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The Chelsea Flower Show is arguably the most famous flower event of the year. Situated within the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the flower show has been around for over one hundred years, representing people's long love of nature and the beauty of flowers and gardens. Here we look at how the show became as iconic as it has.
The First Show - 1913
The first Chelsea Flower Show (originally called the Great Spring Show) held at Chelsea was a three-day event hosted in a single marquee on May 20th 1913. Before this, the Royal Horticultural Society had held events in various locations across London since 1827, including Chiswick, Kensington Gardens and Temple Gardens, before they found their current home at Chelsea Hospital.
Two World Wars
Only a few months after the second Chelsea Flower Show, the First World War was declared in Europe. Although the show continued in 1915, things changed once compulsory conscription was introduced at the beginning of 1916, meaning many people involved in the exhibitions were called to war. This led to the show being cancelled whilst the war continued. Once the Great War (as it was then called) was finished, popularity for the show increased and resulted in a rise in the number of tents. The show closed again in 1939 when it was announced that Britain was at war once more. Whilst the Chelsea Flower Show was closed, the RHS's main focus was their Dig For Victory, campaign whose aim was to teach people how they could grow their own food in their own gardens.
The King's Mother, Queen Alexandra, was in attendance at the first show in 1913, and would be the first of many royal visits to come. After she ascended the throne in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II was made royal patron of the RHS and made her first royal visit to the show as Queen in 1955. The 2019 Chelsea Flower show will also include a garden that the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, has helped to design.
The set up of the show changed in 1951 when the different tents were replaced by one marquee. This massive structure was so big that it spent years in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest tent. When the tent was removed in the year 2000 to be replaced by a pavilion, the canvas was made into 7,000 handbags, jackets and aprons!
Between the two wars, rock gardens were a popular part of the show which drew in big crowds. In the 1960s this changed, and shrubs and trees became popular. Bonsai trees and the largest display of orchids both featured during this decade. In the 1990s, Mediterranean gardens became popular and by the end of the decade more conceptual / themed gardens appeared. Since then, the garden designs have only continued to become more daring and inventive as time goes by.
The shows increased popularity led to admissions being limited for the first time in 1979 in an attempt to stop overcrowding. Between 1980 and 1985, the number of show gardens doubled, and visitor numbers continued to grow.
Today the show is continuing to go from strength to strength and presents some of the most stunning flower displays and garden designs. Although trends have changed over time, it's clear that people's desire to see amazing floral and garden displays continues to bring great excitement and joy to many.
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