The RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

Props to the Royal Horticultural Society for working to get more gardens and shows established outside of the south of England. They’ve announced they’ll be opening a new garden in Salford and this year saw the launch of their brand new show at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.

It’d be difficult to find a better setting for a garden show. ‘Borrowed landscape’ doesn’t get much better than the Capability Brown-designed rolling hills and meandering river around the Chatsworth Estate.

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Sadly though, the first outing of the show was anything but plain sailing. Torrential rain and high winds in the run up made set-up very challenging for the garden teams, led to the show having to be closed early on its press day, and caused huge traffic problems on the first day of public opening.

So, it was with a certain sense of trepidation that Mum and I headed there on the Friday, its second day of being open to the general public. Would we be stuck in hours of tailbacks, would the gardens have been irretrievably damaged by the weather, and would we ourselves be a soggy windblown mess within half an hour?

Thankfully, the answer to all three of these questions was a hearty ‘no’. We were extremely lucky with the weather- we got the best day of the whole week and it was sunny all day- and the problems with traffic management seemed to have been largely overcome.

Once inside the show ground you could see where the weather had taken its toll; there was the odd plant in one or two of the show gardens that looked a bit sorry for itself, and I was glad I’d worn walking boots as certain parts of the show tents and some of the ground around the show gardens was sodden, but all things considered the garden teams and the display holders inside the tents had done a fantastic job considering the conditions they’d had to put up with.

We started in the floral marquees, of which there were two. Having watched the television coverage of the Chelsea show last month, I’d come to realise just how much work goes into the floral displays inside the marquees, some of which are almost show gardens in their own right.

These displays are generally designed, created and staffed by nursery owners, rather than garden designers, and their primary purpose is to show off that grower’s wares and entice you to buy something. Lots of the growers specialise in one species or another, but some have a broader repertoire. My favourite was the display by Hare Spring Cottage Plants.

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Unfortunately for me (fortunately for my bank balance) I’m trying not to buy plants at the moment; I don’t really have space for everything I’ve got- I still have perennials grown from seed that are waiting to be planted out- and I know the garden is going to be overhauled in the near future anyway so I can’t really justify adding much more just yet.

But… I couldn’t go to a plant show and not buy a single thing. I was ever so tempted by the Astrantia and Salvias, but in the end the one thing I caved for was a couple of purple Dahlias- ‘Blue Bayou’ and ‘Karma Lagoon’, from Jon Wheatly’s national collection stand. I’ve come to love dahlias over the past few years for their very long flowering season and autumn colour, but I’ve yet to discover why almost all of the commercially available seeds are yellow, red or white and it’s very difficult to buy the seeds for purple ones (blue and purple are the colours of choice for my garden). The only thing I can think of is that it’s not a natural colour and the purples have been highly bred, so perhaps seeds can’t be relied on not to revert to their more natural colour. Presented with the opportunity to buy some purple plants from the national collection, I couldn’t resist. I’m still not sure where I’m going to put them though…perhaps I’ll grow these in a pot this year.

After the floral marquees we went to find the show gardens…with ‘find’ being the operative word. Thankfully Mum had bought a show guide with a map, otherwise I honestly think we would have missed several of them, they were so small and spread out. I was expecting the gardens to be one next to the other, much as it looks like they are at Chelsea, but I think the greater space available in the Chatsworth grounds, and perhaps the slightly more relaxed atmosphere they were going for with the show, meant that gardens were more mingled in among trade stalls and exhibits.

The Cruse Bereavement garden won a Silver Gilt. I loved the mix of materials and the planting, and the design that provided different routes to walk around even a small garden.

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Jo Thompson’s garden sponsored by Brewin Dolphin was our favourite, and unsurprisingly won the People’s Choice award.

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The mown pathways and meadow planting was so inviting.

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I really loved the use of the rebar rods (builders’ reinforcing rods) as a vertical divider to the space. By giving the eye something to longer on the in the mid-distance it made the space feel bigger.

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The Wedgewood garden was a close second-favourite for me.

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The free-form gardens were a new category introduced to this show. Some of them were less ‘garden’ and more ‘installation’, but interesting nonetheless, such as this one, ‘Helping Hands’ paying tribute to all the unseen behind-the-scenes work of gardening and garden installation.

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The Inspire and Achieve Foundation sponsored this excellent installation/ garden designed to represent the troubled lives and negative external forces influencing the young people they work with, compared to the good that they have within them.

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Several of the gardens had a very naturalistic style, possibly influenced by the rural surroundings of the show, but also reflective of the current fashion in garden design for things to be a little bit wild and natural.

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This was my first time at such a garden show, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Overall it was a very enjoyable few hours though I don’t think you’d need a full day there. We spent about 6 hours there, including an hour or so for afternoon tea up at the main house.

There were fewer gardens than I’d expected- perhaps this was due in part to the newness of the Chatsworth show not attracting enough designers and sponsors, and I know there was much talk of a lack of sponsors being behind the significant reduction in the number of Chelsea show gardens this year, so perhaps that was a factor too. Or perhaps the organisers just kept the show fairly small for its first year to see how it would take off. There was plenty of space in the grounds for the show to grow in further years, it will be interesting to see whether it does.

Nevertheless, the quality of the displays in the floral marquee was hugely impressive and there were some really inspiring gardens to look at. This is a spectacular setting for a show, and the space that the grounds afforded meant it didn’t feel too crowded. I really hope that, in spite of the weather and the traffic problems, the RHS will consider the Chatsworth Show a success, and continue to grow it in future years- and I hope to be back to see it.

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