​A Heyland & Whittle History of Chelsea Flower Show

​A Heyland & Whittle History of Chelsea Flower Show

Eloise Leeson - Olim on 21st Sep 2021

There are no two ways about it – Chelsea Flower Show is a British institution. First held in 1913, this stunning floral celebration is always one of the biggest highlights of our Heyland & Whittle year.

To celebrate, we’ve compiled a little history of this fabulous event for your reading pleasure, and even have a few tickets to give away for Sunday’s show. Read on to find out more, and how to enter.

The Inaugural Show, The First and Second World Wars, and Digging for Victory

The very first Chelsea Flower Show took place on the 20th of May 1913. The first shows would run for three days – although, just a few months after the second show in 1914, war broke out in Europe.

Though the show would continue in 1915, it was in 1916 that compulsory conscription called many RHS staff to arms. Because of this, and a growing feeling that ornamental gardens were an indulgence during wartime, the show was cancelled for the rest of the duration of the Great War.

In between the First and Second World Wars, the show resumed – with rock gardens being particularly popular. In 1939 the show was postponed once more, and the RHS focused their efforts on the ‘Dig for Victory' campaign – demonstrating that food could be grown at home, and encouraging families to plant, grow, and harvest their own produce.

After the Second World War came to an end in 1945, the show was brought back as quickly as possible. Though there was concern that resources might be too depleted to make it a triumph, these were unfounded, and the show was considered a roaring success.

50s, 60s, 70s: Royal Patrons, Record-Breaking Tents, and Beth Chatto

Where previous shows had focused on individual tents, Chelsea Flower Show broke records in the 50s, when these were replaced by a single marquee. It was supported by 278 tent posts and covered 1.5 hectares. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was also made royal patron of the RHS in 1952, and attended the show a few years later in 1955.

The 60s and 70s saw the show continue to grow in popularity – with enormous displays of orchids, rock gardens, tree, and shrub gardens. In the 1960s, Bonsai trees also made their first appearance, thanks to the Japan Society of London. The 70s marked the rise of celebrity gardeners and garden designers – most notably Beth Chatto, whose inimitable style won her 10 consecutive gold medals for her work.

From the 80s to the Noughties: Advertising Campaigns, Conceptual Gardens, and Plasticine!

In the 80s, the number of gardens exhibited at the show had more than doubled, and in the 90s we saw the rise of conceptual gardens. From John Van Hage’s ‘The Forgotten Pavilion’ to Julie Toll's seaside garden, designers pushed creative boundaries further than ever before.

The year 2000 saw the removal of that record-breaking marquee. The canvas – of which five hectares were left over – was transformed and recycled into 7,000 handbags, jackets, and aprons, for pieces of wearable history.

With the advent of the 21st century, the sky soon became the limit for creative gardening – to the extent that TV personality James May created a garden made out of plasticine. Such unusual genius couldn’t go unremarked, of course, and he received his own RHS Gold Medal, which was made out of plasticine, too.

In the two decades since 2000, we’ve seen a virtual Chelsea Flower Show, Irish air gardens, 50,000 crocheted poppies, and more. Every year we’re simply awed by the creativity on display, and the wonders that happen when human beings and the natural world come together.

Whether you’re a regular Chelsea attendee, or would be visiting for the first time, make sure you come and see our five star stand – EA 449!

As promised, we have tickets that you can win for this Sunday’s show. All you have to do is spend £30 on our website, pop in the code CFST21 in your order comments, and sit tight to enter! Terms and conditions do apply.