I was going to tell you all about a very lovely weekend I have just spent in the South of France including being lightly stung by a jellyfish, sniggering at ridiculous super yachts, fullsome details of meals eaten and transport travails endured (i) but apparently it is quite important, every so often, to put a bit of gardening into this blog rather than just me trundling on about cake or random episodes from life.
I am told this by no lesser figure than the extravagantly bowtied Mr Chris Young who, as you all know, is not only the Deputy Editor of The Garden but also an horticultural God (ii). “Every so often, young man” he said to me while sitting in his battered leather Deputy Editor’s chair caressing his pipe, “you should be sensible and put in a bit of an issue”. At first I thought he said ‘tissue’ which I thought that a bit unsavoury but the misunderstanding was sorted out quickly and hygenically.
So, instead of talking about the above rather idyllic scene and parading my orange bathing shorts, I have been thinking about show gardens.
I have visited every available flower show this year ranging from the stately Chelsea to the little Westminster Spring Show. From the divine Malvern Spring to Bloom in Dublin and a very hot Hampton Court. In the process I have seen a lot of show gardens and, I am sad to report, that the majority have disappointed.
In short, not that many show gardens are very good.
Apart from the big gardens at Chelsea (which, at that price and those designers should be good) the best collection of gardens was in the Conceptual Gardens class at Hampton Court. There we had designers who were actually thinking and chose to build gardens with ideas rather than trying to satisfy some corporate message or some cod-sustainable evangelism. Apart from that I am not going to be specific here and name names as I don’t think that really helps anybody – and I am more likely to get dragged behind a Pittosporum tobira and delivered of a right good kicking. This is a more general complaint.
I have thought about this and fear that, just for a change, the blame cannot be exclusively heaped upon the collective heads of the RHS but is the fault of designers and their sponsors. The job of the RHS is to put the show together but they can only do that using the ingredients supplied. They can and do give sage advice but they have to stop short of redesigning a garden. I have sat on a couple of selection boards and have often seen gardens where you say “Blimey, this could be really good if only they did such and such” but you cannot start redesigning gardens for people as then it is no longer their idea and objectivity is lost.
Sponsors should have a light touch: as soon as a garden becomes a very obvious advertising hoarding then they are ruined. Sponsors expect something back from their investment and that is as it should be but they should not interfere with the actual design of the garden. The same with worthy messages: these should be subtle and should not dominate. We have all seen gardens which have been devoured by the message: too much clumsy symbolism does not a good garden make. My heart sinks sometimes when I read the programme blurb and find out that the bench represents blah, blah, blah and the sculpture is a representation of tum-ti-tum-ti-tum.
Designing show gardens is not the be all and end all of life: quite the contrary it is a side issue to real life. The temptation is to think that making a show garden will change your life instantly and make fabulously wealthy clients rattle their chequebooks at you: this will not happen. Making a show garden is an exciting experience and something that is immense fun to do but please do not be tempted to pay for your own or do it for nothing. You will get much more work by making good gardens that people live in, enjoy and tell their friends about.
All the best show gardens are very simple – I go further, all the best gardens are pretty simple. This is particularly vital in show gardens where people are walking past them and need to be able to get the point very quickly. I have spent many happy hours wandering round flower shows with The Enduring Gardener working out what we would take out of show gardens to make them better. It is never a matter of putting extra things into the garden.
So, not much of an issue but something I suppose to stop Mr Young being all strict and looky-down-his-nose at all this trivia. I may now be able to get away with writing airy-fairy nonsense for a few more weeks.
Apart from that I had my photograph taken twice which is always a rather excruciating experience. Firstly for Gardens Illustrated where I posed self consciously in various positions for the very charming and clever Charlie Hopkinson. Secondly, for the House and Garden Twenty Best Garden Designers In The World – Ever!! (iii). I was rather thrilled to be included: last time they did it there were fifty of us and the time before a hundred. Falling like ninepins.
We all met up at the Chelsea Physic Garden for lunch and photographs. It was a very jolly occasion. A chocolate finger to anybody who can guess all twenty. Answers in the January and February issues of House and Garden. Sadly when you get to my age, no matter how skilled the photographer I still end up looking a bit baggy around the edges.
That is probably enough for one day. The picture is of an incarcerated pumpkin.
I am listening to Loretta Lynn singing The Van Lear Rose.
- Ryanair on the way which, as those of you who read this blog regularly will know was blighted and hellish and the TGV on the way back which was an absolute pleasure as it enabled us to sit comfortably, eat cheese and read our books while France slipped by the window.
- Maybe not a major God like Cleve West or Matthew Appleby (who are the equivalent of Apollo and Hephaestus: the former because he is shiny and handsome. The latter because he is a bit grumpy and feels put down much of the time), perhaps something minor but promising like one of the three Graces (although with not quite such a nice bum).
- That may not be the absolute official title.