At first I thought I’d made a terrible mistake. I arrived at the RHS showground at Tatton Park at 7.30 am on press day and it seemed like the only living creatures around were the deer in the parkland. There were, however, a few vans in the exhibitor’s car park, and a slightly bleary-eyed man appeared at the gate, so I ventured in. Most of the tents were firmly closed, the place seemed bleak and deserted. A chilly wind and looming clouds made me glad of my waterproofs. I wished I had a scarf.
I was briefly cheered to see the RHS AGM (Award of Garden Merit) displays, as I have fond memories of serving on the New Guinea Impatiens Forum last year and the Solenostemon Forum the year before. But where were all the people? Where was the carnival atmosphere I had been promised? Where was I going to get a coffee?
Eventually I stumbled across the press tent and was relieved to see some familiar faces – proper photographers who are used to early mornings. After a chat, a nasty instant coffee and a quick look at the events list and map I stumbled out again. There was a glimmer of sunshine. There were show gardens. There was literally a buzz around Paul Hervey-Brookes’s garden for Perennial because a scary-looking filming drone was threatening to do some last minute pruning.
Paul looked a little tense, but no plants were harmed and Health and Safety rules were obeyed by one and all, so no people got pruned either. Colourful planting in the double borders of this garden really lifted my mood and I began to think four hours each way on the motorway might be worth it after all.
One glance at the nearby Loveday and Vernon “Day of the Dahlia” exhibit for Birmingham City Council told me that I should make the most of my time on this earth. Besides, it was about to rain again, so without further ado I dived into the Floral Marquee. It’s my first love always.
This was where all the human bees were busy. Judging time was looming (2pm, I was told) and exhibits were still being perfected everywhere. So I kept chat to the minimum and just enjoyed snooping.
The light was pretty dismal in the marquee but I was still blown away by the plants. Zap! Pow! Kerblamm! There were wacky plants worthy of their own cult comic strip all over the place.
Invigorated, I investigated more show gardens. There was lots of beautiful planting, to which I was unable to do photographic justice on such a dark and windy day, and there was a great deal of wackiness and general adventurosity.
Many of the show gardens were smart and clever, seasoned with outrageousness and stuffed with ideas to take away. I think that Chelsea could do with a little more of this freshness; somehow quirkiness has, on the whole, been tidied away into the “Fresh Gardens” category which is squeezed into awkward spaces between trade stands in the London show.
From here I progressed happily to the school gardens section, which was bursting with creativity, entertaining detail and weird creatures.
By this time I was thoroughly tuned in to odd critters. Drawn in by the Owl and the Pussycat I chatted happily with the cheery people from Cheadle Hulme Allotment Association. What a good time they were having – and it sounds like the allotments at Billy’s Lane are a hotbed of fun, enthusiasm and gentle banter. Hang on a minute – where did they get their drinks? Must have brought a thermos, all the blooming hot drinks outlets were still closed.
It was time to go. I had the prospect of a few hours on the M6 ahead of me. So of course I suddenly had to look at the plant societies tent. The British Cactus and Succulent Society had some truly fabulous monstrosities on show. By this time I was on a roll. I had a long talk with the good folk of the British Fuchsia Society and even joined – coming away with three small fuchsia plants: ‘The Boss’, ‘Cheeky Chops’ and ‘Cloth Ears’. When the time comes for taking cuttings I’m going to have fun selecting recipients.
It was just as well most of the sundries stands were closed because after I finally found an outlet selling decent coffee the caffeine rush might have made me buy something truly monstrous for the garden. As it was, my fuchsias and I at last set off for the dreaded motorway with nothing more controversial than a full memory card.