WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?
just what kind of people can pull off these stunningly perfect garden
exhibits? People with at least $50,000 to spare – and that’s the bare
minimum required to avoid embarrassment; it’ll cost a lot more to
really dazzle. (One Shah famously spent millions – of pounds Sterling.)
Not that they typically own up to the cost, mind you. That might spoil
the illusion! Because it’s pure fantasy, of course. While the RHS
folks claim that there are lots of great ideas at Chelsea for the public, the reality is more like: "Don’t try this at home!"
But back to the love/hate thing. Okay, ‘hate" may be an editorial exaggeration, but I do have some quibbles.
remember one garden that had every sod of earth, every plant totally
infected with vine weevil. It still got Gold and the rules say no vine
– Many start out with a design and change it as they go along – not allowed except under exceptional circumstances.
competition can be so intense that some exhibitors argue with the
judges wanting a better medal – shame on them – shall I name and shame?
REAL GARDENS NEED WORK
thing about these exhibits, they can only be “gardens” at a single
moment in time (okay, 10 days), not real gardens that evolve over the
months and years. How many
without major maintenance, if at all? What’s that garden of lavender
and puffballs of boxwood going to look like in two years? So the
question that comes to mind is should show gardens be more realistic?
You know, for us normal gardeners.
GREAT SHOPPING? I WISH!
another gripe. There’s this big “sell-off” on the last day, but it’s
really a con. The plants are vastly overpriced, not in the best
condition and guess what; the plants I really want, the nurserymen take home with them. I’ll have to bankrupt myself at Hampton Court, I guess, where they really do sell plants. The Hampton Court Palace Flower RHS Show
is just as famous and actually preferred by some to Chelsea. In
addition to the great plant sell-off, the setting is stupendous,
there’s plenty of room to walk around and even room to park your car.
It’s coming up July 3-8 and I’ll be there, even though it’s farther and
will take me several hours more to get there.
IS CHELSEA A THREAT TO BIODIVERSITY?
unresolved controversy within the RHS is about whether plants should be
collected from the wild, as some nurseries are still doing, which is
downright plundering of our planet’s natural resources. The
exquisitely beautiful plants from South East Asia, Nepal and the
Himalayas are particularly vulnerable. The RHS "deplores the
uprooting of wild plants" but there is the problem of putting this into
practise. Prolific author and Chelsea insider Dr Christopher Grey-Wilson
urged them in 2001 to "take a responsible and pro-active stance on the
illegal importation, sale and showing of wild-collected plants,
particularly at its shows." Now it’s 2007 and have things changed?
But I know it’s not that easy to prove where plants come from, so I empathize with the judges. Here’s a short discussion on the subject with Chelsea judge Graham Rice in comments on his blog.
STARTING WITH MOSS AND PEAT
do the RHS allow the use of moss? To strip moss from our woodlands and
moorlands is not acceptable – some moss clumps take years to form.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just ban the use of moss than to have to
figure out whether the mosses used come from sustainable sources? And
what’s wrong with wood chip for decoration? Peat is another problem,
although fortunately one that’s being solved this year with the use of
peat-free composts by many exhibitors. I expect the RHS shows will
soon be completely peat-free.
THE YEAR FOR SUSTAINABILITY?
is supposed to be the "in thing" this year so I’m hoping to see less
concrete, more wood from sustainable sources, water saving, less use of
pesticides and herbicides, and organic gardening. But looking at the
big picture, would anyone like to calculate the carbon footprint for
the whole show? Oh, never mind.
BACK TO CHELSEA, WITH LOVE
is an amazing experience and honestly, all my "hates" pale into
insignificance. I will catch the closest train to me at 2 a.m., arrive
in London at 7:30 and be at the gates of the show at 8 a.m. I
anticipate a day of utter bliss – seeing some old friends, taking
photographs before the crowds really start – wonderful! You must go if
you ever have the chance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
the dim and distant past I was a botanical taxonomist (classifying
plants). I went off the rails and became a biology teacher, teaching
11- to 18-year-olds and latterly running a course giving adults a
second chance to go to University. I have worked very part-time in the
gardens at Portmeirion and Crug Farm Plants (a specialist plant
nursery). Now I am looking after my father (92) and messing about in my
garden every day! I have always been keen on gardening, an unapologetic
plantsman (especially ferns). Design – what’s that?!
COMING UP NEXT – A POST-SHOW REPORT
Check back next week for a guest post by Chelsea Judge Graham Rice. William has promised to leave a nice long comment with his own take, or just to mix things up a bit.