Crazy, colourful, captivating: there’s nothing quite like Press Day at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show…
I am usually to be found in very muddy jeans and a sweatshirt of doubtful origin, my nails black and not a shred of makeup anywhere near my face. Usually, bum up nose down in a vegetable bed.
Yesterday, however, I had mascara on. And I was clean. And – get this – in a Karen Millen dress and heels.
For it was the Garden Media Guild Awards: the one and only day I ever get dressed up (and that includes Christmas Day). It is glitzy and glamorous beyond the wildest dreams of a humble gardener like me. And I go every year, just to kid myself I’m the kind of person who goes to dine in the Savoy and gets awards and stuff.
It’s not only a great chance to catch up with old friends but also a chance to meet new people: every year I’m on a table with someone interesting I’ve never met before (even if I might know them by reputation).
This year it was the outstanding garden photographer Clive Nichols and his lovely assistant Julie (doesn’t that make them sound like a magician’s act…! I suspect Julie rarely allows herself to be chopped in half though, literally or magically).
And on the other side of me was Jan Miller-Klein, holder of the National Collection of Eupatorium (aka Joe Pye weed), passionate wildlife gardener and all round inspirational lady.
Awards were handed out like sweeties: the biggest congratulations go to The English Garden (Garden Publication of the Year), Jurgen Becker (Garden Photographer of the Year) and Ambra Edwards (Journalist of the Year).
And a special mention to Adrian Bloom, this year’s winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award and a thoroughly nice chap as well as the kind of nurseryman I think every person who grows plants for a living should aspire to be.
There’s a full list of all the award winners here.
I do like a nice bit of garden photography.
It is one of the greatest ironies of garden writing life that at a time when pictures are acknowledged to be the most important factors in attracting everything from Twitter followers to magazine and book sales, a time when you’d think publishers would be falling over themselves to buy the very best and eyecatching photos they can afford, they are spending less and less money on actually buying photographs from proper photographers. They are, instead, relying on freelance writers like me to supply substandard snapshots as part of the writing ‘package’, or buying for pennies from agencies supplied by non-professionals.
Quite apart from the effect this has on the bank balances of some excellent and very talented garden photographers, it has a sadly diluting effect on the quality of photography you see in all but top-flight magazines and publishers.
So here’s to garden photography competitions, independently celebrating the excellence of a well-framed shot, a perfect pull focus, or an abstract vision of beauty: photography as art, if you like.
The biggest and best-known of them all is IGPOTY which despite it’s toe-curlingly ugly acronym produces some of the most astonishingly lovely garden photographs of them all. Many are taken by leading professionals: but there are classes for amateurs (and youngsters) too.
The RHS holds its increasingly highly-regarded garden photography competition each year with £2000 up for grabs; and there’s a flurry of smaller ones from a wide array of organisations from My Garden School (monthly) to Ness Botanic Gardens in Liverpool (you will have to visit the gardens: no great hardship).
And now there’s a newcomer: the Essence of Summer photography competition, run by the lovely and tirelessly dedicated Ursula Cholmeley at Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire.
They’ve just announced their first set of winners, distilled from 900 entries, some of which you can see here. You can see them in real life if you go to the garden next February, too. It may be a smaller competition but it just goes to show what a wealth of talent there is out there. And what a wonderful thing we have competitions like this to celebrate it, too.