Two young friends have been to the Chelsea Flower Show. Oh dear! They are low-paid so the price of the tickets was very hard to find but the excitement was palpable; they could not wait. I kept silent as I knew disappointment was coming and sure enough it was described as ‘a complete rip-off’. ‘£55 to see the backs of people’s heads, ten deep at a show garden and everyone holding up phones and ipads to try to salvage something from the visit’. Elbowing to the front allowed a glimpse of a garden and the wry observation that some ‘were designed to be seen by the judges and the television, not the visitor’.
When will the RHS wake up to the monster they have created? Who cares which celebrities go? Why is it so unsustainable? Hundreds of thousands of pounds are spent on a show that lasts six days and delivers a very poor visitor experience unless you are one of the elite or privileged few. As for the gnomes this year — well what can I say?
I’d like to suggest the current International Garden Show in Hamburg but cost is an issue for my friends (www.igs-hamburg.de). The last one I was lucky enough to see was the Federal Garden Show in Koblenz in 2011; for 25€ each we had a day in three different parks and space to see it all. Koblenz is by the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle and the Show was centred on the river. The Castle Park and Empress Augusta Gardens had been restored with some stunning planting. A riverside stroll to an aerial tramway takes you up over the river to the restored Fortress Ehrenbreitstein and a magnificent park overlooking both the Rhine and Moselle. The Show runs from spring to late summer and whilst there are temporary exhibitions and show gardens to see the emphasis is on innovative design for the long term.
Look at the website www.kolenzer-gartenkultur.de and you will see that the linked parks still thrive today. This is a serious economic driver for the chosen city; when the Show is on, the floral theme runs all through the central area. When leaving on an early morning train I saw hundreds of people pouring out from the station through the city centre to the Show.
UK Garden Festivals helped a generation of landscape architects to hone their professional skills but the finance for the follow-through was just not there. Is there another alternative? The RHS is taking small steps forward — what a shame it has to hang on to the old ways of doing things as far as Chelsea is concerned. My young friends have told everyone they can not to bother with the Chelsea Flower Show; it looks like the Chelsea Fringe next year.