WVS and The Chelsea Flower Show

As the Chelsea Flower Show is here again, brightening our screens with beautiful and creative exhibits and tempting us in to the garden to have a go ourselves, we thought it would be nice if this month’s blog focused on the WVS involvement with the Chelsea Flower Show. 

The WVS exhibited between 1947-1955 seeing the show as an opportunity, not only to get creative, but to raise awareness of its Garden Gift scheme. The scheme, established in April 1946, involved collecting any surplus plants from established gardens and distributing them to those in need, such as would-be struggling gardeners living in prefabricated houses and institutions such as hospitals. As demand always exceeded the available supply WVS decided to exhibit in an attempt to raise awareness and gain support.

Each year the WVS displays would include rockeries, kitchen gardens and ‘Pre-fab’ houses. The pre-fab garden exhibits would include a replica pre-fab house concocted from felt and stucco, and the average amount of land usually allotted to a temporary or small house. The exhibits aimed to demonstrate to the crowds the best way to gain the most from the small amount of space, whilst showing how the gardens could be used as a means of self-sufficiency. The gardens would be planted with all manner of flowers such as ‘fuchsias, petunias and cherry-pie, lilacs and guelder-roses’ along with a vegetable patch which included a collections of herbs which, during the times of rationing, really drew interest and acclamations from the crowds.

Here at the archive, not only do we have the hand drawn plans of the WVS exhibits, we also have the medals they were awarded: a silver medal for 1947, a silver gilt medal for 1948 and a silver medal in 1950. Each exhibit proved to be a great success in terms of raising awareness, with WVS members attending the show to answer queries and provide information. Owners of pre-fab houses were encouraged by the exhibits and many gardeners were delighted to be informed of a scheme which could find worthy homes for their surplus seedlings. Once the show finished the entire contents of the gardens would be lifted and whirled off to those in need of plants, who, having been warned of their arrival, were waiting with their trowels at the ready.  

Below this blog you will find a video of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth (later Queen Mother) and Queen Mary visiting exhibits at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1950.  If you watch carefully 24 seconds in you can see Queen Mary and Lady Reading looking at the WVS display: http://ow.ly/x5Gwg

Posted by Hannah Tinkler at 00:00 Wednesday, 21 May 2014.

Back to list