The RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London is the most prestigious flower show in the world. RHS stands for Royal Horticultural Society, and the show has been held in the gardens of the Royal Hospital Chelsea every year since 1913. In 2023, it runs from May 22nd to May 27th.
The Royal Hospital Chelsea
You might, rightly, ask why a world-famous flower show that attracts over 168,000 visitors a year is held in a hospital garden. Let us explain. The Royal Hospital Chelsea is not a hospital at all, but a retreat for army veterans, founded in 1682 by King Charles II. When you visit, you will see the Chelsea Pensioners, retired army members, dressed in their distinctive blue uniforms or scarlet coats and black hats, proudly wearing their ribbons and medals. In 2009, the first two female pensioners were admitted.
Since 1913, the ample south garden has been used for public events, among them the flower show. It is located in SW London, on Royal Hospital Road, with the main entrance at London Gate.
The show is a 10-minute walk from the nearest tube station, which is Sloane Square. Here’s why it is worth the trip, wherever you may be.
The Great Pavillion
The Chelsea Flower show covers 11 acres of garden with the Great Pavilion alone measuring close to 3 acres. It’s also the centerpiece and dubbed the Crown Jewel of the show. More than 80 exhibitors display innovative garden design, dazzling flower arrangements, and garden products here. The show is not only for display. A favorite activity of visitors is buying plants. The quirk is that they can transport their purchases to their cars via rickshaws that are available at the entrances.
Go Where The Royals Have Gone
The show is an important event on the royal calendar, too. Senior members of the royal family attend every year. Don’t expect to be able to rub shoulders with a princess or prince, though. They get to visit on a preview, the Monday before the show opens to the public.
Be Educated And Inspired
Each year, the flower show has a special theme, and this year it is wild plants and natural design. The wildflower theme this year is taken care of by displays of show gardens and flower arrangements that include weeping willows, blooming hedgerows, poppies, buttercups, and even the humble nettle.
The show doesn’t only display a dazzling array of color, shape, and scent but also aims to inspire you to create your own garden, balcony, or indoor arrangements. The Great Pavilion, for instance, has a House Plant Studio to give you the best ideas of how to bring nature into your home.
The latest discoveries in horticultural science are explained and the exhibitors are generous with their advice too, so you will never again accidentally drown your plants or overfeed them. Very interesting is the wooden hut that is called The Hub, which explains projects like Greening Grey Britain.
For the first time, the show will feature All About Plants, a show garden within the Great Pavillion that highlights the many ways in which plants can influence mental health.
Of course, it’s not only plants that will capture visitors’ attention. Garden sculptures and garden furniture are also on display, and, of course, for sale, as is a great variety of gardening instruments arranged in between entire arches made from flower petals and sculptures created with sprigs, leaves, and flowers. I personally love the yellow hand.
Snack And Sip While You Stroll
Whilst you walk through the Great Pavillion (which once was a massive, white tent before being replaced by the current wooden structure) and the rows and rows of stalls and display stands, you will get pretty hungry and thirsty. That is taken care of, too. Know that the favorite drinks are Pimms and champagne, and the popular finger food is fish and chips, although plenty of seafood is also on offer.
The Flower Of The Year
No show is complete without competition and prizes, and the Chelsea Flower Show is no exception. The best garden wins a prize and premiums and titles go to flower of the year, a new rose, and new plants. Streptocarpus (or pansy in plain English) Harlequin Blue was even named flower of the decade in 2020. It’s the only separately bi-colored pansy with outer yellow petals and deep blue inner ones — proof that it’s not always roses and orchids that win the big prizes!
Flower Show Pro Tips And History
The Chelsea Flower Show is the most prestigious, but it’s not the world’s largest. This honor now goes to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival. This festival takes place from July 4th to July 9th, so, if you’re taking a summer trip across the pond, this may be the flower show for you.
Due to the pandemic, there were two firsts for the Chelsea Flower Show. In 2020 the first-ever virtual show was held. And in 2021, the show was held in September instead of the traditional month of May, which brought a special twist to the exhibits as the emphasis shifted from spring flowers to fall flowers and plants.
The aforementioned white tent did not go to waste but was cut up and sold as aprons, bags, and even jackets. Throughout the history of the flower show, garden gnomes were banned except for 2013 when the ban was temporarily lifted and gnomes painted by celebrities were displayed and sold for charity.
Sometimes, the weather dampens (literally) the show a little. This happened in 1932, when there was such heavy rainfall that in a true sense of British humor, it was dubbed The Chelsea Shower Flow.
Interestingly, the first most popular exhibits at the show in the 1920s and between the wars were rock gardens.
Appreciate The Time It Takes To Create
In case you get inspired and plan to design and plant your own garden: It takes 19 days to create a show garden for the Chelsea Flower Show and just 5 to dismantle it. Allow yourself much more time, though, as this is the time span for professionals. And once you have created your very own masterpiece, you definitely won’t want to dismantle it!
Going to the flower show? Buy tickets and get more information here.