RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know

Slide 1 of 26: The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is the most prestigious flower show in the world. As the highlight of the horticultural calendar, RHS Chelsea is the place to see cutting-edge garden design, breathtaking floral displays and innovative garden products, with some 168,000 visitors attending the show each year.RHS ambassador and garden designer, Jamie Butterworth, once described Chelsea as 'the World Cup of gardening', explaining: 'I love the pressure, the adrenaline. You work for as long as you can, as hard as you can, then you go to the pub afterwards.'The Chelsea Flower Show, which is organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, has been held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London every year since 1913, apart from gaps during the two World Wars. But what else is there to know?
1/26 SLIDES © RHS / Lee Beel

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is the most prestigious flower show in the world. As the highlight of the horticultural calendar, RHS Chelsea is the place to see cutting-edge garden design, breathtaking floral displays and innovative garden products, with some 168,000 visitors attending the show each year.

RHS ambassador and garden designer, Jamie Butterworth, once described Chelsea as ‘the World Cup of gardening’, explaining: ‘I love the pressure, the adrenaline. You work for as long as you can, as hard as you can, then you go to the pub afterwards.’

The Chelsea Flower Show, which is organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, has been held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London every year since 1913, apart from gaps during the two World Wars. But what else is there to know?

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
2/26 SLIDES © Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

1) It wasn’t always called the Chelsea Flower Show

It was first called the RHS Great Spring Show in 1862 after launching in a large tent at the now-vanished RHS garden in Kensington. Between 1888 and 1911 it was held in the Temple Gardens on the banks of the Thames before moving to its current site at Royal Hospital Chelsea in 1913.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
3/26 SLIDES © RHS Lindley Collections

2) Rock Gardens were the first gardens at Chelsea

A rock garden was the first type of Show Garden to appear at Chelsea in the 1920s. Between the two world wars, rock gardens were probably the most popular feature of the show, drawing large crowds. In 1980, there were only eight Show Gardens at Chelsea. This had more than doubled by 1985.

(Pictured: Rock garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, 1938)

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
4/26 SLIDES © NurPhoto – Getty Images

3) Entertainment Tax, what Entertainment Tax?

In 1919, the Government demanded that the RHS pay an Entertainment Tax for the show – but with resources already strained, it threatened Chelsea. However, this was wavered once the RHS convinced the Government that the show had educational benefit.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
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RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
5/26 SLIDES © Annette Lepple – Getty Images

4) 1927 the RHS took a firm stance

In 1927 there was a campaign to get the RHS to ban foreign exhibits from the Chelsea Flower Show to reduce competition with British firms. The RHS refused, saying ‘horticulture knows nothing of nationality’.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
6/26 SLIDES © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

5) It was once dubbed ‘The Chelsea Shower Flow’

In 1932 the rain at the show was so severe that a summer house display fell to pieces. One year when it was very wet, an exhibitor named it ‘The Chelsea Shower Flow’.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
7/26 SLIDES © RHS/Luke MacGregor

6) The Queen’s has a long-standing history at Chelsea

Her Majesty has been the RHS’ Royal Patron since 1952 and was a regular visitor to the Chelsea Flower Show with her parents as a child. But her first visit to the show as the Queen was in 1955 – she’s attended RHS Chelsea more than 50 times during her 70-year reign.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
8/26 SLIDES © VisitBritain/Michael Walter

7) Nothing goes to waste

The Great Marquee, which was first put up in 1951, was named in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest tent (3½ acres). In 2000 it was replaced by the current modular structure but the remains of the old tent were put to good use – it was cut up and used to make 7,000 bags, aprons, and jackets!

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
9/26 SLIDES © Claire Takacs – Getty Images

8) It is NOT the biggest flower show

It may be the most prestigious but it is no longer Britain’s largest flower show – that accolade actually goes to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, previously named the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
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RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
10/26 SLIDES © Dan Kitwood – Getty Images

9) There was once a plasticine garden

Television presenter James May made a garden entirely from plasticine for RHS Chelsea in 2009, consisting of two and a half tonnes of plasticine, in 24 colours, moulded into an English cottage-style garden with a twist. It failed to win any awards, but protest was averted when James was presented with an ‘RHS Gold Medal’ made of plasticine.

(Pictured: James May’s Paradise in Plasticine Garden)

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
11/26 SLIDES © Matt Cardy/Getty Images

10) The Great Pavillion is HUGE

The Great Pavilion, dubbed ‘the jewel in the Chelsea Flower Show crown’, is 12,000m², that’s almost three acres and the average size of 3,230 British gardens. The Great Pavilion provides a light, airy and spacious shelter, enabling nurseries from across the world to exhibit their plants, shrubs and trees.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
12/26 SLIDES © Kensington Palace

11) Kate Middleton added ‘Garden Designer’ to her CV

In 2019, the Duchess of Cambridge made her debut as a garden designer at RHS Chelsea, when she co-designed the Back to Nature feature garden with Andrée Davies and Adam White of Davies White.

Kate’s forest-style garden – which included a den, swing seat and treehouse – aimed to highlight the physical and mental health benefits of the natural world, inspiring children, families, and communities to enjoy the great outdoors.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
13/26 SLIDES © RHS/Tim Sandall

12) This is the Plant of the Decade

Streptocarpus ‘Harlequin Blue’ (2010’s Plant of the Year) was announced as Chelsea Flower Show’s Plant of the Decade in 2020. It’s the first separately bi-coloured Streptocarpus, with yellow on the outer petals, contrasting with the blue upper petals.

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RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
14/26 SLIDES © Kenneth Keifer – Getty Images

13) There’s also the Plant of the Centenary

The Chelsea Flower Show celebrated its 100th birthday in May 2013, and to mark the occasion, the Chelsea Plant of the Year became the Chelsea Plant of the Centenary – with Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (introduced by Blooms of Bressingham) winning the crown.

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RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
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RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
15/26 SLIDES © Rachel Warne

14) It takes just under three weeks to build a Show Garden

Show Gardens are built from scratch in 19 days and dismantled in five days. Over 2,000 tonnes of earth is moved in preparation for the show. Amongst the Show Gardens in 2019, the deepest excavation was the Welcome to Yorkshire Garden at 1.7m, and the tallest structure was a tree in the Resilience Garden by Sarah Eberle which stood at 11m.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
16/26 SLIDES © RHS/Luke MacGregor

15) It’s exhibitors galore

There are over 500 exhibitors from all around the world including Show Gardens, Artisan Gardens and Space to Grow Gardens. There’s also almost 100 exhibits in the Great Pavilion, predominantly from nurseries and florists, and over 250 shopping stands.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
17/26 SLIDES © Ian Thwaites / Alamy Stock Photo

16) The judging process is a long one

Gardens: It takes 14 judges and two moderators 25 hours to judge and assess all gardens at the show.

Great Pavilion: It takes 50 judges and four moderators three hours to judge all the exhibits in the Great Pavilion.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
18/26 SLIDES © Landform Consultants

17) This is the Garden of the Decade

Mark Gregory’s breathtaking Welcome to Yorkshire garden was one of the biggest highlights of the Chelsea Flower Show in 2018, so it was no surprise when it went on to win the People’s Choice Garden of the Decade award in 2020.

The garden was a realistic representation of the Yorkshire Dales, celebrating Yorkshire’s natural materials, traditional crafts and artisan food production. Monty Don previously said of the garden: ‘In all the years I’ve been coming to Chelsea, I’ve never known a garden that has had such an immediate reaction.’

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
19/26 SLIDES © RHS/RHS Lindley Collections

18) There was a gnome ban

Garden gnomes have been forbidden throughout RHS Chelsea’s history, but in 2013 the ban was temporarily lifted on the show’s centenary year. Well-known faces – including Elton John, Dame Helen Mirren, Joanna Lumley, Mary Berry and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen – painted gnomes to sell for charity.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
20/26 SLIDES © Dorling Kindersley ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

19) Floral foam has also made the banned list

Floral foam, a non-biodegradable plastic (phenolic resin), is often used in floristry and commonly mistaken for a natural product. It gives support by holding stems tightly in place and soaks up water like a sponge, but floral designers now need to trial alternative eco-friendly products or techniques.

Helena Pettit, RHS Director of Shows, said: ‘Floral foam uses microplastics and is currently non-recyclable, with this in mind we have come to the decision to ban the use of floral foam at RHS Shows from 2021.’

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
21/26 SLIDES © Chris Babcock – Getty Images

20) And artificial grass has been banned too

New for 2022, artificial grass has also made the infamous ‘banned’ list because it is not in line with the RHS’ ethos and views on plastic.

‘We recommend using real grass because of its environmental benefits, which include supporting wildlife, mitigating flooding and cooling the environment,’ the gardening charity said.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
22/26 SLIDES © BethAmber – Getty Images

21) 2020 was the year of the first ever virtual Chelsea

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, the Chelsea Flower Show was cancelled in 2020 for the first time since the Second World War. In its place, the RHS website became host to the Virtual Chelsea Flower Show, sharing free, inspiring content online from the gardening world. The aim was to ‘share the joy of gardening’ with the nation through collaborations with growers, designers, landscapers and trade stands. With the pandemic ongoing, a second virtual show took place the following year in May 2021.

RHS Chelsea: 25 fascinating facts you definitely didn't know
23/26 SLIDES © Mariya Obidina / EyeEm – Getty Images

22) 2021 was one for the history books

Another knock-on effect as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, for the first time in its 108-year history, in 2021 the Chelsea Flower Show was held in the autumn. The change in season was significant, as garden designers and exhibitors had to adapt and embrace the new September date with late flowering plants, ornamental grasses and edibles taking centre stage.

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