The RHS Chelsea Flower Show launched on the BBC last night with a look back at the best of previous years. The RHS has made the hard choice of cancelling their ever-popular flower show and instead, they are putting on a week of virtual events. Normally I watch the first few episodes of the coverage and then lose interest. Last year the BBC gave a massive amount of time over to coverage of the gardens. There were two slots a day and by the third episode you had seen the same footage of the show gardens and it became monotonous fast. Then the various RHS shows took over Gardeners World for a large chunk of the Summer, with episodes filmed from the various shows.
Now, I’m sure if you attend in person it is spectacular. But I am never likely to make it down to experience the wonder of entering the Grand Pavilion and being hit by the scent of all those fabulous flowers. So all I get to experience is the presenters enthusing over how wonderful the displays look and smell. I have a family and the show has been made so it is not family-friendly. Some of the RHS flowers shows have bans on prams due to the lack of space. This combined with the extremely high price means I’m unlikely to ever make it down. Of the people, I know who have visited many enjoy it and I’m sure it is fabulous seeing the spectacle. But, I hear an equal number of people complaining that they couldn’t actually see the gardens through the crowds. They felt jostled. Which is why we have press day. The elite few get invites to see these wonderful gardens without having to mingle with the crowds making it an event for back-patting and celebs. I’m sure if I actually visited I would love it but not an option this year.
The coverage for me has little to do with gardening. The main focus of TV coverage is always the show gardens. These have very little to do with actual gardening for the normal person. You have over-elaborate gardens beyond the cost of most people. Many of the flowers have been artificially brought on or held back to flower together in combinations you couldn’t create in your own garden. It creates unrealistic expectations for what you can create in your own garden. The fashion magazine equivalent of seeing a photoshopped model and thining you can look like them. These gardens are a snapshot in time. They don’t need to plan for succession through the year or for the plants filling out, self-seeding or any other issues. To keep them looking like they do for the show garden week would require an army of gardeners. There always some stunning gardens. I always enjoy the gardens of Chris Beardshaw, Ishihara Kazayuki and Jo Thompson and several others. But these often have elements you can take away that you can do in your own garden. But against this, there are always several ridiculous gardens making statements. Climate Change is the favourite subject currently, probably only challenged for the top spot by mental health, completely ignoring the irony of making a show garden requiring a massive carbon footprint and stress they are to make. The best segments from the TV are almost always from the growers such as the wonderful David Austen roses where you actually receive useful tips on how to grow.
The flower show normally emphasises a divide in gardening between rich and poor. This was exemplified by Martin Parr’s photos in 2018. The show represents a particular picture of gardening for middle England. As mentioned the tickets push visits out of many peoples reach. Then the fact that it is over the week so time off needed for many. While people from all classes garden the show pushes that idea that money is needed to make an amazing garden. I’d rather like to see show gardens on a budget so people could get ideas of what they can achieve themselves. To go with the football analogy we’re looking at the pleasure of seeing your own local team play on the playing field instead of watching overpaid players in an artificial environment. This isn’t an event that I feel encourages people to enter gardening. If anything it discourages people from gardening as they know they can’t create what they see in these show gardens.
The best segments of the TV coverage are almost always from the growers and the people within the horticulture industry. On these segments you see how they nurture the plants, you gain tips from experts. It saddens me that people in the business I’ve come to know online like https://www.plantagogo.com/ and http://www.goldleaf-gloves.com/ won’t get a chance to sell their products. The Indie Plant Guide can link you to many wonder growers who will appreciate the support of sales during these strange times. A few other nursery lists were linked to in a previous article.
Which brings me to this years Virtual Chelsea. The BBC are carrying on there coverage with a mixture of old segments and shots from presenters houses as well as interviews with various industry people. Nicki Chapman will be on BBC One at 3.45pm and Monty Don and Joe Swift on BBC Two at 8pm each day. I’m sure Gardeners World will also discuss the event. The RHS are putting on an exciting schedule of online events other the week through their website. And I actually think it looks better than what I’d normally get to see as a non-attendee. We’ve got advice on growing perennials from Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants. Ishihara Kazayuki will be sharing Japanese gardens with us. The Botanic Nursery are sharing tips on growing foxgloves. Sarah Raven will be taking us on a tour of cut flowers. It’s offering far more practical advice than a normal year and segments people can make use of whatever the size of their garden. There has even been consideration for people with no gardens with a focus on houseplants. As it’s all from the comfort of your own home I think this year Chelsea actually has the potential to engage with more people than ever before. With so many people coming to gardening for the first time during lockdown a practical focus is what is needed. So well done to the RHS for continuing under hard conditions and creating something to suit the times. For more info about the Virtual Chelsea set up listen to the Plant-Based Podcast this week on the event. I hope in future years we see more events done in this way that anyone can access rather than an elite club.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my opinion piece. Share your memories in the comments if you are one of the lucky to attend or your own opinions on what is on offer this year. What are you looking forward to from the virtual line-up?