Wednesday, 17 July 2013


We’ve been going to the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show for over fifteen years. It’s a season-defining thing, July, usually sunny and a day of unalloyed pleasure. When it started it was precocious little sister of Chelsea, a bit more burger than Bulgari. 

But now it’s three times the size and massively bigger in the last year alone. It’s changed a lot. From flower show to the biggest outdoor living show imaginable. It’s packed with UKIP voters, members of the National Trust and the sort of people you meet on cruises – charming, educated and a little bit deaf.

What was that? Yes, me too to the last of those.

But the biggest change was a strange one. It was a failure of creativity over common sense. One of the highlights (after the floral Marquee) has always been the show gardens. I recall dozens of brilliant ideas in the past. Often a real sense of delicious green and original solitude.  This year was full of brilliant planting, lots of meadow flowers but then there was something irrelevant as the focal point.

You know – a man in a gas mask, a leather recliner with a broken glass and a bottle of Bollinger, a rusting piece of sculpture, a plastic table with a teddy bear astride a watering can. It was all most odd.  There were screens of orange, blocks of wood and piles of old fridges. One called Ashes to Ashes with lots of burnt ash trees and RIP tombstones in memory of ash dieback seemed refreshingly normal.

So what the heck was going on?

It was the stands selling stuff that won most of the attention – the next Farrow and Ball called Little Greene, Estribos selling brilliant hats made from wild Argentinian hare pelts (nothing PC about the Country Living stand) and a new sausage brand to replace Debbie and Andrews – the brand bought by private equity and gone legit. Welcome, instead, Heck the North Yorkshire brand created by the Keeble family whose motto is, allegedly, “what the heck!” Everyone in the family’s on the board and it says on their website:
Making damn good sausages is in our blood and we have been doing it for years. ….working together on the family farm to bring you sausages packed to the skin with quality, flavour and inspiration. We use fresh herbs instead of dried, processed ones. We do small-batch production instead of mass-production……

It was good to see someone doing their best to do what they do well better.

It’s time for the gardeners to get back to gardening.

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