The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show has been held on the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital in London, England every year since 1913. It is a prestigious affair, attended by the British Royal family, and considered to be the most influential flower show on earth. The Show turns 100 in 2013 and organizers say the centenary celebration will be a ‘spectacle’.
The Show historically includes international as well as British nursery exhibits and model gardens. Until a permanent structure was built in 2000, the exhibits were housed in The Great Marquee, the world’s largest tent (3½ acres), according to the Guinness Book of Records.
John Sales, one of the judges, says that taken together the gardens “embody qualities of design, construction, plantsmanship and attention to detail unmatched anywhere in the world”. They are an inspiration for gardeners and professionals alike.
Each of the show gardens takes well over a year to plan and organize. There are also smaller gardens divided into two categories, urban and courtyard. Medals are awarded based on the scope of the garden; its initial impact and impression; its overall design; its construction and the quality of its artifacts; and the quality of its plants and planting design.
The year I visited, 2009, was a time of cutbacks and there were 13 Show Gardens compared to 21 the year before. Even so, there was much to see. I particularly enjoyed wandering through the Great Pavilion and studying the incredible selection of plants and gardening products. There are also many exhibits throughout the grounds.
Gardens are selected based on imaginary briefs submitted by the exhibitor. The realization of the brief is the key determinant of a medal. The briefs are a delight to read. One was for a garden created for a couple who had rekindled their love of gardening after their children left home. Another was a widow’s garden, lovingly worked for many years by the same occupant, and although some of the plants were past their best and maintenance more difficult, the former glory was to be evident.
There was the Quilted Velvet Garden with the message of a little bit of luxury every day. Not far from it was the Future Nature Garden that was to provide practical solutions to create a new type of drought-resistant urban garden.
The Best of the Show that year was awarded to Swedish landscape architect Ulf Nordfjel who mixed a relaxed Swedish style with traditional English elements. Decisions of the RHS judging panel can be controversial so now the public can also vote on which Show and Small Garden they think should win the RHS People’s Choice Award.
Public tickets for Chelsea Garden’s centenry Show go on sale December 1, 2012. The show runs from May 21 to 25, 2013. Visit the RHS Chelsea Flower Show website for all the details.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
Riding the buses 2012