RHS Tatton 2011
I had high hopes for the RHS show at Tatton this year. There have been a number of innovations which aimed to give the event a distinctive look and feel, and there has been a real push about featuring "young designers". Ally this to the fact that a respectable spread of talented "older" designers were slated to put on a display of large show gardens, future visions and individual statements of brilliance, and it was all set up to be a belter of a show. Even the weather was playing ball, and for the first show in years, it wasn't lashing down, fog bound, snowing or flooded.
And then the RHS went and cocked it all up by scrapping the exclusive 'media preview' day, and sent in the media to fight for elbow room with the blue-rinsed, Daily Wail and obesecycle-riding brigade that seemingly forms the bulk of RHS members these days.
Consequently, the so-called members of the press were granted buggerall chance of getting good quality, well-composed photies, because Alf and Doris were either walking on front of the camera, tripping-up over the tripod, or nudging you out of the way because they wanted to get a photies of their own on their 29.99 quid digital camera from Argos. And there was even less chance of getting a decent chat with the designers and contractors because Marjorie would butt in with a " what's that red one called? A dahlia? Are you sure? "
I was there reasonably early, but the Cheshire set beat me to it, and despite my best efforts, it was practically impossible to get anything more than a stolen glance of the main show gardens around the Egerton Clump, and whenever there was the slightest hint of a photocall at a particular garden, the venue was swamped with well-meaning but bloody inconvenient gawpers wondering what all the fuss was about.
The main 'presence' this year would be Brett Landscaping , who had sponsored or contributed to at least 3 different gardens and did seem to have the place more of less to themselves as there was no detectable presence from any other national supplier. So, a well-deserved three cheers for Brett in recognition of their support for the main northern RHS event of the summer. Not bad going for a firm with a HQ in Kent - if only there were some manufacturers or suppliers based north of Watford Gap!
I'd love to be able to describe the gardens and the hard-landscaping used, but as it was all but impossible to get a decent photo, let alone take notes when surrounded by a crowd of over-excited thrill seekers, so I will have to rely on the fading memories and hastily scribbled jottings from a crumpled copy of the show catalogue.
The main garden sponsored by Brett was Bláthanna fiaine an Inbhir , which my limited command of the mother tongue suggests is pronounced " Blaw-unna Fee-ann-yer an Inver " and translate as the " Wild Flowers of Inver ", a magical and incredibly peaceful spot on the Atlantic coast of Co. Mayo in NW Ireland recreated for Tatton by Stephen Dennis. Very tranquil, even in this crowd, with a lough-side patio of black limestone, rendered blacker by use of a tinted sealant which gave it a varnished, unnatural look. I suspect that, back in the owld country, this would be Ballinasloe Limestone, which is quite dark and funereal and, unlike its significantly cheaper and easier to obtain Asian counterpart, is not as prone to fading on exposure to sunlight.
In fact, the black limestone was a feature of several gardens, notably John Everiss's " Inside Out " imagining of the ideal patio cooking/dining area, which was stark and cold but strangely comfortable and inviting - you had to be there!
Black limestone does seem to be the "in thing" this season, but I wonder how many potential customers are fully aware of just how pale it becomes after a so-called summer or two under British (or Irish) skies? If you fancy this stone, be warned: it needs a good quality impregnating colour enhancer and/or an enhancing sealant to maintain its sombre tones, otherwise what once was carbon black will be steel grey before you know it!
Overall, I think Tatton is the most inventive of the three main RHS Shows. I love the Flower Bed gardens as a celebration of what is a fantastic and archetypically English art form; I thought the Football Club gardens (justifiably and naturally won by the Liverpool FC garden designed by Ann Picot) were a smile-inducing tribute to one of the north-west's greatest exports, and the back-to-back visionary gardens are an unbeatable opportunity for budding designers. It's not all about glamour or zelebrities or overpriced poncey drinks (although the on-site caterer, some crowd from that London, Mason and Fort or summat, were charging 85 quid for a ham salad picnic!). It's more about what many of us regard as achievable gardening. There's summat a bit flash if you live in Alderley Edge, summat more realistic for those who live in Heaton Mersey, and plenty to inspire young minds.
What the show lacks is proper promotion, and by forcing the meejah to jostle along with the honourable members, the RHS organisers missed a real chance. It annoyed me, and I know it annoyed several other 'real' journalists and togfers who do this sort of thing for a living. One overseas writer/photo-journalist made it quite plain that she will not be returning if this is how she is to be rewarded for spending 1,200 euro to get herself and her kit on a flight from Schipol.
So: plaudits and plums, baubles and brickbats. Well done to the exhibitors and contractors and sponsors who laboured through the worst that a British summer can throw at them to create a true spectacle that takes at least a day to see properly, but a big slobbering raspberry to the RHS organisers who ballsed up big time by not giving these plucky exhibitors the opportunity to show off their skills to a wider audience.