Catharine Howard asks what the RHS is up to and why in her piece for the thinkingardens Chelsea 2013 competition.
Anne Wareham, editor
Too Many Things by Catharine Howard.
Chelsea, with its breathless television coverage, reminds me of those glossy magazines that show pictures of parties you should have been at. But had you been there, you too would have spotted the torn tinsel, overflowing ashtrays and people the worse for wear. Surrounding this event there is a slightly hysterical ‘be-there’ conspiracy.
So I examined a full hour or two of BBC2‘s offering. And saw no holds barred. The crews and all their paraphernalia had trotted round the UK to catch various gardens and nurseries in unfeasible bloom. The 100 year thing had the cameras homing in on the Blackmore and Langdons, the Medwyns of Anglesey and Hilliers. Alan Titchmarsh, enthroned, invited us into be introduced to the first and most valuable gnome in the country.
The media slant is all very silly. It becomes pervasive – also creeping into the judging and the rewarding of the medals. That definitely has become the silliest bit of all. There seem to be more and more of them. Medals, that is. But without the medallists who pour sweat and hours and hours into displays, there would be no Chelsea.
The artistry performed by the nurseries to get to ready for the show and judging day would make your hair curl. I have stood quietly beside Kelways stand and watched them unfurl cotton wool nests from all the iris buds. The time spent in prep is phenomenal and on the back of all this the money rides.
The cost of renting any trade space in these few acres is mind-stretching. From the big boys of the conservatory world to the small angry man who sells yellow – and only yellow – gardening gloves. And every sort of twine, fork and sculpture in between. But all these trade stands would not be there without a hard-core flower exhibition at the heart of the show.
And of course all this turns on the cachet of Corporate Chelsea. The visitors who make it there on the first day for Press Day will see the mushrooming of discrete signage and white ropes corral individual flower stands off for the private parties of city bods. Quaffing of champagne and networking go hand in hand. No doubt nowhere more than in the show gardens and what fun that must be. The judging and medals for these gardens has broken into an outright squabble this year.
But the awarding of the medals has always been a mighty meal – the RHS lacks confidence and is playing with the money incentive. On one hand luring their exhibitors back but also attempting to play it hip and TV savvy. James May’s plasticine garden, a few years back, broke all their own rules of admission, but hey-man it’s Top Gear. This time round the gushing water fall and hats at Flemings garden was only worth a cursory glance, but those poor old judges are just juggling too many things.