The sun shone on the very first RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, between showers. The RHS claimed this would be a more edgy, radical Flower Show than the established events at other venues. I’m not sure why they think East Midlands garden lovers in particular want a radical Flower Show. I went to the Show with a Nottingham friend who is delighted to have a major RHS garden event in the area. She was looking for garden inspiration, not challenge. For most visitors the fact that the Show is on their doorstep is enough incentive.
The Freeform gardens category were an opportunity for garden designers to break boundaries. One of the most eye-catching was Heywood and Condie’s Pic’n’Mix, a surreal Baroque Garden laden with symbolism. Sadly, the symbolism was lost on the viewers as there was no signage to explain the garden. It was great theater, though.
For me, the most successful Freeform Garden was from Jo Thomson. She used rebar to create a swooping line that curved around her garden, defying gravity to hover above the River Derwent. The planting was exquisite and well structured by magnificient maples and hornbeams. We revisited this garden several times, unable to resist its beauty.
Lee Bestall’s Experience Peak District and Derbyshire made playful use of gold, silver and bronze cows browsing on meadow turf. The garden contrasted a formal layout , featuring yew pyramids, with an informal, pastoral lanscape of cattle and fields.
Paul Hervey-Brooks IQ Quarry Garden won Best in Show. The garden highlighted the way nature reclaims quarries, creating species rich habitats. The garden transitioned from a brutalist Corten sculpture, through a sunken formal garden to an area of lush, naturalistic planting. Each area had its merits but the garden felt unconnected, and the garden furniture looked like a last minute addition.
Shop till you Drop
But for most people the main reason to visit a Flower Show is to buy plants. The range of nurseries was excellent and the displays in the marquees were the equal of Hampton Court or Chelsea. Like most people, my companion and I succumbed to plant shopping. Perhaps it was lower visitor numbers, but there also seemed to be more seats available than at other RHS Shows. When you get to a certain age, a nice sit-down with a cup of tea is essential. For us, RHS Chatsworth was a success. We have already decided to go next year.