The Juggernaut Was Pelted With Cowrie Shells

I have been to Devon which is usually a pleasure but this visit was particularly delightful.

At least it became delightful once I got there after much panicky rushing about missing the train due to a bit of a snarl up on the A34. I am really bad at getting to places on time: I always leave it too late and often end up a puffing, sweaty, breathless heap having run across pedestrian bridges and through underpasses in order to fling myself into trains at the very last moment. At least I only missed one train. I have, in the past, missed a train, waited an hour for the next one and then missed that one as well because I was too involved in a slightly sub-human chocolate Brownie.

Anyway, the purpose was to visit the RHS garden at Rosemoor in the company of the divine Hayley Monckton, the delicious Juliet Roberts (editor of Gardens Illustrated), the delectable Laura Tibbs and some lanky gingery bloke who smelt faintly of cider and Szechuan peppers. The chap who won best in show at Chesea last year was also invited but declined so he is now persona non grata until he comes up with generous presents for all. It was the logical extension of a visit I wrote about a while ago about the Wisley Six. This was the Rosemoor Five, six if you include the curator, Jon Webster, who showed us round. Here is a photograph of us drinking tea – and, in my case, looking uncharacteristically camp.

Rosemoor was given to the RHS in 1988 by Lady Anne Palmer. The existing gardens were extended to a plan by the current RHS President Elizabeth Banks and are now visited by 100,000 people every year. It is in a very lovely spot, all snuggled up in a long valley surrounded by mature trees and overlooked by the village of Great Torrington . The gardens have been divided into sections by a collection of beautifully clipped hedges- some Holly, some box, some yew and some privet. There are rose gardens, late summer flower gardens, a cracking winter garden, foliage gardens, arboreta, vegetable gardens, a cottage garden (with wedding venue arbour), woodlands, allotments, a nascent Forest garden etc etc etc. All the things that one would expect and more: and things one would not necessarily expect like Action Man in a rowing boat.

The thing about RHS gardens – and this is a bad thing if one is looking a them from the narrow viewpoint of pure design – is that their destiny is to be a little bit of everything. This is their purpose and raison d’ĂȘtre: to ensure that anybody visiting not only enjoys the gardens but learns something. The garden is intended to be something for everyone and as such it loses some cohesion: that is not to say that parts of it are not very well designed it is just that it is in the nature of such things to be a little disjointed. However, it does fulfil its intention and, as such, can be considered a huge success. It is well cared for, extremely beautiful in parts and feels much less starchy than Wisley (that may be partly because of the rather stern brickwork of the latter) and is a very laid back place to be. Particularly impressive were the fruit gardens (although we would, naturally, never have dreamt of picking any) and the light which was staggeringly lovely. And the ice cream.

We then dined in a pub where we seemed to be the only punters: according to the cidery chap people in Devon start a bit later and the pub was likely to be buzzing by 10:30. Either that or nobody liked to be seen anywhere near us. We ate enormous steaks and quite a lot of pudding before returning to the Best Western in Tiverton. A fine day out although without clotted cream.

Still on the RHS thing I have also sat on the selection panel for next year’s Chelsea Flower Show. We spent a very interesting day trawling through the Show Gardens submissions. With this I have to operate the same principle as the Council meetings: i.e. I cannot really tell you what was discussed so will concentrate on the food, we had an interesting lunch out of lacquered Bento boxes. But without chopsticks. Suffice to say, there will be some very good gardens next year: designed and built by some fine folk. There, that is possibly the most non-committal and anodyne thing I have written in a while.

I have also been to Lancashire. Three hours there, three hours back and an hour talking about the garden. I don’t really mind that provided that I don’t have to drive. I try to get a fair bit of stuff done on the train- writing, emailing, reading all that stuff but also think it very important that the last half hour is spent watching a film.On this occasion I indulged myself with Ice Cold In Alex. I had forgotten how closely Anthony Quayle’s shorts teeter on the obscene: any slackness in his underwear and the entire veldt would have been on safari. As you can perhaps appreciate from this screen grab….

What else have I to report? an avalanche of plant lists has just descended upon me. Not suddenly, but I have been ignoring them and can do so no longer with impunity. In fact I must now take my finger from the dyke (i) and do them right now without delay or further hindrance.
While I do them I will listen to Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings singing Mama Don’t Like My Man.
The picture is of backlit Phlomis russeliana at Rosemoor.

(i) Honi Soit Qui May Y Pense.