The Really Big Show

Great Britain’s Royal Horticultural Society was founded in 1804 and in 1833 it began holding flower shows to demonstrate new species and show off the skill of British gardeners.

_V0P0173In 1862, the RHS first sponsored its Great Spring Flower Show in Kensington. The show moved locations several times over the years, eventually landing, in 1913, on the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, one of London’s smartest neighborhoods.

From May 24-28, this historic show will again occupy the nearly three-acre site at the Grand Pavilion and more than 160,000 visitors will file in to enjoy the sights, and smells, of this annual springtime event. The Queen herself may pay a visit, as she often does.

The Chelsea show is no longer the largest flower show in Britain (that would be the RHS’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, July 5-10) but it remains the most prestigious and closest to central London. Many visitors will ride the Tube (Sloane Square is the nearest stop) or catch a shuttle bus in front of the Grosvenor Hotel to get to the grounds of the event.

RHS_Day1-0348Chelsea has always been known for its extravagant displays and this year is no different. In the Grand Pavilion, for instance, there will be a fully planted train station featuring an 80-foot carriage from the 1920s era Belmond British Pullman company, sister train to the famed Orient Express, with liveried stewards, linen and crockery. The train will offer a time-travel experience, with plants ranging from hostas on Platform 1 to rare jungle ferns on Platform 2.

This year’s show will also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Rhododendron Society with an exhibit that contrasts the larger plants of old with the more modern and varied smaller plants often used today in gardens and landscape plans.

BJC_RHS_Chelsea_Day1-0033Landscape designer Cleve West will create a stone and gravel homage to the kinds of ancient oak woodlands he played in as a child on the Exmoor National Park while Diarmuid Gavin is planning the “British Eccentrics Garden” which will look like a peaceful tiered garden with an Italianate pond and marble folly, but will be filled with fascinating gadgets and unusual tools reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg installation.

There will be an acoustic garden in the Artisan section and a Fresh garden set inside a 2.5 meter granite cube. A Dye garden will demonstrate age-old plants and techniques for creating a rainbow of colors. In addition, visitors will enjoy live music and other performances, lectures and demonstrations, and snackable food, with plenty of tea for all.

Tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show are are priced from £23 to £68. For information, visit the Royal Horticultural Society at