What is Virtual Chelsea? A Guide to THE Gardening Event of 2020

Flowers and foliage

Update: although the week is over, you can catch up with the highlights of Virtual Chelsea online.

As The RHS Chelsea Flower Show had to be cancelled this year, Virtual Chelsea is the Royal Horticulture Societies’ morale boosting invitation to every gardener to immerse themselves in gardening online instead.

So, to ‘visit’ the Chelsea Flower Show in 2020, you don’t need a ticket, your most comfy shoes, to book a hotel or fly to England, and you won’t need to jostle with the crowds for the best view. RHS experts have curated a wide variety of special gardening features to share online during the week when the Chelsea Flower Show would normally be taking place.

If you love gardening, you’ll love Virtual Chelsea, whether your garden is massive, small or just few houseplants indoors or on a windowsill. We can look forward to demonstrations from the potting bench, to insights from award winning designers and celebrity florists, to virtual tours of private gardens and leading nurseries, and to spending time with plants people who specialise in many of our favourite plants. Horticulture experts will host daily lunchtime Q&A sessions to help us navigate some of the many gardening pitfalls so our fingers can get a little greener.

When is Virtual Chelsea?

While access to the virtual show is restricted to RHS Members on Monday 18th May as tradition dictates, from Tuesday 19th May to Saturday 23rd, the virtual show is thrown wide open for everyone around the world to join in free of charge. Once new daily features have been released, they will remain online all week so viewers can catch up at their own pace.

Six ways to get involved in Virtual Chelsea 2020

1. Watch and explore

The easiest way is to watch online at rhs.org.uk/Chelsea from Tuesday 19th May, read some of the articles and browse through pictures of award winning gardens and plants from recent shows.  RHS members can register online to access Virtual Chelsea a day early.

2. Teach your children

Daily activities from the School Gardening Club include creating miniature allotments and floral front door decorations. On Monday, live at 11.30, astronaut Tim Peake will be sharing some gardening rocket science – his experience of growing rocket seeds in space. Everyone is welcome, not just kids!

3. Vote

Have your say by voting in the People’s Choice Awards from a shortlist of garden products of the year and plants and gardens of the decade. Results will be revealed on Saturday.

4. share

Social media buffs can join in the fun by using #RHSChelsea

5. Go back in time

A digital exhibition, Chelsea Stories, will take us through the history of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Highlights include Iconic Plants and The Show Must Go On about the trials and tribulations the show has survived and its onetime alternative title ‘The Chelsea Shower Flow’. You’ll find royal patron Her Majesty Elizabeth II in this section too.

6. Showcase your own garden

There’s still time to enter, but you’ve got to be quick! With plans for the prestigious show gardens thrown into disarray, those who live in the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are invited to fill the gap by entering their garden into the My Chelsea Garden competition. There are four categories:

  • Back garden
  • Front garden
  • Indoor garden (e.g. balconies, windowsills, conservatories, terrariums, glasshouses, houseplants and indoor edibles)
  • Kids’ corner garden (includes fairy gardens, container gardens and indoor growing)

The RHS have made it clear that they will not be judging the amount spent on the garden, or the technical quality of the picture sent to represent it (the photo should be unedited and taken between 1st and 18th May 2020). You’ll need to explain in 250 words or less how your garden is helping you in this very strange era. Entries close at midnight on Monday 18th May. Full terms and conditions can be found on the BBC One Show’s website.

Collection of Paphiopedilum orchids at a flower show

My pick of the highlights of Virtual Chelsea

Monday 18th May

Raymond Evison’s clematis nursery
Growing a cutting garden in containers from plug plants
Chef Raymond Blanc on his beloved balcony herb garden
Advice on selecting perennials from Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants

Tuesday 19th May

Designer Sarah Eberle’s naturalistic, woodland garden
A tour of London’s public parks to find robust urban plants
Inside the greenhouses at David Austin Roses
Features on gladioli, acers and lilies and pressing flowers

Wednesday 20th May

Designer Ishihara Kazuyuki’s home garden in Japan.
Tips from Todd’s Botanics on growing show-worthy irises
Growing foxgloves with the Botanic Nursery

Thursday 21st May

A tour with Sarah Raven around her cutting garden at Perch Hill in East Sussex
The Chelsea Pensioners’ lockdown allotment garden
Secrets of growing vegetables at home

Friday 22rd May

Tom Massey’s mini-meadow: an organic, wildlife haven on a small scale
Designer Ann-Marie Powell’s Hampshire garden
Specialist grower Sienna Hosta’s giant plants
How to get the best from chilli pepper plants (I need this one!)

Saturday 23rd May

The UK’s oldest orchid nursery, McBeans Orchids
Chelsea Best in Show designer Andy Sturgeon’s own courtyard garden
How to propagate weird and wonderful houseplants

String quartet on the David Austin Roses display at Chelsea
Music and roses at the Chelsea Flower Show

As a charity, RHS Chelsea has serious intent, but it’s more fun than you can imagine if you’ve never been, and genuinely exciting too. Everyone involved in Virtual Chelsea will be using it as their personal outlet for the passion and energy that makes the Chelsea Flower Show so special.

Virtual Chelsea might turn out to have been a once in a lifetime opportunity. Make a note to check it out in the week ahead so you can always say ‘I was there!’

21 Replies to “What is Virtual Chelsea? A Guide to THE Gardening Event of 2020”

    1. I’ve been trying to make a list of my fantasy Gardening Product Of The Year, but I’m not getting anywhere. They all end up sounding a little freaky.

    1. I enjoyed the discussion with Tim Peake on growing plants in space – the idea that the roots have no idea which way to go, and that green light is ‘wasted’ so they used pink.

    1. I’m finding it more interesting as the days go on. I wonder what will happen when the show closes – whether it all just disappear or be archived for a while. I get the feeling it might disappear so we have to take a look while we can.

    1. You have to dig around the site to find the best bits. I enjoyed the astronaut talking about growing seeds in space. I once saw a tomato plant that had been grown from a seed that had been in space. The plant was not growing brilliantly, but at least it was growing!

  1. I’ll be there, making plans and promises to myself that I’ll never keep. I’m short, plump and now silver-haired, but in my mind’s eye I’m always a tall, lanky, blonde. Same with my small garden, a long strip of raised bed, small patio with two side pieces, and lots of pots, which I seem to think is a half-acre plot with room for more and more plants (or was, when I was able to go to the nurseries).

  2. Thank you for this information. I traveled to London last year but unfortunately I had booked my flight a week ahead of the the flower show and I was unable to change it. It will be do nice to visit virtually.

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