Highlights to the Chelsea Flower Show include the avant-garde show gardens designed by leading names with Floral Marquee at the centrepiece. The Show also features smaller gardens such as the Artisan and Urban Gardens.
The first Royal Horticultural Society Great Spring Show was held in 1862, at the RHS garden in Kensington. Before this date the RHS had held flower shows from 1833 in their garden in Chiswick, which themselves had been preceded by fetes. The Kensington Garden was chosen as a site because the flower shows in Chiswick were experiencing falling visitor numbers due to problems such as poor transport links. The Great Spring Show was held at Kensington for twenty-six years but in 1888 the RHS decided to move the show to the heart of London. The site chosen was the Temple Gardens, situated between the Embankment and Fleet Street, which had a recorded history dating back to 1307 and which were said to date from the time of the Knights Templar. The roses for which these Temple Gardens were famous were alluded to in Shakespeare's Henry VI Part 1. Using two marquees requisitioned from the old Kensington shows the 1888 show was a success with exhibits from both amateurs and commercial firms. By 1897 five marquees were being used with many of the best known plant and seed merchants being attracted to the event including Suttons and Sons.
In 1912, the Temple Show was cancelled to make way for the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition. Sir Harry Veitch, the great nurseryman, secured the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, for this one-off event. It proved such a good site for an exhibition that the Great Spring Show was moved there in 1913, where it has taken place almost every year since.
The RHS first became involved with the Chelsea Hospital in 1905. Three years before, it had leased the grounds of Holland House in Kensington to hold what was first advertised as a Coronation Rose Show, but which turned into a more general show (with not many roses) by the time it actually opened in June. Two further two-day summer shows took place at Holland House in 1903 and 1904, but then, to the general satisfaction of exhibitors and press, a three-day Summer Show was staged in the Hospital grounds, a more spacious site than Holland House had allowed, with room for five tents. The Summer Shows reverted to Holland House for the years thereafter, except in 1911, when both it and Chelsea proved unavailable, and the Show was held at the Olympia exhibition hall.
The Royal International Horticultural Exhibition of 1912 demonstrated, at a time when the complaints from the Temple were increasing annually, what an excellent site for a show the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital provided. Accordingly, for 1913, the Great Spring Show was moved there. The first Chelsea Flower Show opened on May 20. The Summer Show reverted to Holland House. Despite the First World War, the show was held 1914–1916, but was cancelled in 1917 and 1918.