Things ain't what they used to be: CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW

20-24 MAY
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How it was

When the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London first hosted the Royal Horticultural Society's show in 1913, it was a time for the nation's greenest fingers to show off the best of British gardening, and chat over the delphiniums.

How it is

Firms pay £250,000 to "own" smaller-than-average gardens – many of which owe more to high design than grass roots.

"I've been going there for more than 30 years and it has changed greatly," says Anna Pavord, The Independent's gardening writer. "First of all, it's got sponsorship, which it never used to have. It's not the place to waltz around in big hats anymore – that happens on the Monday when the B-list starlets are shipped in."

RHS spokesman Stephen Bennett says the corporate presence is kept to a minimum. "We have strict rules about branding and exposure. Each sponsor can be seen, but it's not in your face. Most visitors aren't even aware of it."

Vital statistics

The Tuesday and Wednesday are reserved for RHS members, who pay up to £46 for a day ticket. Non-members can buy £41 tickets for Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

During show week, visitors knock back 49,000 glasses of Pimm's, 5,000 bottles of champagne, 54,000 cups of tea and coffee and 28,000 sandwiches. The Royal visit is on the Monday afternoon, when only a select number of exhibitors, RHS committee members and trustees can attend.