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A show garden full of colourful flowers and a seating area at the Chelsea Flower Show

History of the Chelsea Flower Show

Every year, people from all around the world descend on the Royal Hospital in Chelsea to feast their eyes on the very best horticultural displays.

Image: Show gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May 2018 | Edinburghcitymom /

The Chelsea Flower Show is one of the highlights of every spring. Each year the gardens and creations seem to get even more extravagant and exuberant. Here we’re exploring the origins of the spring celebration and looking at some of the lesser-known facts about this wonderful annual occasion.

When is the Chelsea Flower Show 2024?

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is open from 21st - 25th May 2024. You can buy tickets to attend for the whole weekend or simply visit for a single day.

The origins of the Chelsea Flower Show

The official inaugural Chelsea Flower Show took place in 1862, under the name of the Royal Horticultural Society Great Spring Show in Kensington. The three-day event was staged in a single marquee and its guest of honour was the King’s mother. The show steadily gained popularity and by 1888 it was too large for the original venue. Therefore, it moved over to Temple Gardens, a green space on the banks of the Thames.

The new venue attracted even more interest, with England’s most prestigious plant nurseries and specialists all wanting a spot to exhibit at the show. The Great Spring Show eventually came to an end, with the final one being held in 1912. It made way for a more significant annual event called the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition, held on the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea. The success of the new show meant Chelsea became the permanent home of the RHS’s exhibition and the Chelsea Flower Show was born.

Home in the Royal Hospital grounds

The Chelsea Flower Show has since taken place almost every spring, with breaks during the World Wars as the Royal Hospital’s grounds were needed for wartime efforts. The show began to rebuild on its historic past in 1947, but the impact of war meant it took some time for its former glory to be restored. However, the shortfall of plants and seedlings on display in 1947 was a changing point in the way the festival was run, as flower arrangements were introduced to make up for the gap.

The popularity of the show hugely increased after the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II as plant nurseries across England had recovered and were able to put on bright and bold colourful shows once again. The Chelsea Flower Show soon became a must-visit event, especially for royalty, and the crowds followed.

By 1979, visitor numbers had reached 6,000 and the show’s popularity meant it had increased its capacity and opening hours year-on-year. Now, the festival is attended by almost 160,000 people every year.

What about the weather?

The weather has been a contentious issue for the Chelsea Flower Show since its inception. The unpredictable nature of the English climate means visitors can never be sure if they’ll enjoy the bright spring sunshine or be subjected to a downpour. Waterproofing has become a priority for organisers of the show as it has been impacted severely by the weather in the past.

5 interesting facts about the Chelsea Flower Show

1. It is not the biggest flower show in the UK

While the Chelsea Flower Show is probably the most publicised and prestigious, it is not the largest flower show in Britain. The accolade goes to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, another important event in the horticultural calendar.

2. Fake grass is banned

The well-to-do nature of the Chelsea Flower Show means there is an extensive list of things which simply are not allowed in the display gardens. The RHS have strong views on the unnecessary use of plastics, and this means that fake grasses are not welcome at the show.

3. Show gardens take 19 days to construct

The show gardens are the highlight of Chelsea and many of them are painstakingly created with innovative gardening techniques and amazing attention to detail. Each show garden is built from scratch over 19 days. Estimates suggest over 2,000 tonnes of soil is moved to prepare for the show and create the amazing gardens that visitors can explore.

4. 2023 saw the first Chelsea Flower Show wedding

Garden designer Manoj Malde was the first person ever to get married at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2023, when he married his partner, Clive. Manoj got married in the garden he designed himself.

5. Gnomes were excused from the ban list in 2013

The infamous ban list included garden gnomes which weren’t considered classy enough for the event, but there was a one-off exception. In 2013, the centenary year of the show, well-known people including Joanna Lumley, Mary Berry and Elton John all painted gnomes to sell for charity.