Visits with interesting plants

June 2019 – RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

RHS Chatsworth Flower Show 2019

Hot on the heels of RHS Chelsea comes RHS Chatsworth. Now in its third year, I took a look at the show to see how well its settling in, and what it might offer to make it worth a visit.

A sea of Dahlias welcome you to the show at Chatsworth House

What’s different from the other shows?

From the start the RHS were very keen to give this show its own unique flavour. This was never meant to be a recreation of its other successful flower show offerings, but something that reflects the area in which its set. The location does much of the job for them. The show site sits below the splendid Chatsworth House, ever visible in the distance. It straddles the sedate, meandering River Wye (which you suspect has seen a thing or two in its time) and has the glorious rolling hills of the Derbyshire Peak District as a backdrop. This stunning setting could be considered intimidating. Pitting the manicured and temporary charms of a show garden, even one with an undoubtedly worthy theme, against this ruggedly permanent countryside might make the human endeavours look a tad insignificant. But the RHS have some experience at putting on a show and they do it with style, plus something so determinedly cheerful that you only occasionally look up and wonder whether you should be walking across that glorious landscape instead.

What is there to see?

The Long Borders

These seem the ideal way to encourage new talent into show design being relatively small, simple areas that are enough to showcase ideas and skill with plants while not requiring much in the way of sponsorship.

The raised wooden beds are meant to be kept free of complications like water features and to focus on plants. The idea is that they’re inspired by the sort of long herbaceous borders we’d all like to have at home but sadly only see on visits to much larger gardens. The first picture above (with the willow hurdles) is the ‘Bess of Hardwick’ border which was awarded a Gold medal and was judged the best of the Long Borders. It takes its inspiration from Hardwick Hall.

Well dressing

The tradition of dressing wells with pictures created from flowers, leaves and other natural materials has been followed in the peak district for hundreds of years. It’s represented at the Chatsworth Show with some amazing designs that were to my mind the most skilled and impressive pieces of work in the show.

The show gardens

There’s no Chelsea splendour here. The show gardens are modest in size and scope. This makes them seem more relatable and more accessible, and I’m sure there’s a limit to the number of sponsors prepared to put huge amounts of money into a temporary show garden, but it can feel a little underwhelming at times. I think that’s especially true when so many use very similar planting styles and much the same plants. Salvia ‘Caradonna’ must have been in every single garden. But there’s imagination on display here, too, and some designers break the mould and do something a bit different.

The Wedgewood Garden, above, was designed by Jamie Butterworth and was awarded Gold and judged to be the best of the show gardens. It was certainly the largest, and was put together with an assured sophistication and a very good eye for colour.

A series of small show gardens were dedicated to mindfulness. Gardening has many health benefits, not least to the mind, so it was intriguing to see how the designers had reflected this in their gardens.

The Thrive garden in the middle picture above, was lovely, if perhaps a tad lively for a garden aimed at providing a peaceful sanctuary. The garden judged best in this category was the one on the left, called ‘Space Within’. It may not be as attractive in garden terms, but it probably fulfilled the brief more completely. The third picture was a garden I particularly liked. Designed by Samantha Harvey, head gardener at Broomfield Hall, and called ‘Find Yourself Lost In The Moment’ it was inspired by volunteer gardeners who feel they benefit mentally and physically from the opportunity to work in a large garden. Ironically it was a really small area but it gave some good ideas for what you could do with a garden which, for once, seemed no wider than mine mine (about 3m).

Buying plants! And other things

Inside the floral marquee, and outside on the nursery stands, there were plenty of plants to buy. There’s always more selection at a show this size than you’d find anywhere else, so it’s a really good opportunity to get hold of something a bit more unusual, or to let inspiration take hold (impulse? Call it what you like) and buy something you’ve never even heard of before.

What else?

Trees were celebrated with a display of the many different types that Majestic Trees sell. These two willow sculptures formed part of that display, and a figure which seemed to be ‘Groot’, in the middle above, roamed the show in a slightly unnerving way.

And there was music …

The Daisy Belles sang songs from the 40s and 50s. They must have been freezing in those dresses on this very chilly June day, but they were too professional to let it show. They kept their smiles in place, sang with spirit and were clearly popular with the crowd. I noticed they all had cardigans at the ready and put them on as soon as they finished singing. The wandering Mexicans were also fun!

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