‘Virtual’ Chelsea Flower Show begins: What ‘visitors’ can expect

The Chelsea Flower show is going virtual this year, pictured a garden from the 2014 Chelsea Flower Show. (Getty Images)

Gardening fans rejoice, the Chelsea flower show is going ahead, all be it virtually.

As the online version of the historical gets underway, horticultural experts are highlighting the mental health benefits of green spaces and gardening during lockdown.

This week, royals, celebrities and members of the public were due to head to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London, to see the gardens and displays at the world famous flower show.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the cancellation of the physical show, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has made the decision to take the event online, with a programme of virtual events taking place between May 18-23.

Virtual visitors will be able to participate in behind-the-scenes tours of award-winning gardens, learn how to care for house plants and see online potting demonstrations.

Read more: Sales of garden compost up 250%

People have been turning to gardening to help their mental wellbeing during lockdown. (Getty Images)

Little growers will be able to take part in a school gardening club with activities for kids and join lunchtime Q&As with gardening experts.

Themes each day will range from wildlife gardens, health and wellbeing, and growing plants in small spaces.

The online show opening comes as a poll for the RHS suggests a majority of people (57%) who have gardens and outdoor spaces value them more than before lockdown and seven in 10 (71%) feel they have helped their mental health in recent weeks.

Britons stuck at home have been turning to gardening as a way to pass the time while in coronavirus quarantine.

Sales of compost and seeds are just some items to have seen a spike in recent weeks as people stock up on essentials to give their outdoor areas a makeover during the lockdown.

Garden centres in England and Wales reopened last week, while according to The Guardian seed firms have reported a huge rise in sales.

Read more: Easiest ways to get children into gardening

TV gardener Monty Don, who is helping kick off the virtual Chelsea Flower Show by giving RHS members a glimpse into unseen parts of his famous garden at Longmeadow, said gardens were proving “desperately important” right now.

“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,” he explains.

“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,” he said.

“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 wellbeing.”

Read more: How to grow and care for peonies 

Green spaces can be good for mental health, an example of a garden from the 2018 Chelsea Flower Show. (Getty Images)

However, not everyone has green space. According to the Office for National Statistics, one in eight people do not have access to a private or shared garden, rising to one in five in London.

Sue Biggs, the RHS director general, is calling on the government to stipulate that new homes must have private or communal gardens or a balcony.

“Following lockdown, one of the biggest concerns in the UK is going to be people’s mental health,” she said.

“With our research showing that 70% of people feel their gardens have helped their mental health during this time, the RHS is urging developers, local planners and the government to value gardens as much as the public do,” she said.

Virtual Chelsea starts today (May 18) for RHS members only, with the rest of the week from Tuesday May 19 open to the public.

Additional reporting PA.