The last few months there has been one flower show after another. The big ones are the RHS showcase shows starting with Cardiff in April and at least one a month until Tatton Park at the end of July. In between these there numerous smaller events up and down the land. Of course the mummy of them all is the Chelsea Flower show towards the end of May. The ‘It Girl’ show. Everyone and anyone of note wants to be seen at the show and the big gun designers are out creating their masterpieces on Main Avenue.
I have a love/hate relationship with garden shows and show gardens. As a designer they can be a source of inspiration. There are some truly glorious gardens created by very talented designers but sometimes I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s the ‘emperors new clothes’. I can get very vocal about the plants that are used in some of these gardens, particularly at Chelsea when the spring flowers are virtually over and the summer ones, in my home garden at least, haven’t got going. There are plants that would never be flowering at the same time in real life and this creates an artificial impression to visitors to the show that what they see is what they can have in their own small patch of heaven.
Even knowledgable gardeners, and I count myself in that category, can be hoodwinked into believing that these planting designs are achievable at home only to realise that Papaver soniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’ will not flower at the same time as Teuchrium hircanicum.
I know that the clue is in the title ‘Show’ and, having come from a theatrical background, I am all for a bit of light and mirrors and glamour but what these gardens do is raise unrealistic expectations. As a post recently tweeted from an experienced maintenance gardener quoted: “Client doesn’t understand why their designer flower beds don’t permanently look like they did at Chelsea for 5 days…”
The gardens built at the RHS show gardens are, by and large, created sparing no expense and a mass of expertise. A Gold at Chelsea can set a career on it’s way. Some designers have issues important to their hearts that they want to share with a wider audience and some are just beautiful evocations of a time or place to be shared with a wider audience to market Yorkshire or Provence, for instance, to the London crowd.
I think it is incredibly important to educate people about what is possible and achievable in a garden. Particularly when plants are a pre-requisite. As a designer I believe it is part of my job to steer people towards sustainable and realistic planting designs that have a lovely long season of interest with bulbs brightening the early spring and later flowering plants that will extend into the autumn. Seed heads and grasses can stand over winter creating frosted silhouettes. Of course this is in line with the client’s brief but sometimes people want the near impossible based on what they saw at a ‘show’.
Enjoy the shows but remember, that is what they are. Not real life but a snapshot of a small moment in time in a garden that has been beautifully created for you to enjoy for a few days.