I used to love the Chelsea Flower Show.
Right now, people are digging up gardens, tearing down stands and putting plants in skips. Lorries will have surged over the bridge and into the Royal Hospital grounds with military precision, in strictly numerical order so that they end up exactly outside the appropriate stand.
A few years ago, I would have been utterly shattered on this day, and with a car-full of plants ready to be unpacked.
So why don’t I go any more?
1. I can’t stand Alan Titchmarsh. According to the BBC coverage, he’s been there all the time, and everywhere.
I know that’s not true (see below), but even so. Eergh.
2. Been there, done that, I suppose. For several years I was an exhibitor, and I’m not going to say with whom for reasons that will become clear. Unfortunately, that’s rather spoiled the Show for me as a visitor. For instance, I appreciated the comparative calm of the exhibitors’ facilities, and I appreciated the opportunity to get away from the crowds for a few minutes.
And there was a certain amount of – um – informal bartering that went on. You know: ‘Swap you a pair of Felco secateurs for XX?’, ‘How about we trade ZZ for that bronze iris you liked?’. Also I had congenial colleagues and a car park pass (both vital when you’re there for 12 hours plus, from 7 a.m., and it never stops).
Plus my garden is lovely at the moment. The meadow is really cracking along.
3. I don’t want to queue for hours for an overpriced sandwich, and I don’t want to spend ages hunting out a free square of grass so I can sit down and eat a packed lunch which I have just trailed all around the show, and a lunch which is now nicely warm and a possible health hazard. Nor do I want to queue for ages for a loo that would be more worthy of Glastonbury than the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
And my own garden is doing its thing…
4. When you’re a visitor and not an exhibitor, you don’t tend to start the day the whisky way. One of my colleagues used to bring a flask of hot water and all the makings of a good hot toddy – essential for those cold mornings, before the exhibitors’ refreshment tent has got the breakfasts going.
Did I mention my garden was waking up?
Ah yes, and that brings me to
5. the lack of a hot breakfast on site. The chances of getting off a stand for an actual lunch break being limited, a good fry-up acts as an all-day substitute. As a visitor, it would deal effectively with 3, and maybe even 4, except it’s not possible. Unless you find a greasy spoon nearby, and they’re not as common in Chelsea as they once were.
So, five negative things. Now for five positive ones.
6. If I’m here, as opposed to being in near-central London, I can wander around and pay the garden the same sort of attention I would pay a display in the Marquee at Chelsea (always supposing I could see a Chelsea display, that is, through the crowds). Time to notice the unfurling of a fern,
for instance, and I do love my ferns.
7. I can do the appreciating plants thing with a cup of tea in my hand. Always a good one. Yes, I suppose I could replicate that at Chelsea, but the tea would be in a polystyrene cup, plus it would be stewed and I’d be likely to drop it, spill it or scald someone – possibly myself – with it.
And who knows, maybe even a pice of cake would be involved here. Home-made cake. Edible cake.
8. When I read an article in the paper written by some eejit who thinks Chelsea is outdated and elitist (no way those loos are remotely elitist, though I could be persuaded on the outdated front) because the idiot in question is living in the past, has probably not been nearer to Chelsea than Hoxton and wouldn’t know a daffodil if it biffed him on the nose, I can say some really rather unladylike things without offending anyone.
This poppy looks as though it’s sticking its tongue out. Quite. Parrrrp.
9. Would I rather take a book, cuppa and aforementioned cake into the meadow, lie down and have a quiet five minutes watching the wildlife (orange tip butterflies mating, where’s David Attenborough?), or would I rather trek across London, fight my way onto Main Avenue to try and see a speck of a prize-winning garden from under someone’s armpit?
10. It’s too hot. I’ve done wet Chelseas (they’re a bugger), cold Chelseas (where’s the whisky?), Chelseas where the pollen left everyone with streaming eyes and noses (nice). But the worst I did was the hottest. It was horrible.
So why would I even think about it, when there’s this
five minutes away? (The black thing in the water is a dog, not a corpse – been watching too many Scandinavian crime dramas; sorry.) Admittedly, I’m lucky here, but even my old south London back garden would have been more civilised.
And with absolutely no danger of encountering Alan Titchmarsh.