The Chelsea Flower Show has been one of the world’s most prestigious garden shows for over a hundred years. A quick Google search for this year’s event will probably tell you that it has been cancelled but this historic show isn’t going anywhere and in fact, it’s more accessible than ever before.
My experience of the Chelsea Flower Show so far has been sofa-based, involving me hopping between BBC 1 and BBC 2 at random intervals of an afternoon, trying to find what is perhaps television’s most bizarrely scheduled programme. The effect is no less joyous despite its odd timing. The grandeur of the gardens on Main Avenue and the flawless plants in the Great Pavilion are the perfect antidotes to exam season stress.
It has long been my dream to attend the event in person. This obviously won’t be happening any time soon, so now event organisers are turning to the internet to provide keen fans with the flower fix they need.
This year’s Chelsea feels more personalised and welcoming
‘Virtual Chelsea’ will take place online from 18th–23rd May and will feature daily videos from top horticulturalists on the Royal Horticultural Society website. Garden designers will give their take on the latest garden styles and nurseries will be able to showcase the displays they would have shown in the Great Pavilion. Select private gardens will be virtually opening their doors to showcase the best of British horticulture.
There’s plenty to see as ever and there’s even an opportunity, in collaboration with The One Show, to showcase your own garden and win tickets to Chelsea 2021. With visitors no longer limited by cost, distance or venue space, this could be the most well-attended Chelsea to date.
Public engagement will be at the heart of this venture. People will be able to vote in categories such as ‘People’s Choice Garden of the Decade’ and live lunchtime sessions will be interactive to allow viewers to ask for expert advice on their own gardening queries. So, while there’s no Main Avenue to thrill us this year, this year’s Chelsea feels more personalised and welcoming.
This is the first year that access has been completely equal for all
Chelsea has a reputation for being somewhat elitist. It’s part of the ‘English Season’ of high society social events that also includes the Henley Royal Regatta and the Epsom Derby. The Queen has missed the show only twice, and royals and celebrities flock to attend Medals Day. Medals Day is included in the first three days of the show which are off-limits to non-members of the RHS. The show’s prestige matches its price tag too: non-members paid £107 per person in 2019.
Of course, for many years now the public has been able to watch the show on the BBC, but this is the first year that access has been completely equal for all. Now that viewers are invited to contribute with their own gardens and questions, this feels like the people’s Chelsea. Those lucky enough to have gardens will be able to use this opportunity to brush up their skills, and those of us who don’t still get to bask in other people’s beautiful creations for a bit of escapism.
One day I hope to visit Chelsea myself in all its glory, and if I have to save up to walk down Main Avenue then so be it. But I hope this experiment in horticulture for the masses gives the RHS something to think about when they put on their flower shows afresh in 2021. It would be nice to think that Chelsea 2020 was a marker of permanent change towards plant appreciation for all.