It’s beginning – the buzz, the build up … not the General Election but something of far more interest to gardeners – The RHS Flower Shows.
Although most media coverage is centered on the RHS Chelsea and RHS Hampton Court Flower Shows, there are a range of RHS Shows all over the country that start in February and finish late October.
Show garden at Hampton Court flower show 2014
These are my top tips on how to the make the most of the RHS Shows
- Consider all the RHS Shows
Because of the difference in locations and season – each RHS Show has its own distinct character and thus each one is well worth visiting. Don’t be disheartened if you missed out on Chelsea this year – I guarantee that you will enjoy and learn just as much ambling around the (often muddy but somehow more “real”) RHS Malvern Autumn Show.
- Package them up with other attractions
Location may seem off-putting – but the advantage about the RHS Shows is that they are held at the same location and (more or less) run on the same dates every year – so it is possible to plan in advance. For example, if you live miles away from Woking, the trip to the RHS Wisley Flower Show may seem excessive. But surely it is worth the expense of an over night stay when you have the beautiful garden of William Robinson’s Gravetye Manor only 49 minutes away, with also Sissinghurst and Great Dixter less than an hour and a half away? That surely must be the gardener’s dream horticultural excursion!
Your first trip should be to the RHS website. This lists all the facilities of each RHS Show, will preview the Show Gardens, will list all the exhibitors and will often include a history, interesting facts, photos – in fact you can even pre-buy souvenirs to save queuing on the day.
Show garden at Chelsea 2006
- Useful Things to Take
- For some reason it is always cold at an RHS Show – so take an extra layer of clothing and thermal socks. I went to RHS Chelsea in 2013 and although the weather was glorious, my feet were numb by the end of it.
- A thermos flask is a great idea to save queuing. I wouldn’t recommend lugging around an entire picnic but definitely a small thermos flask (which can be refilled).
- A fully charged mobile phone is invaluable. I take literally hundreds of photos of plant combinations that I like. I also take notes on my phone of plant names, nurseries and suppliers – saves the bulk of a camera and notebook and pencil.
- Binoculars – a small pair are really useful for scrutinizing details
The crowd in front of our 2012 show garden
Gardeners belong to one of the greatest fraternities on the planet. We are all in it together – the battle against slugs, the ravages of drought, and the joy of a newly opened peony. The camaraderie of the punters at the RHS Shows is amazing. Everyone stands back for one another for photos, there is a silent law about how long one can stand in the front row of a Show Garden, we all want to spot a Gardener’s World presenter, and we disdain the selfie-taker. So it’s easy to talk. I learnt more about Antirrhinums talking to a little old lady of eighty in the Floral Marquee than from any book.
If a designer seems approachable, then talk to him or her. They love hearing feedback and answering questions about their concept. Obviously don’t ask them about which clematis would they recommend for your garden shed or how do they feel about not getting a Gold Medal, but ask about why they chose certain cultivars, or what inspired their planting combinations. When I designed my RHS garden for BBC Gardener’s World Live, I loved hearing peoples’ opinions and answering questions.
- Know what you want out of it
Do you want inspiration for a shady corner? Do you want to know what to plant as a foil for your alliums? Are you contemplating a pond? Or do you want to drift around and simply be dazzled and inspired? To get the best of an RHS Show it is very useful to clarify your own gardening objectives beforehand. I always want to see the new plants that are being revealed.
- Doom or Bloom?
When I talk to people at the end of an RHS Show I tend to see one of two reactions – either
“OMG I’m such a rubbish gardener. I’ve just realized how awful I am.”
“OMG I can’t wait to get home and put that combination of the fern, the hosta and the purple thingy together, under that evergreen clematis I saw.”
The most important way of making the most of an RHS Show is to let it inspire you. Let it excite and motivate you. For that reason I can’t wait to visit one. And urge you to do so too.
Bye for now – Brett
P.s. My earlier blog – “Eco-gardens – The Future is Green” talked about greening up front gardens and driveways. I’m delighted to see that the RHS has launched its 3 year “Greening Grey Britain” Campaign. Go to www.rhs.org.uk/greeninggreybritain for more information and ideas.