Moving forward many years in time, I returned from all my travels, moved back home to help aging parents and discovered ‘gardening’ at last, in my 40s.
Dad retired with an almost audible sigh of relief from accompanying Mum to flower shows and exhibitions and I was introduced to this incredible world of plant breeding and design. I wasn’t sure at first I would enjoy the crowds, as some of you know I am not keen on crowds however the lure of the plant world was strong enough.
Mum being a member of the RHS we could easily get tickets not only to the smaller venues but also the crème de la crème The Royal Chelsea Flower show, what a wonderful show that is.
Armed with bags, notebooks, pens and endless energy we viewed, ah-ed and scribbled plant names. Collected brochures, price lists and dreamed of packed borders.
Despite a lifetime playing in gardens and travelling the world I had never truly understood the diversity of the world’s plant life. Or how plant enthusiasts and professionals could change and manipulate from something simple to something exotic in form shape and colour – sadly not often in scent. I began reading up avidly on the subject. Some of the exhibitions we attended would be just one plant, an auricle maybe and a whole hall would be filled with the variations of colour, shading, petal shape and leaf colour. Every one desirable.
Despite the fascination of these exhibitions I enjoyed the shows and festivals more. The Chelsea Show now, what a show that is. The best. Mum and I developed a strategy for seeing the most. Marquees first, before they became wedged into unmanageable crushes, now they have a one way system working, we tried it on our last trip so much better than the free-for-all we experienced.
After the marquees the show gardens. There were crowds around each one but with patience and guile one could wriggle through to a place of good viewing. Amazing to think that just a couple of weeks before there was nothing, and in that time tall stately trees would be planted, huge waterfalls and streams, thousands of plants and sculptures, then in a few days after the show it would all be gone. Instant gardening in the extreme.
It was the beginning of a change in gardening; new designers were stretching what was considered acceptable, gardening programmes were beginning to attract the non traditional gardeners. Instant gardens and decking rearing their heads. Mum and I enjoyed this buzz more than most of the traditionalist:)
A few years later a younger cousin to Chelsea was launched at Hampton Court a smaller event based on the same lines as Chelsea and what a setting, really it doesn’t get much better, and a river ride from car park to entrance. The show has over the years become the largest flower show in the world. The plants and gardens as exciting, the innovations as good and it was also less of a journey for the two of us to get to.
Just before this in a spirit of restoration and regeneration, a National Garden Festival scheme was launched. Derelict waste lands in chosen Cities around the country were designated to be rejuvenated, and give a boost to the tourist industry.
Mum ventured a wish to attend the first of these, up in Liverpool. 950,000 square metres of land was given over to the festival - not a festival one could visit for a day! We duly booked ourselves into a hotel and hopped onto a train.
Apart from the massive Festival Hall and large Exhibition spaces there were also 60 gardens, a light railway system to help visitors to get around the massive site; there were amazing sculptures and works of art. Mum and I had not seen anything quite like it. Then before we left the City we took a helicopter ride, glass bottomed, over the river Mersey, the first for both of us I believe. That was one of the highlights of the trip.
Tired wasn’t the word for how we felt at the end of the two days. Apart from the sheer physicality of all the walking we did, there was the mental stimulus from all the innovative ideas and fancies.
Liverpool was the first of what turned out to be five of these events, held every two years in different regions of Britain.
We decided to go to the second of them, held up in Stoke (on-Trent) and that time decided to drive ourselves up and visit a water plant nursery on the way home.
Stoke was similar in style if not in layout. The individual gardens, the art work and sculptures. The amazing surge of innovation around the whole subject of gardening. They had a railway and also a cable car over the site.
The only event of life changing note with this visit is the fact that up riding the cable car I suddenly felt uneasy of the height. Never before had I had the feeling. And ever since, the unease has developed into a full blown phobia but how, why? I don’t know.
We stocked the car up on the way home with water plants for our ‘frog’ ponds and decided garden festivals were great.
We didn’t attend the next three because my father’s health rapidly worsened and a series of TIA attacks and a heart attack meant we couldn’t stay away from home. After Dad died Mum resumed, for a couple of years, attending Chelsea and Hampton Court and then decided the visits were too tiring for her.
It had been an exciting few years for a 'newbie gardener'. I had learnt such a great deal, both from Mum and the various experts on hands at these exhibitions. When the time came to clip wings and stay closer to home I had been satisfied and now knew what I wanted from a garden.