Video report by ITV News Arts Editor Nina Nannar
Gardening can transform people and connect them to nature, TV gardener Alan Titchmarsh has said as the first “virtual” Chelsea Flower Show kicks off.
This week, royals, celebrities and members of the public were expecting to head to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London, to see the gardens and displays at the world famous flower show.
But with the pandemic forcing the cancellation of the show, for the first time since the Second World War, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has taken the showpiece gardening event online.
The move has received the royal seal of approval: the Queen said she was pleased the RHS is providing gardening advice and virtual sessions on its website and she hoped it found the “unique event enjoyable and interesting”.
In a message to the society, the Queen said: “I am sure that my grandmother, Queen Mary, who first visited 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.”
As the virtual show begins with a day of content for RHS members on Monday, Mr Titchmarsh, who is vice president of the horticultural organisation, said gardens had a transformative effect.
“At the RHS we know just how powerful gardens can be, we know how a garden can transform your home but it can also change your community, it can change the environment just a little bit outside your back door.
“It can also transform you as a person.”
And he said: “If we all connect with that little bit of earth just outside our home, that connects too with the wider world, it gives us an understanding of nature, a respect and a duty of care to the wider world and the landscape which is so important.
“Without that, our world will crumble,” he said, adding that the RHS was at the forefront of a movement to “green up” Britain.
“Virtual Chelsea” comes amid turbulent times for the horticultural industry, as the closure of garden centres at the height of the season prompted warnings over plants being destroyed and nursery businesses put at risk.
But there has also been a boom in gardening during the lockdown, with high levels of interest in gardening advice from the RHS website and online sales soaring, and garden centres are now beginning to reopen.
The public are able to “visit” from Tuesday with different themes each day ranging from wildlife garden to health and well being, perfect plants and growing in small and indoor spaces.
There will be insights into the gardens and nurseries of top gardeners, Chelsea designers and horticultural specialists.
Visitors will also be able to see potting demonstrations, check out the “school gardening club” and join lunchtime Q&As with garden experts, while there will also be Chelsea Flower Show-themed programmes on the BBC.
It comes as polling 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.
TV gardener Monty Don, who has battled with depression, said gardens were “desperately important”.
“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.
“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.”
But not everyone has access to a garden: the Office for National Statistics has revealed one in eight households in England has had no access to a garden during the coronavirus lockdown.