It's the blue riband event in the gardening year, and the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is well under way. The judging of the show gardens and floral displays was completed a few days ago, and the crowds let in to see the results.
Much of what I wrote in my piece on the Flower Show in February still stands, of course - an RHS show is always littered with nasty surprise sculptures, bizarre plants and little garden-related knick-knacks, and is a full-on shopportunity for those with the patience to lug their trophies around with them. I have read somewhere that Britons spend £3 billion on their gardens a year - £2 billion of that goes on twisty metal plant supports if my experience yesterday was representative. However, it's hard to argue with the capacity of the Chelsea show to lift the spirits in the way that the small shows can't manage.
It is hugely demanding in terms of resources, of course, and only the sponsors are in a position to know whether the vast sums they expend on the creation of their gardens is money well spent: a close look at one of the big show gardens, with its handbuilt dry-stone walls, the obligatory whizzy water feature, mature trees shipped in for the week from Italy and thousands of plants brought to perfection for the day of judging gives you an idea of what £350,000 buys you in the world of show gardens. Even the small gardens cost tens of thousands of pounds to construct, and most of this will be torn down and sent to landfill next week. There is a welcome move by designers to reuse elements of show gardens in 'live' projects - you will know if they are doing so because they will make sure the publicity spells it out - and the final day of the show sees the plants sold off to the public, but a garden show is in no sense an ecologically sound undertaking.
But is this a waste? It would be easy to argue so - equally easy to say that most human activity is wasteful of resources, given how little we really need to live on.
Does it bring enjoyment? Undoubtedly, for the hundreds of thousands who brave the crowds and the millions more who devour every word and hyper-real image of the TV coverage. Most definitely to the gaggles of sponsors, designers, mates and mums who were enjoying the parties in the show gardens and loving their moment on the right side of the rope - and yes, it's my goal to be with them next year!
For a designer it is a chance to pick up on trends in design (oversized arbours with circular holes in the roof, if you are interested), planting ('wild-ish with a gorgeous iris' and 'meadow-type with a little Euphorbia' were big this year) and materials (dry-stone walls - again).
I want to pick up on some of these themes in my next posts, but for the moment here is a picture of a lovely plant combination from one of the show gardens. If you are going, enjoy the show!Paul Ridley Design