The annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show opened today – 22nd May 2017 with a visit from HM Queen Elizabeth and in the evening with its traditional charity preview. The RHS patron, HM the Queen, is the guest of honour at each show. The show is so popular tickets are restricted to four per person and are already sold out. Tickets for the Gala dinner start at £700 per head for; champagne, canapés and live music followed by a three-course meal.

Chelsea is probably the world’s most famous horticultural shows and is the place to see cutting-edge garden design, find new plants and new ideas to enhance your garden. The show is held in the grounds of Royal Hospital Chelsea which was once the site of the famous 18th century Ranelagh Gardens.

Ranelagh was one of the great melting pots of 18th century society. Entry cost two shillings and sixpence, compared to a shilling at Vauxhall and Horace Walpole wrote soon after the gardens opened, “It has totally beat Vauxhall… You can’t set your foot without treading on a Prince, or Duke of Cumberland.” Novelist Fanny Burney described how the nightly illuminations and magic lanterns ‘made me almost think I was in some enchanted castle or fairy palace’. Originally designed to appeal to wealthier tastes, pleasure gardens soon became the haunt of the rich and poor alike.

When it first opened in 1746, Ranelagh boasted acres of formal gardens with long sweeping avenues, down which pedestrians strolled together on balmy summer evenings. Other visitors came to admire the Chinese Pavillion or watch the fountain of mirrors and attend musical concerts held in the great 200-foot wide Rotunda, the gardens’ main attraction where Mozart performed as a child. Yet the novelty soon waned. In June of that year Catherine Talbot wrote to a friend that “…it is quite vexatious at present to see all the pomp and splendour of a Roman amphitheatre devoted to no better use than a twelvepenny entertainment of cold ham and chicken.” And Ranelagh soon lost out to the cheaper and more exciting Vauxhall Gardens. It probably didn’t help that the Rotunda proved to have dreadful acoustics, there was no drinking or gambling allowed and the grounds were too well lit for assignations. However, Ranelagh remained open for sixty years weathering the storms and frosts of the 1780s, London riots and the French wars until 1803.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is organised by the Royal Horticultural Society which was founded in 1804. The Chelsea Flower Show started over 100 years ago it was just a few tents and was nothing like the spectacle it is today. The Royal Hospital is proud of its links with the Royal Horticultural Society. Today the show is a highlight of the social calendar for the English elites and the Great Pavilion is one of main attractions covering roughly 11,775 square metres or 2.90 acres, enough room to park 500 London buses.

One of the RHS’s campaigns they will be promoting at the show this year is ‘Greening Grey Britain.’ Watch this wonderful transformation.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback and Kindle. Also available on:

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