Queen Mary (in white) viewing the Chelsea show
As written in past years, I have an annual pilgrimage during the third week of May "across the Pond" to the Chelsea Flower Show in London. Within this post I feature of few of the show gardens as a sort of "countdown" to the big show. With the show but five weeks away, thought it would be helpful to provide a bit of context and history about what is referred to as "the Great Spring show.
England had been compared to a garden since at least the time of Shakespeare. This metaphor took on particular significance in the Victorian Era as it infiltrated visual, literary, and everyday culture in England. The garden came to represent two things for the English in the Victorian era: home in the face of a massive Empire, and stability in the face of industrialization and a perceived disintegration of society. English citizens were spread across the globe, (see past post on Rudyard Kipling) and began to seek a symbol that would unify those at home, and that would serve as a memory of home for those in their colonies. This image was particularly significant during the Victorian Era as England expanded her empire and influence across the globe.
The English landscape garden is considered by some cultural historians England's most compelling contribution to the visual arts. During the eighteenth century, as England struggled to develop a national identity, the landscape garden was a continual source of pride to landowners, artists, poets and gardeners alike. Botanical Gardens were established in most major towns and many royal estates were opened to the public.
London Bobby (policeman) admiring floral displays
Women in 1940's reading the show's catalog
It is in the next generation, between the wars, that the English become routinely described--by themselves and by other Europeans--as "a nation of gardeners." This extended to middle- and lower-middle-class suburbanites, whose terraced and semi-detached houses and gardens offered certain elements in common with the grander country houses of the elitist classes.
The show, which ultimately grew out of this “religious zeal” was organized by the Royal Horticultural Society and has been a staple of the British social and cultural scene for nearly 150 years. This annual spring festival is held for five days each May and features designed gardens, a large variety of exotic plants and all the accoutrements, trappings and revelry of a great fair. The event is held on the grounds of London's Royal Hospital, and it is perhaps the most celebrated show of it’s kind.
Crowds in 1950 swarming the show
“In 1862, London's Royal Horticultural Society held its first Great Spring Show. The show was held in Kensington and featured an array of exotic plant species from around the world. Each year until 1888, the RHS continued with this annual event, gradually building up a loyal audience. In 1913 they decided to use the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Chelsea, which had hosted several successful rose exhibitions. The show at the Royal Hospital became known as the Chelsea Flower Show, though it is still officially named the Great Spring Show. From 1913 through 1916, the fair enjoyed unprecedented success. By 1917, World War I had devastated much of the region, and the fair was canceled for two years. In the 1920s, London's royal family began to visit the fair each year, starting a new tradition that continues to this day. Also during this time, the Chelsea tea parties began. These parties take place during the show and are a major draw for Britain's social and political leaders. The show was canceled again for several years during World War II. In 1947, though crops and supplies were limited, the Chelsea Flower Show was held as scheduled, and it became a symbol of the country's strength and determination to rebuild. By 1979, the show was so popular that crowds began to overwhelm the limited space. Throughout the next few years, ticket limits were set and attendance was restricted to help prevent injuries to attendees. Despite ticket limits, crowds continued to overwhelm the show until 1993, when parts of the show were relocated to other venues. Today, more than 150,000 visitors attend the show each year. All attendees must purchase tickets in advance, and the show holds an annual preview day specifically for the royal family and other honored guests. The BBC shows much of the event on television each year, to allow those who can't get tickets to take part in the experience. The Chelsea Flower Show is considered a place to spot the latest trends in floral and horticultural design, and it is eagerly attended by industry professionals and garden enthusiasts from around the world.” 1
previous five images of celebrities from bigpictures.com
1 -reprinted from RHS Show catalog