For the Pro Landscaper team, preparing for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is one of the best – and busiest – times of the year. There’s an air of excitement in the office. What are the themes? Who’s creating the RHS gardens? What are the new names amongst the Chelsea stalwarts?
We start preparing for our own Chelsea-focused supplement at the start of the year usually, carefully planning out the pages. We look ahead to how we can showcase the event online – in the past, this has appeared as photo diaries, blogs, and exclusive interviews for our website. It’s a privilege to speak to the different designers, contractors, nurseries and suppliers involved in creating the world renowned show.
This year, as we’re all aware, is a little different. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the UK, forcing the cancellation of some of our most beloved events, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show being one of the largest. But that hasn’t stopped the RHS from holding it anyway, albeit virtually. Whilst the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea may remain closed to the thousands of visitors who usually flock there at this time of year, the RHS website is inviting them and welcoming them to the first Virtual Chelsea.
Some may be a little discouraged by this – surely most of the usual visitors to Chelsea are beyond the age of knowing what Google is, let alone tracking down the RHS website and viewing the exclusive content the organisation is now offering? I’d argue the opposite. Not only is it entirely accessible to the usual crowd (a broader age range than widely assumed), Virtual Chelsea has opened itself up to a whole new set of visitors. The millennials enticed by houseplants can now watch Ian Drummond talk about how to care for these indoor oases. The Londoners with little gardens, if any, can now watch Charlotte Harris wander around part of the capital highlighting the green spaces she adores near to where she lives. No hefty-priced ticket is needed to attend these.
COVID-19 may have stripped us of some freedoms, but it’s potentially broadened the love of green spaces to those who may not have appreciated them before. Views of the RHS’ advice page have soared to 12 million since lockdown began. Those who may not have heard of Chelsea before (they do exist) may find themselves scrolling through the RHS website and clicking on ‘Top design tips with Sarah Eberle’ (if the RHS has got its SEO right, of course).
After all, the RHS has carefully planned its first virtual show – short and sweet videos are key to engaging viewers. And for those who want more, there’s the BBC coverage, allowing us to appreciate the shows which have taken place in the past and reflect on how these gardens have changed over time and the influence they have had.
Perhaps we’ll find that next year’s Chelsea will continue this online presence, and we can keep our fingers crossed for a surge in interest from those looking to join this wonderful industry.