Fascinating facts you didn’t know about the Chelsea Flower Show

Chelsea Flower Show is here again! Here are our favourite little known facts about the blooming marvellous event

garden area with chelsea flower show

(Image credit: Future PLC/Howard Walker)

The countdown to the nation's favourite garden show is nearly up and to get your excitment growing all the more, here are some fabulous facts about the famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

A little bit of history

  • The RHS Chelsea Flower show has been running since 1804 and was originally called The Great Spring Show. In 1913 it was moved to its current home at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.
  • The first RHS Chelsea Flower Show was staged in a single large tent and consisted of a total of 244 exhibitors. Today it spans 23 acres with 500 exhibitors and gardens, including Show Gardens, Artisan Gardens and Fresh Gardens. There are over 100 exhibits in the Great Pavilion and around 270 stands.
  • The Great Pavilion that holds the show's flower exhibits is 11,775 square metres/2.9 acres. That's big enough to park 500 London Buses.

gardena area with ponds and table and chairs

(Image credit: Future PLC/Andrea Jones/Garden Exposures Photo Library)
  • The first ever show cost the RHS £3,365 to stage and made a profit of £88 (£150,000 and £4,000 respectively in today's money). The profits were distributed to gardening charities.
  • In 1932 the rain at the Show was so severe that a summerhouse display fell to pieces. One very wet year an exhibitor named it 'The Chelsea Shower Flow'.
  • RHS Chelsea was cancelled during the Second World War and the site of the show was used by the War Office to station anti-aircraft guns.

summerhosue with garden and paved walkway

(Image credit: TBC)

Show facts

  • In 1979 the show became so crowded that turnstiles had to be added and in 1988 a cap of 157,000 was placed on the number of visitors to the showground - busy, busy, busy.
  • In 2004 the show was extended from four days to five.
  • In 2000 a new pavilion replaced the large canvas marquee, which was cut up and turned into over 7,000 handbags, jackets and aprons by the Old Chelsea Marquee Company.

garden area with pots and table and chairs

(Image credit: Future PLC/Howard Walker)
  • The planning cycle of the show lasts 15 months and it then takes 800 people 33 days to build the show from bare grass to the finished article. The garden shows are built from scratch in just 19 days and are dismantled in only five days.
  • During last year's show 6,000 sandwiches, bloomers and baguettes, 1,000 salads, 43,447 cakes, pastries and cookies and 818 seafood platters were served, as well as 23,823 glasses of champagne and 104,144 hot drinks!

drinks with glass

(Image credit: Future PLC/Terry Benson)

Garden facts

  • Gnomes were banned from the flower show until 2013 when a parade of 150 gnomes was assembled to greet the Queen. The cheeky characters had been painted and pimped up by many celebrates including Elton John, Lily Allen, Mary Berry and Joanna Lumley. The ban is now back in place, but garden designers often try to sneak them in unnoticed.

garden area with gnomes statues

(Image credit: TBC)
  • BBC television coverage of RHS Chelsea began in 1958. Today the BBC screens 11 hours dedicated to the Show.
  • The biggest RHS Chelsea Show Garden (so far) was the Eden Project Garden in 2010 which covered 590 square metres.
  • At Chelsea in 2009, TV gardener David Domoney created an 'Underwater Garden' featuring five tanks filled with tropical plants from all over the world. One of them was based on the Amazon river in South America and it featured 15 live piranhas! David is known for wacky garden displays having also featured gardens with genuine diamonds, worth a whopping £20m (they came with their own security guards) and a wild bird garden that released 100 white doves.

garden area with rocks and cactus plant

(Image credit: Future PLC/Howard Walker)
  • Also in 2009 James May constructed a garden made entirely of plasticine flowers and was presented with a plasticine medal.
  • The tallest ever exhibit at RHS Chelsea was 'The Westland Magical Garden' in 2012. It was designed by Diarmuid Gavin and featured an 80ft high pyramid.
  • Probably the most controversial garden in the show's history was Paul Cooper's 'Cool and Sexy' garden in 1994, which featured a grille that blew jets of air up the skirts of unsuspecting women and featured giant pictures of naked, kissing couples.

Visitor facts

  • These days 165,000 visit the show each year (which is capped).
  • The Royal family are huge fans of the show and attend every year. The Queen is the patron of the Royal Horticultural Society and during her reign has attended all but 12 shows. Prince Harry was the newest member of the family to become involved when he attended the Show after Jinny Blom designed a show garden in aid of his charity, Sentebale.

prince charles in chelsea flower show

(Image credit: TBC)
  • It seems the show is becoming a magnet for garden-loving celebrities. Last year, the world-famous garden show attracted stars including Gone Girl actress Rosamund Pike, actress Demi Moore and cook Mary Berry on its press day. Later in the day, members of the Royal family paid a visit to the RHS show, including the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Countess of Wessex, Prince Harry, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. In the past actor Benedict Cumberbatch has taken his mum, Jerry Hall was spotted enjoying an ice-cream and Gwyneth Paltrow used the show in 2011 as a platform to launch her healthy eating book.

joanna lumley with flower pot

(Image credit: Future PLC/Howard Walker)

Hopefully we've whetted your appetite! Will you be heading to Chelsea Flower Show 2017?

Deputy Editor

Jennifer is the Deputy Editor (Digital) for Homes & Gardens online. Prior to her current position, she completed various short courses a KLC Design School, and wrote across sister brands Ideal Home, LivingEtc, 25 Beautiful Homes, Country Homes & Interiors, and Style at Home.