The Chelsea Flower Show has been postponed to September for the first time in its history as a result of the pandemic.
Organisers had hoped this year’s event could go ahead in May with additional health and safety measures to guard against coronavirus, including reducing numbers and adding an extra day.
But the Royal Horticultural Society has now announced the world famous flower show at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, in London, will be moved to September for the first time in its 108-year history.
The charity said it had made the decision as the Covid-19 infection rate was still very high across the UK, and there was no guarantee what tier London would be in by May.
The RHS said it had a responsibility to exhibitors, visitors, volunteers and staff to delay the flower show until later in the year, when millions more people would be vaccinated and it would be more likely that levels of infection would be substantially reduced.
The September flower show will keep to plans first drawn up for May, of a longer event with fewer visitors – 140,000 people across six days compared with 168,500 over five days in 2019 – to help reduce crowds.
It will mean the show, which is usually awash with spring and summer colour, will look very different from normal, but the RHS said it hoped it would celebrate the best of autumn horticulture.
Last year the show was cancelled for the first time outside of wartime because of the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown, and a virtual Chelsea Flower Show took place online.
The virtual Chelsea Flower Show will take place again this year during the week of May 18-23, when the physical event was due to have taken place.
The RHS said it would be in touch with people who had purchased tickets to the show, and asked ticket holders to refrain from contacting them immediately so they could handle the situation efficiently.
Exhibitors who were due to take part in the cancelled May event will be given the opportunity to be at the autumn show, which will take place from September 21-26.
Sue Biggs, RHS director general, said: “In these challenging times we have always followed government advice and made difficult, responsible decisions with the health and safety of people our key concern.
“Whilst we are sad to have had to delay RHS Chelsea and are sorry for the disruption this will cause, we are excited that we are still planning to bring the world’s best-loved gardening event to the nation at a time when more people are gardening more than ever.
“We know that the autumn dates may not be suitable for everyone, but with our fantastic industry partners we will do everything we can to support them and create a show that will be a moment in history.
“It will be exciting to see different horticulture and showcase the key autumn gardening season at the world’s most famous flower show.
“We believe many designers and nurseries will look forward to working with different plants that would not be available or at their best in May.”
And she said: “Never have so many people gardened in recent times, nor needed the benefits of gardening more, so we will do our utmost to deliver a beautiful, uplifting and different RHS Chelsea safely in September 2021.”
It is hoped shows at Hampton Court Palace and Tatton Park, which take place later in the year, will still go ahead as normal, but the RHS said it would continue to follow government advice and provide updates if there are changes.