Since its inception, in 1913, the Royal Horticultural Society’s extraordinary Chelsea Flower Show has attracted social butterflies, buzzing columnists, and regal visits to its coveted opening day. But the real star power of the most important garden show in the world is floriferous and vegetal. This year, in the midst of a global pandemic that has closed public gardens across the country, the R.H.S. is going digital. The breathtaking glory that is the United Kingdom’s tradition of visionary gardening—there is no other like it in the world—will not be laid out over the 23-acre Royal Hospital Chelsea grounds. Instead, designers, florists, and growers will provide video content in a number of different formats, and some will create at home the extravagant exhibitions they had planned to display in the vaunted Great Pavilion.
Normally, the show would have begun with the Chelsea pensioners, veterans of the British Army dressed in dapper red wool blazers, festooned with brass buttons and beribboned with medals. Some 300 of them live in the 300-plus-year-old Royal Hospital, and they welcome the show’s visitors, who wear hats swagged with flowers, or dress as topiary. Dancers, musicians, and artists en plein air twirl and strut through planted sets featuring streams, rills, ponds, pools, and fountains; walls and trellises surround entire meadows and areas set aside for sitting, sleeping, and play. But not this May.