Country Matters by The Hodge May 2018 Front Gardens and Three Counties

Could your garden get into the Chelsea Flower Show?

“I sipt each flower,

I chang’d ev’ry hour,
But here ev’ry flower is united.”

John Gay 1685-1732 ‘The Beggar’s Opera, Act I, sc. Xiii’

With only few exceptions, we are all gardeners of some sort in this Cotswold idyll surrounding Cirencester where the Scene is distributed. Some spend thousands of pounds and keep their gardens in pristine order; lawns immaculately manicured; beds a constant blaze of glorious colour. Others struggle to find the time or motivation and their green spaces may be more of a wilderness but that too can be useful to wildlife so anyone of that ilk can hold their heads up as modern ecowarriors. Perhaps the exceptions are those who concrete over their plot of earth to provide mud-free parking but this is less of an occurrence hereabouts than in the big cities.

So with spring at last in the air, (well, it was when I wrote this!), most of us will be turning our thoughts to new growth, new challenges – the weeds always seem to be so healthy – and exciting new offers of glorious flowering, scented, abundant, growths which would be so perfect in a new pot on the patio or in that bare patch in the front border where the snow killed off something else. The pictures in the papers or the seed catalogues are always so enticing, so perfect and immaculate. You never see a dandelion growing out of the pot or the ravages of the army of slugs that sneak out at night in your own small plot. How many times have you, like me, succumbed to the marketing temptation and sent off your precious pennies to get back, some weeks later, a weedy little plug plant which you carefully nurture and, following the detailed instructions similar in complexity to those accompanying a new TV, so that six weeks later it is deemed fit to plant out and lo! – some days go by and you return to inspect same to find it has disappeared from this existence so completely that if it wasn’t for the forlorn label remaining, it might all have been some very detailed dream.

As with most things, I am of an age where experience now tells me that I’m better off seeing my potential purchase in the flesh and choosing from a selection the one that I think is healthiest/biggest/has most buds/or what have you. Garden Centres are OK for this to an extent but some are really a pricing rip-off – it pays to shop around! – and they don’t necessarily have all the exciting new innovations or varieties that you find in real nurseries.

I have never been to Chelsea Flower Show but knowing the size of it and seeing the crowds on television I’m not convinced that, unless I were granted a private viewing, I would see or learn very much although I would like the experience, just once. Instead I shall visit the RHS Malvern Spring Festival at the Three Counties Showground (Gloucestershire being one of those three). It is spread over a far bigger area than Chelsea and although it attracts crowds, you can get round and see some fantastic sights with their own show gardens as well as hundreds and hundreds of specialist nurseries selling plants and offering knowledgeable advice. No, they are not cheap either – unless you’re willing to wait to packing up time on the last day and fancy your haggling skills – but the sheer experience is exhilarating and you really do get to see and smell a huge variety that even the most detailed catalogue cannot begin to match.

If you fancy the idea, the show is on from 10th-13th May, (the first day is reserved for RHS Members only), there is free parking and plenty of refreshment stalls although you can also take your own lunch and enjoy a picnic. For detailed information, visit http://www.threecounties.co.uk

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