History of the show

How Chelsea became the world's most famous flower show

Fascinating facts

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show has been held in the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital every year since 1913, apart from gaps during the two World Wars.

It used to be Britain’s largest flower show (it has now been overtaken by Hampton Court), but is still the most prestigious. From the beginning it has contained both nursery exhibits and model gardens. Every year there have been exhibits from foreign countries as well as from Britain.

It is the flower show most associated with the Royal family, who attend the opening day every year.

Did you know?

  • The RHS Great Spring Show was first held in the now vanished RHS garden in Kensington in 1862. Between 1888 and 1911 it was held in the Temple Gardens. It moved to its current site at Chelsea Hospital in 1913.
  • The Chelsea rules forbid the use of coloured sculptures. So garden gnomes have been forbidden throughout its history. One frequent exhibitor, Jekka McVicar, used to smuggle a gnome into her exhibits…
  • Of the firms that exhibited at the first Show in 1913, three are still showing: Kelways, McBean’s Orchids, and Blackmore and Langdon.
  • In 1912 the Great Spring Show was cancelled in order to hold the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition, which was held at Chelsea Hospital. It was the success of this event that made the RHS move the Great Spring Show to Chelsea next year.
  • The Great Marquee, which was first put up in 1951, was named in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest tent (3½ acres). It was replaced by the current modular structure in 2000. The remains of the old tent were cut up and used to make 7000 bags, aprons, and jackets.
  • 1979 was the first year in which the turnstiles had to be closed to prevent overcrowding. Since then a ceiling has been put on the number of tickets sold, with a cap on visitors being introduced in 1988.
  • Exhibits of flower arranging have appeared every year since 1948, and by 1956 there were so many as to require a separate tent.

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