As we wound around Derbyshire’s beautiful but narrow Peak District roads towards our sneak preview of the Chatsworth Flower Show yesterday, knowing how limestone has shaped the environment, making the ground glitter in places, I thought of one of my favourite poems: W.H. Auden’s ‘In Praise Of Limestone’.
I love the poem’s conversational style, but its abrupt changes of tone and subject matter might not suit everyone. Just as we can only read a poem from within the landscape of our own mind, we can only ever experience a flower show from our own perspective. My idea of tasty flowers and planting schemes might not be yours.
This year’s Best in Show award, for example, went to an attractive display with a lot of interesting elements, including the characterful wooden arbour, bench and water feature. The perimeter fence had a quirky bend built into it, which I loved. The contrasts of pale wood vs dark wood; purple vs yellowy orange were striking: I’ve not seen many show gardens which seem to have a different colour-scheme, depending on the angle of view.
A child’s companion labrador dog patiently posed in the garden for photographers, adjusting its position on command.
If you like orchids, you’re in for a treat as part of Chatsworth House’s collection is on display at the show. Expect to see a town cryer with a bell, calling out,
‘Oh yea! Oh yea!
There be orchids!’
Just kidding about that bit. You won’t really see a cryer, but you can hardly miss the fantasia of an orchid marquee, with its towering display of pink and white blooms fronted by a romantic iron gate. Over the gate is an arch of greenery and orchids, with peonies and striped pink roses tucked in for good measure. Nearby you’ll find a selfie frame made out of orchids, if selfies are your thing. I’m sharing a selfie-style shot of the orchid bar instead.
Several nurseries offering orchids have exhibits in the plant marquees.
Whatever your interest or tastes, I’m sure you’ll find something to admire at any one of the RHS Flower Shows. We found it almost impossible to tear ourselves away from the colourful character offering equally colourful sempervivums for sale that he bred and grew himself.
The cold start to the year meant that his plants were a little late for his liking: the colour variation not so pronounced at this point in the year as it ought to have been – the blacks not black enough, others lacking in pink – but they all looked lovely to me.
Of course, there is always the odd plant monstrosity in amongst the marvels… a double clematis took the prize for my least loved plant this year, although I’m sharing this pretty one with beautifully waved petals instead as I can never see the point in sharing things I do not like. Funnily enough, the more I look at my picture of the ‘ugly’ one, the more it seems to be growing on me. I’ve learned never to say never, when it comes to plants!
Aside: in response to a plea from my sweetheart, I’m including a picture of the love it or hate it clematis below. Look away now if you have a sensitive disposition.
An unearthly pale turquoise flower (Ixia viridiflora) was my most memorable marvel, as seen on Hillview Hardy Plants of Worfield, Shropshire, whose stand also featured a couple of bottle trees – a first for the English flower shows, I’d guess. For more about their bottle trees, see my sweetheart’s blog post.
If you’re at the show this week, your eye might be captured by a small dish containing a scientific collection of Lithops (living stones). I’m not casting aspersions – each to his or her own! I prefer flowers, so enjoyed seeing Fuchsia ‘Twist and Shout’. Anemone multifida ‘Rubra’ was another sweet little highlight. I’m sure pictures of these will surface on the blog over the next few months. And talking of sweetness…
To go back to Auden’s poem, how far do you respond to any form of art – be it word poetry or garden poetry – with a yielding, limestone mind and how far with a stern, granite mind? Show judges, by definition, have to err towards the latter. But we visitors, how forgiving are we? What ideas do we smile at in recognition? What will we overlook, and what could ruin a garden or piece of planting for us?
I didn’t see much to overlook, personally, in the ‘Hay Time In The Dales’ show garden which ‘only’ received a silver medal. I’ve written before about medals, so won’t go into that here. Meadow-like planting was on trend at Chatsworth, and this was as naturalistic as it gets.
It’s sensitive, humorous, thoughtful and unassuming, like its designer, Chris Myers and it looks as if it’s been here forever. If you visit the show, look for the orchids, geraniums and ragged robins in this garden, and admire the meadow of clover and buttercups (why not?). I’d not be at all surprised if this garden was the one that will haunt you for longest, even though you might not want to recreate it at home. My fingers are crossed that it will have more luck in the People’s Choice award (vote online here).
I have never had any success with tomatoes, but if I was to attempt to grow one this year, it would be Tomato ‘Shimmer’.
Quite apart from the practical considerations (yield, flavour and ease of growth) it looks good too. I’ve read that a single plant can produce 350 tomatoes, though that might limit the sales potential – how many home gardeners want thousands of tomatoes? But the neat oval shape and red, green and gold streaked skin could spawn a thousand Instagram shots, were more Instagrammers keen vegetable gardeners.
Moving swiftly back from modern to traditional, Derbyshire is famous for its well dressings and I was delighted to see a couple at RHS Chatsworth. This is part of one from Whitwell, made by traditional methods from dried leaves, hydrangea flower petals, seeds and coffee beans.
I love the way that communities still enjoy this tradition, taking part in the painstaking process to make them, or calling round to see the finished designs. Learn more about this year’s schedule of well dressings here.
On our way out of the show, we lingered to admire the displays by two creative family businesses: Jill Clarke’s sculptural Corten metalwork, and Juliet Forrest’s ‘Portal’ panel and colourful plant stakes.
Just time to squeeze in a peony shot from the Primrose Hall display before I encourage you to make time to see the show if you can, or catch the highlights online if you can’t. Although this is a long post, there’s much, much more to see.
RHS Chatsworth Flower Show details
The show runs from 6th June to 10th June 2018 in the grounds of Chatsworth House, Bakewell, Derbyshire. Find out more on the RHS website.