At the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show, wandering around soaking up the beautiful, the amusing, the interesting, the eccentric and the downright incomprehensible, I found myself next to a little knot of people in deep discussion about the show garden we happened to be looking at at the time.
‘Well – I dunno,’ seemed to be the general consensus. ‘It’s not really something you’d have in your own garden, is it?’
I hear this opinion a lot. Generally, I want to shake the people who express it: it is, in most cases, entirely missing the point.
A show garden is not something you lift lock stock and barrel and plonk down in your average suburban back garden, any more than you would stick the original Damien Hirst shark tank in your hallway. They are works of interpretative art: depictions of a mood, a feeling, a style, an idea.
I love shows because it’s the horticultural equivalent of visiting an art gallery, and just as uplifting. The wonderful thing about this particular art form is that it can address so many different aspects of life: from the narrow – experimenting with a new planting style, say – to the very broad indeed – an abstract representation of the journey through the rehabilitation process from dysfunctional criminal to thoughtful and integrated member of society, as we had in the HMP Everthorpe garden this year.
Of course you wouldn’t have it in your garden: but to say it therefore lacks impact is like questioning the relevance of Van Gogh just because you don’t have one in your living room.
If you’re looking for relevance to your own garden, it’s not all or nothing: just as you can decide to decorate the bedroom in Mondrian-style abstraction or Monet-style chocolate box, you can create your garden with your perceptions heightened and sharpened by what you’ve seen.
However: gardeners are prone to be rather practical. And I almost always bring a bit of every show I visit back home – even if it’s just a snatch of an idea here and there, or a special planting combination.
And there were, it must be said, lots of things at this year’s show I just coveted. Here, if I could have had them, is what I would have stuffed into the back of the poor long-suffering family estate and hot-footed it off with back down to Somerset.
Sue Beesley’s plants
All of them. Every single one. In more or less the same arrangement they were in this garden. In fact I’ll now completely contradict myself by saying I wanted to dig this garden up wholesale and take it away: I have just the perfect spot for it. Sumptuous, and one of my two favourite gardens at the show; the other one was….
Daniela Coray’s meadow
The oak sleeper edging in ‘Chocolate Orange’
The water harp from Blathánna Fiáine an Inbhir
The stacked log wall
from Perspective by Chalon Kitchens
The wooden lean-to
from the Oxfam Garden, When the Waters Rise
The hanging pods in show feature Portach
One of the planted water bowls from Waterside Nurseries
Papaver ‘Peony Black’, from the Botanic Nursery, Wiltshire
The herb garden from Hooksgreen Herbs
My poor car is going to be creaking at the seams (and my garden is going to be rather stuffed with that lot in it); but my, it’ll be gorgeous when I get it all home.