A lupin, a sponge, a small Maserati and Thou

Gosh. Another blog post within a few weeks. It is like a dam has burst and there is a sudden onrush of old branches, small stones and general debris. I realise that this is a very antiquated place to be writing and I should really have a Substack but I am not sure that I can face the responsibility of keeping subscribers satisfied. At least with an old time blog one can slump on the literary sofa for a while picking biscuit crumbs out of your jumper while doing absolutely nothing.

I wanted to write again as a chap called John Sales has recently died. He was best known as the big cheese as gardens adviser to the National Trust gardens for about twenty-five years. He was responsible for the revival and development of many of the NT Greatest Hits including Biddulph Grange, Stourhead, Tatton Park etc etc. He was also dead hot on snowdrops.

I first met him when I started judging gardens at RHS Shows in about 2007ish (the exact date has, like so many useful things, slipped soundlessly from my mind). He was an almost elfin figure with a twinkling smile who was both wise and unerringly kind to me as a novice judge. Some of my fellow judges at that time were a little intimidating and John was always friendly and understanding.

When I first began judging I had not realised how much he had changed the system. Up until the nineties judging was carried out behind closed doors by unidentified members of the RHS Council. Conversation between judges and designers was limited and feedback was not given. John (at the invitation of the then President, Robin Herbert) changed all that by talking to designers about their briefs and expectations. The Gold, Silver-Gilt, Silver medals were introduced and things began to change. Instead of Council members, judges were recruited who actually knew about design and landscaping. Seems pretty obvious but it was revolutionary at the time.

This was the basis upon which we are now constantly building: criteria are under constant review, feedback is fulsome and (hopefully) helpful and we are as transparent as humanly possible. All this began with John and the revolution continues with new scrutiny on the sustainability of show gardens.

There is a good obituary in The times if you are a subscriber – I was sent it’s a series of screenshots by Sharon Moncur (thank you). John Sales 1933-2022.

I am listening to Been to the Mountain by Margo Price. The picture is of an extraordinary sunset on Sunday night – with a cloud of rooks.