The Royal Horticultural Society (est.1804) held flower shows at various venues during the 1800s, but they finally struck gold in 1913 with the choice of the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, home of the Chelsea Pensioners. The annual Chelsea Flower Show in May is the most famous and best-attended horticultural event on the social calendar and is the premier showcase for professional nurserymen and garden designers.
It began as the ‘Great Spring Show’ under a single marquee. Female members of royalty immediately added it to their schedules ~ the King’s mother, Queen Alexandra (1844-1925) attended the first event and her daughter-in-law, Queen Mary (1867-1953), followed in 1916. Queen Elizabeth II (1926-) visits every year on the first day, as do various princesses and duchesses. For the following four days, the public stream in, clocking up ticket sales of around 150,000. In 1951, the Show had the world’s largest-ever marquee, held up by 278 tent poles.
Gardening trends are always to the fore at the Show. Post-WW2 it was rock gardens (rubble recycling!); in the 1960s trees and shrubs re-emerged; the 1970s saw the introduction of ready-grown plants for quicker results. The Show has expanded to include eateries and retail stalls and the BBC televises a guided tour.
(Image: Oast House Archive at geograph.org.uk / CC BY-SA 2.0)