Gardening Magazine

Book Review: RHS Chelsea Flower Show, a Centenary Celebration

By Ronniejt28 @hurtledto60

I was delighted to be invited by The Aurum Publishing Group to discuss promotional opportunities for their latest book release;  RHS Chelsea Flower Show: A Centenary Celebration.  We agreed that they would send me a copy and I would write a review on my blog.

You never know what is going to arrive through the post when agreeing to a book review, and when the Postman rang I realised that it was not going to be a small book.   The cover picture below does not do this beautiful book justice, the gray is actually silver which makes it look glossy and interesting before you even open the book.

Chelsea Flower Show

RHS insider Brent Elliott explains how the show has evolved, how it has formed part of the social calendar and how Chelsea has shaped the nation’s taste in garden design over the years.

Packed with great photographs, the book sets out the history of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, referred to these days by most people simply as “Chelsea”.   The chapters start with Before Chelsea 1827-1913 through to From Austerity to a Brave New World 1947-1960, ending with The Ascendancy of Style 2000-2013.

Set within the chapters, on different coloured background, there are pieces on items such Garden Furniture and Garden Ornaments with photos and illustrations from present time dating back to the 30’s and 40’s.   I found this initially a little confusing as they are unconnected with the actual dates of the chapters but it doesn’t detract from the book.

The history of Chelsea is fascinating which I am sure will make any visit to Chelsea all the more interesting.  From comparing the catering facilities of present times to 1827 when the catering consisted of two long tents with tables, “covered with chickens, hams, tongues…pastries, creams wines etc” to learning that the first show run by the Horticultural Society of London was in 1827,  called a “Horticultural Fete” in the Society’s garden in Chiswick.   In 1912 it moved to The Royal Hospital Chelsea and renamed the “RHS Great Spring Show”.   Although this is a 100 year celebration, due to the Wars, the 2013 show will actually be the 92nd RHS show.

Anyone who has been to Chelsea will know how exceptionally busy it is, even just watching it on television you can’t help but notice the crowds.  This is clearly  nothing new, one of the first pictures in the book is a large black and white photograph of men in suits and ties, all with hats, and gloved and hatted women, jostling shoulder to shoulder, vying for a view of the flowers.

Like any good Coffee Table book it consists of attractive photographs from the RHS archives, plans, and illustrations. I particularly liked the extraordinary colourful old posters.   Scattered throughout the book are text boxes with a blue background headed “My Chelsea”.  These short pieces are from well-known nurserymen, nurserywomen and garden designers describing what Chelsea means to them, along with insights from those behind the scenes.  

If you would like a copy of this good-looking, informative book which retails at £25, the publishers are offering a discount to the readers of my blog : To order RHS Chelsea Flower Show: A Centenary Celebration (9780711234512) at the special offer price of £20.00 (inc UK p&p) please call Bookpoint on 01235 400400 and quote the code 46CFS.

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