Without a doubt, one of jewels in London’s summer calendar crown is Chelsea Flower Show.
Queen Alexandra opened the first ever Chelsea Flower show, held over three days on 20 May 1913. Over the following years, the show had to adapt and reflect the turbulence of Britain’s social and political landscape. The last cancellation of the event was in 1947 as WW2 was fought and won, and, since then, the show has weathered any storm that has blown its way.
This year, amid the COVID crisis, Chelsea Flower Show has evolved once again and saw The Queen opening the first “unique” virtual Chelsea Flower Show. Speaking during the launch she said that her grandmother, who visited her first show in 1916, would be delighted to know how gardening has become a national pastime. The Queen, who usually attends the flower show in person as its patron in one of the highlights of the royal calendar, sent her best wishes as the 2020 version takes place online under coronavirus lockdown.
After the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the show, the Royal Horticultural Society has instead designed a programme of online talks and shows this week starring a host of famous faces.
The first ever virtual Chelsea Flower Show is under way with organisers billing it as being “about sharing gardening knowledge”. The event usually takes place annually at London’s Royal Hospital Chelsea, but was cancelled for the first time since World War Two due to the lockdown.
Content including tours of gardens by designers like Monty Don and demonstrations are being posted online. “[The show is] happening, just not quite as we know it,” said Don.
Different themes will be followed each day, such as wildlife gardening, health and wellbeing, and growing plants in small or indoor spaces. There will also be potting demonstrations, a “school gardening club” and lunchtime Q&As with garden experts.
Katherine Potsides, head of shows development at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), told the BBC exhibitors who would normally be at the event would be “showing us round the corners of their gardens” and demonstrating “what they’re doing at this time to brighten up their own back yards”.
“Part of virtual Chelsea really is about sharing that gardening knowledge,” she said.
In a message to its organisers, the Queen said she and her family had “always enjoyed visiting the show” and she was “pleased to hear that you will be providing gardening advice and virtual sessions on your website”.
“As you adapt to the present circumstances, I hope you find this unique event enjoyable and interesting,” she said.
RHS members will be able to see the content from Monday, with it being made available for everyone else over the rest of the week.
Special programmes looking back at the best of the Chelsea Flower Show will also be shown on BBC One and BBC Two.