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Irene, my friend, is a keen gardener and a lover of perennial borders and deceptive traps for slugs and all that comes with gardening. Myself, well, as I always say: my thumb just never had time to go green! Sometimes I dream about a little cottage garden, but let’s be honest I’d rather play cards with my friends or go to the cinema theatre than grab a hoe and get my hands dirty with peonies and whatnot. I like looking at flowers and sitting in beautiful parks though!

So this month, I’ve found myself getting excited about gardens: Irene won two tickets to London to an exhibition held in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital at a charity raffle. It’s apparently all about gardening and plants with companies like McBean’s Orchids, and Blackmore and Langdon exhibiting their goods, but it also comes with train tickets and high tea on the grounds, so even a garden terror like me will have something to do! I love London, especially that I’m almost certain I get to see my darling daughter Isabella too. I’ve already written to her post haste.

I’ve never heard of such a thing in my life, but apparently garden shows are anything but a new invention. The predecessor of this one was the Great Spring Show, which was first held in the Royal Horticultural Society‘s garden in Kensington in 1862 and then in Temple Gardens between 1888-1911, before moving to Chelsea. It will probably be held somewhere else next year.

It contains both nursery exhibits for the likes of Irene, and model gardens, as well as exhibits from foreign countries and from Britain, for the likes of me. Irene says the Queen’s going to be there too, but I’m more interested in the Japanese dwarf trees, which will be presented to the public for the first time. Irene’s numerous pamphlets describe them as the miracles of nature and horticultural skill: they are apparently exactly like real big trees except they sit in a pot. Last night I actually dreamt of the big dollhouse I used to have as a child and it was surrounded by tiny live poplars. Who knows maybe deep down there is a gardener inside me, albeit probably only a really tiny one….

Queen Mary visiting the Chelsea Flower Show in 1913:


The Chelsea Flower Show went on to become a national phenomenon of course. Sir Harry Veitch, the great nurseryman, secured the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, for a one-off event in 1913. It proved such a good site for an exhibition that the Great Spring Show was moved there in 1913, where it has taken place almost every year since. Despite the First World War, the show was held 1914 – 1916, but was cancelled in 1917 and 1918. By the roaring 1920s, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show was back in full swing, the famous Chelsea tea parties were established and Royal visits resumed. Exhibitors never fail to rise to the challenge of the temperamental British weather to maintain the prestige of this event. In 1928, there was a heavy storm the night before the opening day and the drains of the marquees became choked with hailstones, which caused flooding. The next morning, the show opened with no sign of the previous night’s torrential storm after RHS staff and exhibitors worked through the night to clear debris and repair damage. But there was more than just hail in the history of the Flower Show. It was cancelled during the Second World War, as the land was required by the War Office for an anti-aircraft site. The show resumed in 1947. Weathering the ever-changing fashions of horticulture, 2013 is the first year when gnomes will be allowed in the model gardens!

Source: http://press.rhs.org.uk/RHS/files/3a/3a59f193-ef25-4d6d-9572-402d3fcbcb59.pdf