Friday 26 May 2017

A window into a different world

I went to Chelsea yah. The Flower Show yah? Yah, terribly good fun, simply fabulous darling. Yah, see you at Ascot. Or Glyndebourne. Or Pippa’s next wedding! Toodle pip! OK, so nobody actually said “toodle pip” and whilst it was a bit of an eye-opener in regards to demographics, I can honestly say that I have not had so much fun in ages. I was volunteering with work, otherwise known as a jolly. It is apparently sound marketing for my company to sponsor a show garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, and the number of emblazoned leaflets I gave away suggested we know a good opportunity when we see one. My job was to stand around in lame similarly-emblazoned clothing and answer questions from the general public on anything and everything to do with the garden. The concept (all gardens have concepts, surely you knew that?), the design, the plan, the future, and of course the plants. All I can say is that if I see another Cardiocrinum Giganteum again as long as I live it will be too soon.

What? You mean haven’t ever heard of the Giant Himalayan Lily? Good grief! This is what happens when a blog is read by the Hoi Polloi I suppose….. Actually, despite my mild horticultural interest I had never heard of it either, but after 6 hours of fielding questions on it I now consider myself a world expert. It grows to 10 feet tall, it takes many years to get to flowering size and being monocarpic it then dies. Oh come on! Monocarpic? I give up. Anyhow, 99% of questions were on this enormous lily thing and it wasn’t even flowering andt just looked like huge asparagus stalks sticking out of the undergrowth. The overall garden was beautiful though, a winding limestone path through a shaded understory of ferns, hostas and perennial flowers evoking a natural woodland, into a loggia (don’t ask because I don't know….) and then out into a more formal sunny garden bursting with colour, topiary and sculpture. Stunning and perfectly balanced. The kind of thing that mere mortals can only dream of.

But of course this is Chelsea, and Chelsea is not populated by mere mortals which is what made this day so fun. I’d never been before as generally and despite my interest in plants I just didn’t feel it was my scene. This visit absolutely confirms that! But it didn’t stop it being a fascinating window into another world and a really good day out. Not of gardens so much, though many lovely and expensive things were on display, but of people. I have never seen so many Joanna Lumley’s in one place. Nor Henry Blofelds. Nor as many pale salmon-coloured trousers, pink jackets and panama hats! Away from the sartorial splendor, the people wearing these fabulous get-ups were quite incredible, totally fascinating. I am no anarchist, indeed I can dip in and dip out of this social sphere as required, but rarely am I so immersed in it and it was simply brilliant. These people live in a parallel universe! (the same parallel universe in which I am polite to people for 6 hours straight!). Austerity and the state of the planet just are not concerns. It’s all about soil, trellises, Pimms and the next trip to St Lucia. Many of them were delightful of course, the epitome of British courtesy and politesse, expressing genuine interest in the garden and the plants, even some preliminary small-talk at times. “So what do you do then?”, at which point I had to confess to not being an equal to Chris Beardshaw in the horticultural arena but instead to working in a bank. This being Chelsea of course this didn’t raise any eyebrows. If you are so unfortunate as to need a job then a bank is as good a place as any. A smaller number however treated us as mere lackeys – “Would you give me one of those?”, indicating a desire for an emblazoned leaflet, or “You there, what’s that tall thing over there near the hedge?” “Eh? Himalayan what?

Seriously good people watching. Whilst the majority were there for the plants and mostly spoke latin, some were there simply to be seen. I suppose it is an 'event' in the annual social calendar, like Wimbledon or whatever, but there is no denying that it is great fun and I consider myself fortunate to have been involved. It covers a huge site, and there are thousands of opportunities to spend serious money. Sculptures, seeds, tools, even greenhouses - to which I am no stranger - but some of these were hugely impressive. My greenhouse is a big mess, loads of empty pots, boxes of soil and grit, hoses, labels, spiders..... These were immaculate, nothing out of place whatsoever, charmingly perfect, and if I am honest, rather inspiring. I will see what I can do.

Selling like hotcakes!



  1. You'll be pleased to hear that Mr Beardshaw's garden came 1st in the people's choice award, with a special mention to the knowledgeable & courtious volunteers!

    1. Excellent! I was ridiculously good-natured all day long - didn't know I had it in me!