It was in 1913 that the Great Spring Show, as it was first known, made its debut, in a single tent. The King and Queen didn’t attend, but the King’s mother, Queen Alexandra, established a tradition of Royal patronage that continues today.
That first show also set the enduring pattern for award-winning gardens from Yorkshire, with a gold medal for a rock garden created by John Wood of Boston Spa, near Wetherby. It was the only such medal to be awarded that year or the next.
It was rock gardens which became in the interwar years the show’s most popular feature, with large crowds picking their way between the plots.
But the marquee layout that is still familiar was not established until after the Second World War, when a giant structure supported by 278 tent posts and covering nearly four acres was erected. For years it was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest tent.
The show grew exponentially from the 1950s, as rock gardens gave way first to shrubs, then bonsai trees and houseplants. The Queen made her first visit as Sovereign in 1955 and in her wake came bright lights from across the celebrity spectrum, for whom Chelsea was now part of the social season. In 1979 the show was so crowded that people had to be turned away.
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