The sun had its very best hat on at the weekend for the Tatton Park RHS Flower show in Cheshire. Neither as crowded nor as expensive as its Southern cousins at Hampton Court and Chelsea, it is a perfectly charming Northern alternative. The sky was streaked with high white Cirrus clouds and the thermometer crept up towards 30c. Was this England?
A summer sky spectacle
Tatton Park in Cheshire is home to a Tudor Old Hall, Neo-Classical Mansion, 50 acres of landscaped gardens, a rare-breed farm and 1,000 acres of deer park. For nearly 400 years the estate was the property of the Egerton family until it was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1958. Today it is financed and maintained by Cheshire East Council.
The show this year had over 500 exhibitors and was divided into four zones. Inspire, Escape, Feast and Grow. There were themed gardens based on the elements of Earth, Wind, Water and Fire and the young gardeners design theme was ‘Avant –gardening.’Typically, we didn’t get a programme or a map so it was the random wandering round option that we went for which, after a while, generally involves lots of ‘have we been there, have we done that bit?’ as the day progresses.
Beautiful raining trees
There were giant marquees of gorgeous plant displays and plant sales which is what the plant lovers among us love, entertainment, gardening talks and lots of garden related products were on offer, with which to adorn your precious outside territory. Greenhouses, sheds, garden globes, gazebos and hobbit houses were there for those with a more substantial space (and budget) Gorgeous sculptures and garden paraphernalia of every possible imaginary colour and dimension were for sale. My favourite were the willow work life size animals and the Robert James bronze sculptures of Alice in Wonderland characters. Who wouldn’t want a water feature where the mad hatter pours tea into a cup forever?
Two sugars for me
In particular I loved the gorgeous vegetable displays with varieties on show that were so new they hadn’t been given names yet!Red, orange and dark stripey tomato trees, shiny skinned aubergines, towers of onions, nurseries of baby turnips, purple cauliflowers and gangs of Mexican sour gherkins. Delightful.
There were some vegetable competitions – although it is at community/country show level that these get really cut throat. I still remember buying a giant cabbage at an allotment sale which was big enough to be belted up in the passenger seat of my friend’s MX5.It was all getting a bit too hot for some of the competitive lettuces though.They’re a delicate lot.
The show gardens were OK. I always find them a bit disappointing though, probably because plants have to be imported in to construct them and they never have the mad magnificence of a real life size garden in full swing. I can appreciate the calm restrained Japanese style ones with limited numbers of plants and lots of space and man made materials separating them, but I prefer the more natural chaotic colourful ones. My favourite type of garden is the old fashioned English cottage garden – although I can’t abide a Marigold – give me a Lupin, a Hollyhock and a Foxglove and I’m happy.
You’re alright with Alliums
Alliums are big this year, there’s something very satisfying about those beautiful big uniform balls of colour, and I was very excited by the range of Hydrangeas on offer. Conical ones, lacy ones, delicate whites, salmon pinks and blues. I have always wanted a blue Hydrangea but whenever I have ever planted one in the garden it goes quickly back to boring plain pink and then promptly dies. Yes, I understand about ericaceous compost and the PH of the soil (is it acid soil it likes?) but I’m obviously not doing it right. This year I carried off a luscious violet Hydrangea, a new strain, which was guaranteed NOT to turn pink, ever. We shall see about that.
Understand your cow
There was environmentally friendly compost on offer made from household waste (peat free you see) and a giant globe suspended over a pond which held a certain fascination.
High class Hydrangeas
The gardening talks are all quite jolly too. How to cook unusual vegetables was in full swing when we got there with instruction being given by Pennard plants as to what best to do with a Hyacinth pea. (A seriously purple specimen)
First take your unusual vegetable..
There were lots and lots of food concessions as there always are as these things and the obligatory Pimms and Champagne franchise, although a glass of chilled bubbly does not go amiss on a hot day. You could stuff yourself silly if you felt like it with burgers and baps and fish and chips and fudge, although I did observe that plant lovers tend to be somewhat less obese than the general British populace, probably because they spent more time outside than the average person.
The world was as Tatton Park
The old fashioned Ferris wheel had a huge plant display in every other gondola which was very cute and swung visitors merrily up into the sky all day as the planes from Manchester Airport took off overhead.It must be ten years since I was last here, hopefully it won’t be another ten years before my next visit.