For most of the year, that single word ‘Chelsea’ probably conjures up images of a famous football team in the top flight of English football.
A place they have occupied for most of the years since their foundation in 1905. Presently owned by Roman Abramovich and managed by Jose Mourinho, their board is chaired by … and you probably didn’t know this … Lord Attenborough, better remembered by my generation as Dickie Attenborough, the now-elderly actor, film director, film producer and older brother of Sir David Attenborough.
However, at this time of year the word ‘Chelsea’ is more commonly heard in connection with a world-famous, annual event which takes place in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelses, during the month of May. This is, of course, the Chelsea Flower Show. To be eligible for admission to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea ... home of the Chelsea Pensioners … a candidate must be a former non-commissioned officer or soldier of the British Army who is over 65 years old, is the recipient of an Army Service Pension or War Disability Pension and is self-caring and able to live independently. To be eligible to attend Chelsea Flower Show, a candidate must be able to be in London during the period 20-24 May, be a member of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) who can afford between £68.00 and £45.00 per day … the top price for the first day, of course … or be a member of the public who can afford £58.00 per day for any of the last three days.
Now only the second-largest flower show in Britain … the Hampton Court Flower Show attracts more visitors now … Chelsea has one overriding factor in its favour. Coloured sculptures are forbidden, so there should be no gnomes, cats with solar-lit eyes or meerkats, although there is a strong possibility that one or more exhibitors will try to smuggle just such a ‘decoration’ into the Show. What does await the visitor is a staggering range of spectacular, world class gardens from top designers, including artisan gardens whose originators must make artistic use of materials to what the organisers call ‘fresh gardens’, whose creators must think ‘outside the box’. There are contemporary gardens, conceptual gardens, woodland gardens, formal gardens, children’s gardens, urban gardens, romantic gardens – in fact, virtually any sort of garden that an enthusiast can think of.
Then, to quote the RHS website: “We have lots of gardening advice on growing, feeding, pruning and propagating plants, plus details on pests and diseases, as well as a wealth of other hints and tips from the plant and gardening experts.” You want more yet? Then what about: “RHS Chelsea at Twilight on Friday 23 May, when we are pleased to be offering an evening of light opera by Opera Holland Park. Ticket includes entry to the show at 5.30pm and a glass of champagne. The concert will commence at 8.15pm and last for an hour. (Timings are approximate.)” These concert tickets cost £70 if you are a member of the public and a mere £63 if you are a member of the RHS, although that price does include admission to the Show from 5.30, allowing you two-and-a-half hours to visit a few of the highlights before you make your way to the bandstand no later than 8 o’clock.
Since 1979, admission has imitated the means of accessing Stamford Bridge, for turnstiles were introduced in that year to control the crowds pressing for entry; and there is a strict ceiling on the number of tickets which are issued. The last time I checked, the only tickets which were still obtainable from the organisers were for evening entry on Friday; so, not having bought a ticket in advance, I think I shall miss the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show!