Filmed by Liam McCarthy and James Sandy. Graphics by Russell Birkett. Produced by Daniel Garrahan
Where else can you find 1,500 bottles of champagne filling some of the world's most beautiful gardens? The Chelsea Flower Show, of course. And it remains very popular. Numbers have to be capped at 168,000, but sponsorship is dwindling.
The number of sponsored show gardens at Chelsea fell from a record 21 in 2008 to just 14 in 2009. It recovered to 16 in 2010, but last year there were just eight, compared to 17 in 2016. This year, there are only 10.
This matters, because behind all the razzmatazz, this show makes 25% of money that the Royal Horticultural Society needs to run public gardens, support horticultural education, give advice, and train young gardeners.
Things are changing. And I'm just interested in how you are dealing with the change. And whether you see that this signals a much larger change for the show.
I think the numbers have slightly changed, but we have made a bit of a strategic choice to create a whole new avenue of gardens. We've seen some interest from new sponsors, though. We've got the New West End Company, Seedlip Drinks, Silent Pool Gin, and also some charity gardens there. So we've seen a slight maybe shift, but we've adapted what we've got at the show to sort of represent that shift.
One of those gardens is sponsored by the Lemon Tree Trust, a charity which tries to encourage refugees living in the Domiz Camp in northern Iraq to start gardening. It's designed by Tom Massey, who visited the camp earlier this year and was inspired by the refugees' resilience, determination, and ingenuity.
Lots of people told me about the way they had collected seeds or were taken cuttings from their favourite plants and taking them with them from when they're fleeing conflict or fleeing home. And having the presence of mind to do that when you're leaving everything, to take a cutting of your favourite rose or to take a seed of your favourite herb or favourite vegetable is - I think it just shows how important gardening is.
M&G Investments is the show's main sponsor. Last year, it renegotiated its deal with the RHS to take the partnership forward for another three years. And its chief executive, Anne Richards, isn't concerned about the falling number of show gardens.
What people go to a show like The Chelsea Flower Show for is changing. And it can't just be something which is all wow and glitz. It actually has to be something that perhaps affects the mood of the moment. It's related to the mood of the moment, which is much more about the sense of social purpose.
So what are the sponsorship problems about? Less money? Looking around the City of London, I doubt that. Reaction to the Bribery Act? Well, that may have hit entertaining, but sponsorship? I'm not certain. What is certain is the show, which began 105 years ago and kicks off the UK's aristocratic social season, needs to find new revenue streams.