of the grounds in the Royal Hospital Chelsea and visitors will be able to admire the display as they enter the Flower Show.
In order to create the display Phillip teamed up with the 5000 Poppies Project, the project initially set out to crochet 120 poppies to honour their fallen fathers who fought in WW2. This quickly escalated into a total of over 50,000 contributors creating poppies to use for the project.
The Harrods British Eccentrics Garden will return in 2016, inspired by some of the UK’s most imaginative minds. Elaborate machinery performing tasks has become associated with the Industrial era in Britain. The scene will be entertaining, active and playful, with a short performance occurring every 15 minutes.
A disability charity called Papworth Trust found inspiration for their garden whilst working on their ‘I Can’ campaign with the world famous deaf percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie. The garden reflects Evelyn’s fascination with sea music, a water marimba will generate the garden’s acoustic pulse. The garden features soft planting, green oak monoliths and solid sculpted benches.
Another must see for visitors attending the 2016 Chelsea Flower Show is Chris Beardshaw (a former Gold Medal winner) returns with the ‘Morgan Stanley Garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital’. The garden has been designed to be exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show before being deconstructed and moved to its permanent home at Great Ormond Street Hospital. The new garden will provide a much-needed reflective and private space for parents and families of those being treated in the hospital. The garden will feature a large reflective water feature and will be filled with plant-rich woodland featuring perennials, hedges, topiary and mature trees.
Plan your Visit
Before you embark on your trip to Chelsea it’s always worth doing a little homework to make sure you have time to see and do everything you wish. This year the dates for Chelsea Flower Show are Tuesday 24th May to Saturday 28th May 2016.
The show is open from 8am to 8pm on Tuesday – Friday and then 8am to 5.30pm on Saturday. If you do decide to visit on the Saturday make sure you stick around for the highly anticipated selloff which begins at 4pm. You’ll have the chance to bag yourself a bargain and take home that rosebush you always wanted… Beware though, it’s known to get a little competitive!
Before you leave for your day at Chelsea it is worth checking the weather forecast, Chelsea Flower Show is a largely outdoor event so it is worth considering what impact inclement weather may have and dress accordingly.
There is a small cloakroom in Ranelagh Gardens close to the food court, which is staffed during open hours. Beware that bags may be searched when they are handed over and all items are left at the owner’s risk. The cloakroom is very small so there is limited availability, and donations for using the service will be going to charity.
There are ATMs around the showground allowing you to withdraw cash, please note there is a small charge for this service. There is a banking unit located within the Hospital showground for exchanging foreign currency and withdrawing money.
Where possible the Chelsea Flower Show is fully accessible to those with a disability. All gardens, marquees and floral exhibits can be viewed from ground level, be sure to arrive early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid crowds as the gardens in particular get very busy. Assistance dogs are also welcomed in all areas of the showground.
There are a limited number of wheelchairs to use at the show, these must be reserved in advance. There will be a hire charge of £10. The wheelchair collection point is located adjacent to Burton’s Court outside the Showground. Please note these are manual wheelchairs not motorised.
For full details about accessibility at Chelsea Flower Show visit the RHS website of call 0844 581 0787 – please note calls cost 7p per minute plus your telephone service provider’s access charge.
Shop until you drop at Chelsea
Although people mainly go to Chelsea to admire the stunning gardens that have been created, you’ll also have the chance to pick up something a little different for your garden. Throughout the showground there will be a number of unique products for the home and garden including limited edition sculptures, gardening essentials and handmade crafts to name just a few.
Chelsea Flower Show Cuisine
If you are heading to Chelsea in 2016, you certainly won’t be going hungry! There are plenty of food and drink options to keep you well fuelled during your day out. In 2015 they served a massive 6,000 sandwiches, 1,000 salads, 43,500 cakes and 23,823 glasses of Champagne. We’re in Britain of course so obviously they also sold 104,144 hot drinks (we’re guessing the majority would have been teas!)
Rock Bank Restaurant – Main Avenue
The Rock Bank Restaurant offers breakfast including continental and full English options and lunch and dinner throughout the Flower Show. You can choose from an English a la carte menu, wines and coffees. The restaurant will be open 11.30-6.30pm daily.
Champagne & Seafood Restaurant – Ranelagh Gardens
Open for selected periods during the Flower Show, the Champagne and Seafood Restaurant offers a large seating area with views across the bandstand, the restaurant will offer sustainable, fresh seafood accompanied with Laurent Perrier Champagne and a seafood bar.
The Dorchester Floral Afternoon Tea – Ranelagh Gardens
Immerse your taste buds in a floral inspired champagne afternoon tea, created especially by the Dorchester Hotel for Chelsea Flower Show 2016. The Dorchester’s head pastry chef, award-winning David Girard and florist Philip Hammond have joined forces to create scrumptious pastries, finger sandwiches, warm scones with tea and a glass of Laurent-Perrier Champagne.
In addition to these highlights you’ll also find stalls selling sandwiches, fish and chips, fresh pastries and cream teas with indoor and outdoor seating… You never can rely on the Great British weather!
Chelsea Flower Show & the Royals
When you think about the Chelsea Flower Show, you’ll automatically think of its Royal status and ties to the British Monarchy. The Queen has attended all but five of the Flower Shows since she came to the throne in 1952. In 2015, three generations of the Royal Family were seen perusing the Gardens together as Prince Harry attended too.
It has become somewhat of a tradition for the female members of the Royal Family to attend Chelsea. It is thought this stemmed from the Queen Mother’s love of gardening and the show itself.
Back in 2001, Prince Charles won a Silver medal for his design of an Islamic courtyard style garden. The entry was named Carpet Garden and it included traditional elements including shade, perfume and water.
Prince Harry has had a huge involvement in Chelsea over the years, he has worked with one of his charities Sentebale, to help design a number of gardens over the last few years. The charity works to aid orphans in the impoverished Lesotho.
Chelsea Flower Show Coach Trips
Our best-selling coach break to Chelsea Flower Show is a two day break, departing from pickup points across the UK. The break includes afternoon entry to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and a visit to either the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew or Syon House, Park and Gardens. As one of the world leading botanic research institutions, Kew offers visitors a great mix of formal gardens, landscaped lawns, greenhouses and over 30,000 plants. If you choose to visit Kew you’ll also have the chance to see Kew Palace and the Royal Kitchens, be sure to visit the water-lily house and bluebell wood which all thrive in May.
If you’d rather visit somewhere a little different then Syon House, Park and Gardens may be perfect for you. The London home of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland offers magnificent Private and State apartments, a visit to the Great Conservatory and Grade I listed gardens – which very aptly this year, were designed by Capability Brown. You’ll also have time to explore Wyevale’s flagship Syon Park Garden Centre – the first in the UK.
Also included is a one night stay at a three-star standard hotel in the Greater London/Heathrow area on a bed and continental breakfast basis. You’ll also have full coach travel throughout your break and the services of a friendly tour manager. This package costs £179 per person, a £35 deposit can be paid at the time of booking and the remaining balance closer to departure. If you book before the 29th February you can also save an additional £10pp on your booking – hurry! Find out more
Chelsea Flower Show Tickets
If you would like to visit Chelsea Flower Show in 2016, there are a range of ticket options and prices available for you. As with any RHS event there are discounts if you are already an RHS member and each member can buy up to four tickets at this discounted rate.
You can purchase various tickets directly from the RHS, some are all day tickets so you can spend the day perusing at your leisure, whilst some are simply for timeslots on a certain day. To find out more or to buy your tickets visit the RHS website today.
Other Flower Shows in the Calendar
If you fancy something a little different than Chelsea this year, at Door2Tour we have plenty of other Flower Show packages for anyone who is a little green-fingered.
Hampton Court Flower Show – 5-10 July 2016
The Hampton Court Flower Show began in 1990 and has since become the World’s largest annual Flower Show. Located in the grounds behind the splendid Hampton Court Palace, surrounding the Long Water, visitors can enjoy Show Gardens, the Floral and Rose Marquee, plant pavilions and a variety of demonstrations talks and exhibits. As it takes place in the height of summer you would also hope that the weather will be ok too!
The 2016 Hampton Court Flower Show promises to deliver with a fantastic opportunity to wander through thousands of free-flying butterflies from South America and Indonesia in the Butterfly Dome. You’ll get the chance to study their beautiful colours and markings as they swoop amongst the tropical vegetation.
The Show Gardens at this year’s Hampton Court Flower Show are set to be a spectacle too. To celebrate the 300th Anniversary of landscaper Capability Brown, the Capability Brown Show Garden will become a must see. Opposite to this the City Gardens on display will aim to show just what can be achieved in such a small space.
The Floral Marquee offers a great chance to see some of the specially-selected floral exhibitors and nurseries. You’ll be able to stock up on some unusual plants both here and outside in the Plant Village. Don’t forget if you do purchase some plants, don’t worry about having to carry them around all day you can drop them off at the handily located plant nurseries and collect them when you leave – clever huh?
Our best-selling Hampton Court Flower Show package starts from £139 per person and include all coach travel, entrance into the Flower Show, a trip to Windsor on day 2 and one night’s bed and continental breakfast accommodation in a good quality Greater London hotel. Click here to find out more.
Tatton Park Flower Show – 20-24 July 2016
If you fancy visiting a flower show in 2016, but don’t fancy the hustle and bustle of London, the Tatton Park Flower Show might just be the perfect alternative. Set in the parklands of Tatton Park in Cheshire, the Flower Show features stunning Show Gardens, a floral marquee, trade stands, exhibitors, talks and demonstrations.
The Flower Show first opened its doors in 1999 and has welcomes thousands of visitors in the past 16 years. This year promises to impress its visitors, there will be a Water Gardens category in the Show Gardens competition meaning you’ll return with plenty of idea of how to customise your garden.
There will also be inspiration for those with Starter Homes with the Back to Back Garden category – which will show you clever ways to make the most of smaller spaces. Tatton Park Flower Show also has a reputation for nurturing young gardening talent and will have two new competitions in 2016 – RHS Young Landscaper of the Year and RHS Young Plantsperson of the Year.
Tatton Park Flower Show promises to entertain the whole family with activities for the kids, a bandstand hosting entertainment throughout, floral art and floristry competitions and garden hideaways.
Our best-selling Tatton Park Flower Show package includes return coach travel, bed and English breakfast accommodation in a North West area hotel, entry to Tatton Park Flower Show and a visit to Chester. This two day break starts from £129 per person – click here to find out more.
Malvern Spring Festival – 5-8 May 2016
Lesser known than the likes of Chelsea and Hampton Court Flower Show, Malvern Spring Festival offers another great experience for visitors. Set in an area of outstanding natural beauty with the Malvern Hills in the distance, the Malvern Spring Festival is a great family day out.
Highlights of the Show include the Show Gardens, exhibits by unique specialist plant nurseries, plenty of advice and demonstrations from the experts and a whole host of children’s activities.
Malvern Autumn Show – 24-25 September 2016
The Malvern Autumn Show tends to be the final Flower Show in the RHS Calendar. The show allows visitors to get everything they need to make the most of autumn in their garden and prepare for the winter ahead. Last year, the show also hosted the UK National Giant Vegetable Championship – who would want to miss that?
Chatsworth Flower Show – Coming 2017!
When the RHS announced that in 2015 they would be launching the first ever Chatsworth Flower Show – the Door2Tour leapt with excitement. What a perfect venue for a flower show!
The famous Chatsworth House landscape, another of Capability Brown, will play host to a new celebration of plants and gardens. The first show will be held between the 7-11 June 2017, visitors can expect all their favourite RHS Show features including outdoor lifestyle shopping, specialist nurseries and inspiration for gardening.
We do not have any packages on sale for the Chatsworth Flower Show quite yet – but be sure to watch this space.