Flower Show Grump…

Last Friday, Julie and I went to the RHS flower show at Tatton Park. Sadly, it wasn’t the best day out we’ve ever had.

I needed that coffee!

The weather didn’t help; it was a very wet day. I think it’s the crowds I find most difficult. When it rains, everyone piles into the floral marquee, and the crush is intolerable. I had a plan to beat the crowds – do the outside bits when it was raining, and save the stands under canvas for when it was drier, and most people had ventured out. But that corresponded with a heavy and prolonged shower – we lasted for about ten minutes before the rain began to soak through our (supposedly) waterproofs, and we gave up and joined the melee inside.

I was able to chat with some of the suppliers, and pick up some brochures for garden structures, furniture, etc. – vital resources for my garden design work.

One of the biggest disappointments was the plant sales. ‘The place to buy plants’, the publicity material said. But something very strange happened on Saturday – something pretty much unprecedented. I came away without having bought a single plant. Not one! Why? Well, there were a number of factors. With the exception of a few stands selling unusual, lesser-known plants, most had the same, very limited range. For instance, I was looking for Achilleas, but there were mostly just two named varieties on show, both of which were unfamiliar (presumably new) varieties with daft names. I was after known, tried and tested varieties, with predictable growth habits.

Lysimachia ‘Beaujolais’ used in one of the show gardens

Lysimachia ‘Beaujolais’ has been on my wish list for sometime, so I was happy to see it used in a show garden. But could I find any for sale on any of the stalls? No I couldn’t.

This garden was designed to celebrate an anniversary – I can’t remember what for, but it wasn’t what you’re thinking!

There were at least three stalls selling an admittedly good range of allium bulbs. But why the repetition? And do you really want to plant allium bulbs this early? I don’t.

Most of the plants for sale (such as the Achilleas) were in full bloom, which isn’t the best way to buy plants (because the only way from there is downwards). I did see some that will flower later, such as Actaea (which weren’t on my list because, ironically, I stocked up on those earlier in the season). Asters would have been the perfect plants to sell – ready to put in the ground now, to flower around a month from now. But no. I guess they want to put on a display of plants that are looking good now, to encourage the customers to buy those.

And finally, plant prices were high (though not nearly as high as the price of a coffee!) I don’t know, am I expecting too much? You pay thirty quid entrance fee to a flower show advertised as ‘the place to buy plants’, only to find those plants are more expensive than at a nursery. Add in the rain and the crowds of people, very few of whom seemed to have any awareness of anyone other than themselves (although, perhaps they were thinking the same of me!) and, all in all, it would be much more pleasant to browse on-line for plants that are cheaper (and probably in better condition) from a nursery, such as:

Other nurseries are, as they say, available.

You can’t blame the organisers for the weather. The show began in that hot spell, which will have made things difficult for everyone involved, as well as for the plants. Thirty-odd degrees centigrade is difficult to work in anywhere, but in the UK it seemed eery, cataclysmic; plain wrong.

The show is big – so big that we missed some of the show gardens (should have paid more attention to the maps on the notice boards). I would have bought a show guide, but at £7 for what (I’m guessing) is probably mostly advertising, we gave that a miss. Maybe the RHS aren’t aware there’s a cost of living crisis?

The show gardens we did see, which were mostly the young designer gardens, were very good. Although why no-one thought to dissuade the designer of the paradise garden to put a shiny, lipstick-pink fountain at its centre, beats me. Apparently some features are banned at these shows. A tasteful gnome or two would have been entirely innocuous beside that pink aberration (the rest of that garden was very nice).

I’d show you more photos of the show gardens, but what with the rain and all the people in the way, I didn’t take many.

The stands in the floral marquee were very impressive too, with wonderful displays of cacti, gladioli, streptocarpus, and more. But getting into position to actually see them was stressful. Like many gardeners, I suffer back problems, and I find shuffling my way through crowds does my back no favours. So, after nearly four hours, we gave in to the cold, the wet, the crowds, and to ‘show fatigue’, and went away in search of somewhere to sit down in the warm with a coffee and cake (with the ever-so-slightly troubling feeling we hadn’t seen everything we could have, hanging in the back of our minds).

Yesterday, we watched the highlights from the show (recorded on one of the hot, sunny days) on Gardeners’ World, from the comfort of our living room. Which was, I have to say, much more comfortable…

text & images © graham wright 2022