The 100th Chelsea Flower Show is currently taking place in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. It is the most famous flower show in the United Kingdom, and perhaps in the world, attracting visitors from all continents. This year’s event, opening on Tuesday, will have more than 500 exhibitors and cover 11 acres; more than 165,000 visitors are expected to visit the show. The Lady magazine calls ‘Chelsea’ “the greatest show on Earth” and by all accounts it is a spectacular show with exuberant and colourful designs. It is also regularly noted that Chelsea too raises important issues ranging from sustainability and water harvesting to the human condition.
All very charitable but of course Chelsea Flower Show is an environmental disaster and although it is a wonderful representation of nature in all its multi-coloured glory, it would be impossible to organise an international flower show on this scale and not incur a massive environmental footprint. Trees, flowers, plants and hard landscaping materials are shipped from all over the globe for this six day event. it takes bucket loads of energy and industrial heaters to have the flowers at their peak condition, most of the displays are floodlit, food is served on disposable plates with plastic cutlery,the 188 page show catalogue was not on recycled paper. An estimated 1,100 trees were felled just to provide the nine million sheets of paper used. RHS member and visitor Tania Thorne said: “Having seen the level of environmental waste, I would not have guessed the RHS had even heard of climate change”.
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity but it is more like a corporation, employing 700 people. The environmental goals as stated in it’s charity status are blatantly ignored. The Chelsea flower show is completely run and sponsored by Financial Institutions based in the city of London. The show’s gala dinner attracts some of the top names in business, politics and banking, the highlight of a week of corporate entertainment estimated to raise between £2.5m and £3m for the Royal Horticultural Society. Asd The Guardian reported yesterday,”with the event being attended by more FTSE 100 chief executives than any other in the corporate calendar, some US investment banks have been known to fly in their global heads of mergers and acquisitions purely for the networking opportunity.” It is quite obvious that this is about far more than beautiful floral displays.
THe RHS nevertheless continues to claim that the show is about nature and plantsmanship but it seems to be more about rampant consumerism and a gathering of the wealthiest celebrities such as Elton John, Jerry Hall and Joanna Lumley, as well as the Queen of course.This draws in the TV cameras, the celebrity seekers and I guess all adds to the mystique of which everybody wants a piece. Chelsea thus promotes a cynical corporate view of the natural world, but as John Vidal wrote about last year’s show, “Chelsea is nature for the 1%, as much to do with our own gardens as Christian Dior is to Primark fashion.”