Coronavirus: UK holds first virtual Chelsea Flower Show amid pandemic

Annual gardening celebration popular with the royal family cancelled for the first time since the Second World War

The first virtual version of the UK’s Chelsea Flower Show kicked off this week, promising a new focus on learning as the coronavirus crisis continues to make large gatherings of people impossible in Britain.

Queen Elizabeth II, patron of the Royal Horticultural Society which has organised the event at London’s Royal Chelsea Hospital since 1912, was forced to skip her traditional visit to the show as she continues to isolate in Windsor Castle.

It is the first time the event has been cancelled since the Second World War.

The Queen, who has attended almost every year since her childhood, praised the organisers’ creative solution.

“My family and I have always enjoyed visiting the show,” she said in a letter. “I know that your members and supporters will be disappointed that they are unable to attend in person this year."

The queen said she was “pleased” to hear that the show was taking on an educational role as it moves online during the pandemic, and shared images of her favourite plants chosen by members of the royal family.

2. Queen Elizabeth II visits at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016. Courtesy RHS *** Local Caption ***  on27ma-CFS-06.jpg

“I am sure that my grandmother, Queen Mary, who first attended the Chelsea Flower Show in 1916, would be delighted that many people today have an enthusiasm for horticulture,” she added.

More than 150,000 people from around the world had been due to descend on a small corner of the British capital each year for the event, which showcases the work of some of the finest garden designers.

This undated handout image received from Buckingham Palace in London on May 18, 2020 shows an image chosen by Britain's Prince Charles, Prince of Wales of Delphinium plants, after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the RHA Chelsea Flower Show. The Queen, as Patron of the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) marked the Opening of the Virtual Show by sending a message to all those associated with the RHS, and releasing pictures of one of her favourite plants.
  - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / Highgrove Entreprises" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS -  DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS FOR THE CONTEMPORANEOUS ILLUSTRATION OF EVENTS, THINGS OR THE PEOPLE IN THE IMAGE OR THE FACTS MENTIONED IN THE CAPTION. NO USE AFTER JUNE 18, 2020.
 / AFP / BUCKINGHAM PALACE / Handout / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / Highgrove Entreprises" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS -  DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS FOR THE CONTEMPORANEOUS ILLUSTRATION OF EVENTS, THINGS OR THE PEOPLE IN THE IMAGE OR THE FACTS MENTIONED IN THE CAPTION. NO USE AFTER JUNE 18, 2020.

Organisers of this year’s online festival have put a new focus on sharing knowledge, and have prepared a programme of content for virtual visitors including tours of gardens by their designers, demonstrations and Q&A sessions with experts. All of the content was made available to the public on Tuesday.

The Chelsea Flower Show has become an almost permanent fixture on Britain’s calendar, drawing royalty, celebrities and the public to its annual display of colour.

From its beginnings as a three-day event held in a single marquee, to its present 11-acre size, the show has become perhaps the best-known celebration of gardening in the world.

The show went ahead in 1915 despite the outbreak of World War One, before being cancelled due to the conflict.

In 1932, the show went on despite rain so severe it caused a summer house to collapse.

The yearly spectacle was last cancelled in 1939, again due to the outbreak of war in Europe, but the show returned again in 1947 and taken place ever since.

The coronavirus lockdown has brought a renewed interest in gardening, with Britons confined to their homes cherishing their outdoor spaces.

Some 83 per cent of homes in England have some private outdoor space, according to 2016 government figures.

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