Gardening Will Save The World, Chelsea Flower Show garden designed by: Tom Dixon. Sponsored by: IKEA

Chelsea Flower Show timeline: from 1913 to now

With the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021 fast approaching (21 to 26 September) we take stock of key moments from Chelsea Flower Shows gone by.

1913

First Chelsea Flower Show opens on 20 May for three days.

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A colourful print showing part of the rockery in the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society at Chiswick. Dated 19th century.
© Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

1926

The General Strike threatens to disrupt the show, but in the end only delays it for a week.

King George V and Queen Mary pay a visit to the annual spring flower show at Chelsea, London, 1926-1927.
King George V and Queen Mary pay a visit to the annual spring flower show at Chelsea, London, 1926-1927.
© Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

1951

A series of small tents is replaced by the Great Marquee, recorded by the Guiness Book of Records as the world’s largest tent, at 3.4 acres.

1950s

RHS Secretary Mr A Simmonds is alleged to have evicted scantily clad models from a rock garden, on the grounds that ‘livestock of any kind’ may not be exhibited at the show.

1959

The Times becomes the first newspaper to sponsor a garden. The Garden of Tomorrow features ‘the most modern aids to horticulture’, including a radio-controlled lawn mower.

1962

Designer John Brookes presents his first Chelsea garden.

Two women wearing large, floppy brimmed, straw hats have a chat during a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show in 1963.
Two women wearing large, floppy brimmed, straw hats have a chat during a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show in 1963.
© Photo by Cleland Rimmer/Getty Images

1977

Carpet bedding makes a comeback, with a display by the Royal Parks. Increasingly ambitious bedding displays soon become a popular annual feature.

1988

Admissions are limited to 40,000 a day (cutting total admissions from 250,000 to 160,000) and for the first time, RHS members are charged for tickets (though they do get a members-only day). 10,000 members resign in protest.

1989

Horticulture Week asks: ‘Why don’t Chelsea gardens ever have sheds, dustbins or washing lines?’

1993

An antique gnome protests against the ban on his brethren by holding a demo and blocking the entrance to the show.

2001

A new category for small gardens, ‘Courtyard’ gardens is introduced, followed by the ‘Chic’ and ‘City’ gardens in 2001 – categories continue to evolve.

2002

A new rigid pavilion replaces the Great Marquee, which is cut up and made into 7,000 jackets, aprons and bags.

2009

James May exhibits a garden made entirely of Plasticine. He was presented with a special Plasticine Gold Medal

Paradise in Plasticine, James May's garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2009
Paradise in Plasticine, James May’s garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2009
© RHS/Tim Sandall

2010

Tony Smith’s The Easigrass Garden caused a stir when it featured artificial grass.

2011

The first garden since Babylon to hang in the air – Diarmuid Gavin’s ‘Irish Sky Garden’.

2014

At 23, David Rich, was one of the youngest ever designers at Chelsea, designing Show Garden ‘Vital Earth The Night Sky Garden’ with his elder brother Harry.

2016

Collaborating with the 5000 Poppies Project, designer Philip Johnson created a spectacular remembrance tribute and used almost 300,000 individually crocheted poppies. Covering nearly 2,000 sq m from the vista of the showground to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, each handmade poppy signified a tribute to those who served in all wars.

2019

IKEA & Tom Dixon: ‘Gardening Will Save the World’ was the first ever judged Show Garden within the Great Pavilion.

2020

Sadly the familiar May show falls foul of Covid… But is replaced by a triumphant Virtual Chelsea event in its absence.

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2021

Finally, in 2021 we get two bits of the Chelsea cherry. Not only is there a Virtual Chelsea event as per last year – this year taking place 17 to 21 May – but the show makes it’s return in full 21 to 26 September. Make sure you visit gardensillustrated.com throughout both events for all the latest, and sign up to our newsletter for updates below.

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