May 23rd, 2008

Fishy Circumstances

Chelsea Flower Show

Thanks to a friend-of-a-friend cancelling at the last minute, I ended up with an evening ticket for the Chelsea Flower Show last night. I've been vaguely interested for several years, but not to the degree that I planned the months in advance necessary for ticket booking. J., on the other hand, did. Shortly past five, we strolled down to the grounds through pleasant weather and crowds to take maximum advantage of our two-and-a-half hours in the show.

Seeing news articles about it, I'd presumed that the whole thing was a dazzle of flower arrangements and mini-gardens. I wasn't wrong, but neither was I right. It's an enormous industry showcase, much as the BBC Good Food Show is for food. There are 600+ vendors, 33 show gardens, and above as many other urban and courtyard gardens. Flower arrangements are largely confined to one moderately large tent with a long queue. (We came back half-an-hour before the show closed and got in with no queue at all.) Further, there are two kinds of vendors: plant vendors, and everyone else. Everyone else were in rows and rows of tents outside. The plant vendors each had enorous displays in the rightly-named "Grand Pavillion'. A given display would, say, feature 40 varieties of daffodils, or 20 kinds of clematis, with a discreet pile of mail-order brochures and a low-key salesperson.

The show gardens were spectacular for several reasons. They were elegant. They obviously required huge amounts of work and maintenance. They were surrounded by huge crowds, but all roped off, so not filled by them. (This explains why it's so easy for newspapers to photograph them without people. Tip: There are fewer people along the sides of the gardens.) The gardens cost enormous sums to produce, and the sponsorship doesn't stop there. They all had beautifully-designed informative brochures which, bare minimum, listed the plants used and gave the garden designer's philosophy. I compulsively picked up the brochure for the garden sponsored by Corian, because I have kitchens on the brain.

The best moment of the show: In the grand pavilion, wandering across a piled up display of all ripe strawberry plants, their decadent sweet perfume filling the air around it. We just stood and breathed for a while.

Two-and-a-half hours was plenty for a decent glimpse of all the competition gardens and flower arrangements, but not much time if we'd had serious shopping interests there. We skimmed the vendors superficially, and saw only a large sampling of plant displays advertising wares in the Grand Pavilion. We were very lucky with the weather and light. If they turn out well, I may post some of my photos another day.