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Virtual RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2020

With this year’s Chelsea Flow Show cancelled owing to the coronavirus crisis, this week the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has instead put on a “virtual show”, while the Queen who looks forward to the event as one of the highlight’s of the royal calendar sent a message of support. Sue Biggs, RHS Director General, said: “In the absence of the world’s greatest flower show, at a time when gardening, growing plants and access to nature has never been so important, we are delighted to still be able to bring you some of the very best in horticulture. The gardening world has come together to bring garden design and plant inspiration, breath-taking displays and horticultural knowledge to millions of homes so we can continue to inspire everyone to grow. At the RHS we are acutely aware of the benefits that gardening and nurturing plants can have on our mental health and wellbeing.”

On the opening of ‘Virtual Chelsea’ the Royal Horticultural Society announced that appreciation of gardens has doubled during lockdown and seven out of ten people say that their outside space has helped their mental health. One Poll Survey, commissioned by the RHS, of 2000 adults across the UK shows that following lockdown 57% of respondents now value their garden more than previously and 71% felt that having a garden/outdoor space has helped their mental health during lockdown. Weeding, mowing and watering are the gardening activities that are currently having a positive impact on well-being during lockdown, closely followed by planting and potting. Over half (51%) said they will value their garden more in the future.

Throughout the week the RHS website has become host to an online platform sharing an abundance of free, inspiring content from the great and the good of the gardening world. The public have been able to “visit” the website with different themes every day ranging from health and well-being gardens, paying homage to the dedication of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers during the Covid-19 crisis, to wildlife and environmental friendly gardens, to small flowers and plants, perfect for brightening up terraces and indoor spaces.

In her message for the opening of the Virtual Chelsea Flower Show, the Queen said: “I am sure that my grandmother, Queen Mary, who first attended the Chelsea Flower Show in 1916, would be delighted that many people today have an enthusiasm for horticulture, and that gardening remains a popular pastime in the United Kingdom.”

Even the smallest gardens have been helping with people’s mental health, with some 59% of people with 10 square meters or less of outdoor space saying it helped their mental health. The top plants that people said have had the biggest positive impact on their well-being during lockdown are daffodils (27%), trees (27%) and spring flowering bulbs (24%), closely followed by shrubs (21%) and roses (19%). Some 67% of people who have no outside space are more likely to want it when they next move house.

It’s not just outside plants that have been helping people with over a third (34%) of those with houseplants saying that they value them more now during this time of lockdown.

Monty Don said: “I have written and spoken many times of my own battles with depression and over the years have been much helped by medication, therapy, sun lamps, yoga and, not least, by an astonishingly supportive and long-suffering family. But none of this works without the balm of touching ground, of being nourished by the earth. We garden to nurture our little corner of nature but just as importantly, to nourish our souls and more and more people are tapping into its healing power. Plant a seed that becomes a beautiful flower and your life is immeasurably enriched. Simply sit in a garden and listen to the birds and the world is set in a perspective that is empowering. Gardens are fun and beautiful and rewarding – but much more than that, gardens are desperately important and we need them now more than ever for our physical and mental well-being.”

A quieter week than previous years for the Chelsea Pensioners, who have been showing how they have been busy on their allotments during lockdown tending to plants and vegetables generously supplied by South West in Bloom.

The bell on closing day at Chelsea Flower Show has long been the moment that plant enthusiasts have been waiting for, when plants shown on the stands and gardens are sold

off, often at bargain prices. This year thousands of plants that were grown to be exhibited won’t be able to be admired by huge crowds of plantaholics, or receive medals. However, you can give them a home by ordering gloriously colourful, perfect specimens online from the nurseries that would have been exhibiting. From lilies and irises to azaleas and delphiniums (a favourite of Prince Charles), these are expertly grown specimens ready to be planted out right now. Buying them directly from the UK’s small independent, often family-run nurseries will help support them and cheer you up at the same time.

Keep an eye out for Alpines – some of the smallest, delicate flowers you can ever imagine. A pot can hold a huge range of Alpines which can look stunning in the garden, or on a windowsill. They can cope with high wind levels, but need moisture and good drainage. Tougher looking, carnivorous plants, which need little tending have become one of the hottest new trends.

Gardening of any kind is deeply beneficial – it reduces anxiety and depression and can offer some relief from living in a troubled world and the stresses of work. Even if you don’t have green fingers, with a little patience you can bring a little bit of Chelsea magic into your own garden, or windowsill.

To buy plants direct from the nurseries that would have been exhibiting at Chelsea this year, check out a full list at rhs.org.uk/supportournurseries

The RHS hope that people will also flood their social media feeds with positive images of plants and beautiful gardens to help ease anxiety and provide some respite in these challenging times, using the hashtag #mychelseagarden.


Rebecca Wallersteiner

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