We have a little “season” of events that we like to take part in each year now. However this year , due to other commitments, we cannot go to the excellent Ludlow Food and Drink Festival in early September and there did not seem sufficient enthusiasm to journey to the Cartmel Races Thurday Barbecue meeting in July. Another regular trip to the RHS show at Tatton was a very late addition this year, a spur of the moment decision but with a ready made picnic available from last night’s visitors with ample cheese and pate, a good decision nevertheless.
The weather was as good as it has been at RHS Tatton for some years and I have never seen the car parks so full. I think we were closer to Warrington than the show when we eventually were marshalled into a parking space. We paid the full “on the day” rate this year of £28 each , but as a RHS member in advance it would have been £19.50. We were then entertained at the ticket booth by an irate middle aged Liverpudlian who demanded to know what steps he could take to complain about the cost from the bemused and patient ticket girl. No one was forcing him to pay as far as I could see, although he made a point of stating loudly that he wouldn’t be coming next year!
The exhibits were in great form, the childrens gardens seemed more prominent, probably due to the use of a countries theme, the football grounds gardens were new, and raised some deep-seated rivalries even within the sedate milieu of the horticulturalist. The show gardens were all of a high standard and produced the usual levels of debate based on taste rather then pure horticultural merit as to why certain gardens received certain medals. There is never a concensus. The municipal flower beds seemed fewer in number (possibly due to local government cuts – no Stockport this year) but of a very high quality and with some real imagination.
Like any major event, Tatton provides some excellent people watching opportunities with a wide range of British “Tribes” finding something to enjoy. The lumpen plantertariat are out in force with their rucksacks and mother-in-laws, their picnic tupperware and secret vices for orchids, gladioli or unusual brassicas awaiting satiation. The aristocracy of The Garden are in numbers too with Panama hats and linen suits decorated with discreet lapel badges denoting some long association with the inner circles of the RHS. Modern and middle England is to be found dragging it’s collapsible carts, often only containing a handbag and a small Begonia, along the steel walkways producing by late afternoon a migraine-inducing low rumble as the sell off hour approaches and the best positions must be found.
More in evidence this year are the Cheshire Set wannabees, clad in flowing maxi skirts and with the inevitable Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses sheltering their second set of eyes on top of their heads, some sensibly shod in floral Hunters , others finding that the only stable place for the high heels today is in the Fortnum and Mason Tent.
Alongside and growing in number are the Yummy families in Boden and Banana Republic with slightly too wild flaxen haired children, often called Daisy, Rose or Sycamore (I made that last one up!) making incessant demands, whilst Daddy pulls along a milk float sized metal truck with scant regard for anyone else.
As it was the Sunday, we were on hand for the end of show, plant sale scrum. It is a remarkable thing to witness towards the “zero hour” of 4 o’clock with tensions palpably rising , elbows sharpening and the gardening communities’ normally impeccable manners put aside for a mad hour. It’s best not to be too set on buying a particular plant or allowing yourself to be drawn in to just buying for the sake of it . The floral marquee, where the main sellers of perennials and other specialist plant groups are to be found, does not seem to be the place to secure a bargain, as the vendors are retaining their stock to sell again at the next show or event.
The best pickings to be had are perhaps the main show gardens where the exhibitors are keen to recoup their outlay and reduce the cost of dismantling their gardens and avoid transporting them back. We picked up some nice grass, Calamagrostis Karl Foerster, and two specimens of an unusual dark leaved Geranium pratense ‘Viktor Reiter‘ at a very reasonable cost.
Positives about the Tatton Flower Show: lovely weather, some very innovative gardens and all of a high quality, a nice atmosphere and very well organised. Negatives would always include the cost of on-site catering which borders on robbery. I am not sure where the cynicism lies, with the contractors or the organisers, but captive market exploitation grows each year, as, consequently, do the numbers taking their own food and drink. I think that there should be more value for money outlets for food and drink as well as the high prices charged by the likes of Fortnum and Mason for lunch and afternoon tea. Cater for the core market as well as the gadflies of the style pages!