Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May, but not so at the Chelsea Flower Show.
Between May 22nd and May 26th, an estimated 157,000 horticulturalists will be flooding through the gates of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the home of the world’s most prestigious horticultural event. For nearly a century and a half, the Chelsea Flower Show has been a bucolic paradise for city-dwellers looking to escape the London hum- drum. Over the coming weeks, organisers will be performing their ritualistic sun dances in the hope that the ‘Chelsea Shower Flow’ does not rear its ugly head. It may have been 86 years ago, but the memory of 1932 remains vivid: weeping skies resulted in the summer house display falling into pieces.
Alas, such bad fortune will not bestow itself upon this year’s festivities. With a Royal Wedding a week before the show, it would be wholly un- patriotic of the British weather to not maintain a stiff upper lip. Besides, the British monarchy knows how to weather a storm or two; in a reign spanning 65 years, the Queen has only missed the show on 12 occasions. It is unlikely that a few drops of rain will make it 13.
Across the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s sprawling grounds, 11 acres are occupied by the show, equating
to around ten football pitches. There are also 250 trade stands and 100 exhibitors’ stands in the Great Pavilion, which covers around 2.9 acres. Walking such distances may seem daunting, but fear not for our indefatigable garden- goers. Last year, to stave off any inkling of dehydration, a modest 28,823 glasses of champagne were guzzled (not to mention a further 45,000 canapés that were battened down the hatches).
But spare a thought for the garden designers, who have little more than a month to prepare. Rain or shine, embattled horticulturalists will beaver, furrow, turf and plant in a bid to win a coveted gold medal. The process is painstaking, made all the more so by the presence of the ‘Chelsea flu’. Yes, such a thing exists. In an interview with The Guardian, Nina Baxter said: “The worst part is when the plane trees on Main Avenue dump their pollen… you get it in the back of your throat and in your eyes… Everyone hopes for a big strong wind overnight, so it takes it off the trees all in one go.”
So the winds shall blow. Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor, and it will be as much a test of mettle as of ability for the designers. While the Chelsea Flower Show may no longer be Britain’s largest (the Hampton Court Palace Show has since taken the crown), few can deny its immense prestige. Attracting talent from all over the world, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is still the place to
be for budding and blossoming horticulturalists. As one former contestant described it, the Chelsea Flower Show is the ‘World Cup’ of gardening. Fortunately for Brits, we might actually win this one.