It is normally one of the colourful delights of late spring, loved by professional gardeners and amateurs alike.
But this year’s Chelsea Flower Show has been blighted by Covid.
For the first time in its 109-year history, the event will take place in the autumn – meaning the vibrant displays of mid-May will be replaced by the more mellow tones of the fall.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) will announce today that the show, in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, is to be moved from May 18-23 to September 21-26.
Last year the event had to be scrapped completely because of coronavirus, with a virtual show staged online.
For the first time in its 109-year history, the Chelsea Flower Show will take place in the autumn – meaning the vibrant displays of mid-May will be replaced by the more mellow tones of the fall. Pictured: Actress Felicity Kendal attends the event in 2018 [File photo]
The RHS said it had done its utmost to lift the nation’s spirits by staging its flagship show as scheduled this year, with 140,000 expected to attend.
It had planned safety measures, included spreading the show over an extra day and reducing visitor numbers.
Organisers even considered requiring guests to have a negative Covid test.
Delaying the event by more than four months should mean infection rates are much lower and most of the population will be vaccinated.
But there is still an extra day, reduced visitor numbers – 140,000 instead of 168,500 – the prospect of social distancing and the chance that proof of a negative test will still be required.
Instead of the flowers typically seen in May – such as peonies, bearded irises or white foxgloves – and lush green foliage, garden designers will need to look to late flowering favourites such as dahlias, asters and salvias to wow the public and impress the judges. Pictured: Finishing touches are applied to the Childhood of Memories display from The National Chrysanthemum Society garden during preparations for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2019 [File photo]
Whether there will be the normal array of royal visitors is unclear.
In 2019, the Duchess of Cambridge designed one of the gardens and gave the Queen a guided tour.
As with last year, the first time since the Second World War that Chelsea Flower Show was scrapped, there will be a virtual show in May.
The RHS said the September show will ‘celebrate the best of autumn horticulture’. Exhibitors due to take part in May will still have the chance to do so and organisers are also inviting applications for new gardens.
In 2019, the Duchess of Cambridge (left) designed one of the gardens and gave the Queen (right) a guided tour. It is not clear whether this year’s show will include the usual array of royal visitors [File photo]
It will contact all May ticket holders about arrangements for September.
RHS director general Sue Biggs said: ‘In these challenging times, we have always followed Government advice and made difficult, responsible decisions with the health and safety of people our key concern.
‘Whilst we are sad to have had to delay RHS Chelsea, and are sorry for the disruption this will cause, we are excited that we are still planning to bring the world’s best-loved gardening event to the nation.’
Expect mellow not bright red and yellow…
Switch ing to September will give the Chelsea Flower Show a very unfamiliar look.
Instead of the flowers typically seen in May – such as peonies, bearded irises or white foxgloves – and lush green foliage, garden designers will need to look to late flowering favourites such as dahlias, asters and salvias to wow the public and impress the judges.
As autumn is not just about blooms but berries and foliage too, visitors can expect to see plenty of shades of purple and gold.
And the trend towards ‘wilder’, ecology-friendly gardens may be boosted by the range of softer autumnal tints available to them.
RHS director general Sue Biggs said: ‘We know that the autumn dates may not be suitable for everyone but with our fantastic industry partners we will do everything we can to support them and create a show that will be a moment in history.
It will be exciting to see different horticulture and showcase the key autumn gardening season at the world’s most famous flower show.
‘We believe many designers and nurseries will look forward to working with different plants that would not be available or at their best in May.
‘Never have so many people gardened as in recent times, nor needed the benefits of gardening more, so we will do our utmost to deliver a beautiful, uplifting and different RHS Chelsea.’