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RHS Flower Extravaganza Reviewed

Samantha Grimes skips amongst the petals and mad furniture at Tatton Park

Published on August 2nd 2011.

RHS Flower Extravaganza Reviewed

WHERE better to be on a beautiful English midsummer afternoon than in the grounds of one of the grandest stately homes in the country, surrounded by a riot of colour and scent and horticultural enthusiasm? (Although if you suffer from severe hayfever, you can probably think of a few better places).

Even if you have nothing bigger than a window box to tend, there is inspiration and education for everybody here on one level or another.

Now I don't really know much about the mechanics gardening. But that doesn't matter as long as you can appreciate the visceral beauty of the riot of colours, and take enjoyment from the sensual assault afforded by the numerous displays and designs, you will still enjoy them.

And a visit to Tatton RHS Flower Show underlines that in spades.

Obviously, there are numerous opportunities to improve your horticultural knowledge should you wish to, but I'll confess I left Tatton Park knowing as little as I did when I went in, but I did have a lovely time. It's not just about the plants either - there are crafts, sculpture, food, drink, and endless shopping opportunities.

Rhs1As an artist, I was interested to see the show gardens at Tatton, as I always enjoy seeing the new ideas and boundary-pushing designs from the televised coverage at Chelsea and Hampton Court.

If I'm honest, I was a little disappointed with the standard of design at Tatton. While all the gardens were competent and occasionally beautiful, I didn't see much that challenged my perceptions in the way that, for instance, the sunken fungi concept display at Hampton Court had. 

A couple of exceptions were the 'I Dream Of The Promised Land' visionary garden which was intended as a metaphor for a Rwandan refugee's flight to freedom. This is a garden as politics. The ignominious exterior of bamboo and 'jungle' greenery does not prepare you for the emotionally raw interior which is like a thump in the solar plexsus - children's clothing, handwritten notes and the personal belongings of refugees hang from the ceiling and cover the floor, portraying rivers of blood and life. 

I also loved the feature garden of Peter Little – Hortisculptures – which highlighted one of the rarest habitats in rural Ireland, the bog woodland, in an imaginative and fantastical way. The rigid metal structure sitting over the top of the site like a mini Eden Project housed a sort of prehistoric riot of abstract metal sculptures rearing up from bog-happy planting and every shade of green imaginable. 

Rhs3The school garden areas - all created by children from local schools - were a joy, and, for me, totally outshone the efforts of the professional designers for sheer imagination and exuberance. The bursts of colour and foliage leapt out of each small area to depict an individual country of the world, and seemed to be hugely popular with the visitors, to the point where we couldn’t actually get near some of them.

In the end it was good to learn that RHS Tatton isn’t all about crocosmia bulbs and ericaceous compost. Even if you have nothing bigger than a window box to tend, there is inspiration and education for everybody. Maybe not enough to challenge boundaries or to raise the bar of horticultural design, but it was still a highly enriching day out if you make the effort to explore all that’s on offer. I'll be back in 2012.


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