It’s a good sign when the Royal Horticultural Society show schedule is growing rather than shrinking. Last year an early summer London Rose Show was added to the programme; this November the inaugural London Urban Garden Show will introduce gardeners to a host of tropical and subtropical plant growers; and next year we have an all-singing, all-dancing flower show at Chatsworth to look forward to. It promises to be “a platform for design revolutionaries”, with a new category of show gardens called “FreeForm”. Here, daring designers will be encouraged to push the boundaries of garden making, showcasing ground breaking ideas. A new, contemporary show on the scale of the RHS’s other regional events is a genuinely exciting prospect: combined with the Brownian setting of Chatsworth it promises to be a cracking day out.
If you’d like to go along, the show will take place from June 7-11 2017 in the grounds of the Devonshire’s “big house”. Be prepared though, tickets go on sale a full year in advance, on Tuesday June 7 2016, with RHS members invited exclusively on the first day of the show. Unlike Chelsea, the show will run until Sunday.
Back to London now, and during a frantic Friday at the office I manage to sneak out for an hour to enjoy the second London Rose Show. Quite how the RHS show team recover themselves so quickly after Chelsea I don’t know. They must be made of stern stuff. Far removed from the gloss and glamour of its predecessor this was a simple, unfussy show focussed firmly on roses. A select band of nurseries and rose growers, including Harkness Roses, which has been growing roses for more 125 years; Apuldram Roses, a Chichester-based family run business; and Peter Beales Roses, which has been awarded 22 RHS Gold medals at Chelsea, were on hand to give advice and sell plants.
The Lawrence Hall was a much more calm, pleasant environment in which to shop for roses than either Chelsea or Hampton Court. I was delighted with my exquisite Rosa “Jacqueline du Pré”, purchased as a gift for a colleague from Harkness Roses. A simpler, more beautiful rose it would be hard to imagine.
Neither of our gardens is well suited to roses, and Him Indoors isn’t a big fan. Our roll call of varieties extends no further than Rosa banksiae “Lutea”; a rather diseased burgundy hybrid tea that came free with Polegate Cottage and a wild rose that makes an occasional foray into the garden from next door. This pains me greatly when I recall the joy roses gave me as a child – “Iceberg”, “Frencham”, “Queen Elisabeth”, “Peace”, “Fragrant Cloud”, “Masquerade” and “Albertine” were as much part of my younger years as friends, family and Roald Dahl. However, presented with an opportunity to buy Rosa “Bengal Crimson” at the Chelsea Physic Garden the previous evening, I had already let my plantaholic tendencies rip with another purchase I have no space for.
In their wisdom the RHS invited the fragrant Rachel de Thame to co-curate this year’s London Rose Show. I am sure her celebrity endorsement will have attracted a few more punters but after she’d shot me a couple of sour looks I thought better of saying hello. Nevertheless, the show plainly displayed a woman’s touch, being well organised, attractively laid out and, naturally, rose-scented. Mercifully the cavernous hall was fairly quiet after lunch on Friday but had been busier at the start of the day.
The Chelsea School of Botanical Art set up a popular, pop-up classroom where those with time on their hands could learn the painting techniques that inspired Pierre-Joseph Redouté. RHS historian Brent Elliott’s newly published book The Rose: The history of the world’s favourite flower in 40 roses was available with a generous discount. Since I am still allowing myself purchases that relate to my new library I felt compelled to indulge.
Floral design workshops were run by RHS London in-house florist, Helen Cranmer, but I was more excited by my discovery of the Electric Daisy Flower Farm who brought along a dazzling selection of flowers grown on an acre of fertile land at Bradford-on-Avon near Bath. The real flower movement is really gathering pace in the UK which is so exciting for flower arrangers and lovers of beautiful blooms. What’s more Electric Daisy have commissioned some stunning photography to promote their enterprise and furnish a calendar, one such image I’ve featured below. I hope to pay a visit to this vibrant new flower farm soon.
Although I am not seriously in the market for roses, I enjoyed the Englishness and simplicity of this bijou event. It’s great that the RHS are constantly seeking to expand their repertoire and have chosen to reinvigorate the London shows, which at one time seemed destined to become a thing of the past. The Lawrence and Lindley Halls are extraordinary and little known venues outside horticultural circles and deserve to be shown off. As I left, feeling hot, bothered and the wrong kind of fragrant, I was stopped in my tracks by a new, scarlet, single-flowered floribunda called R. “W.B. Yeats”. A new introduction, it will available in garden centres this autumn. I think perhaps it’s time I made more room for roses.
remaining 2016 Show dates
- RHS On Tour at Columbia Road Flower Market: 19 June 2016
- RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show: 5-10 July 2016
- RHS On Tour at Lambeth Country Show: 16-17 July 2016
- RHS Flower Show Tatton Park: 20–24 July 2016
- RHS On Tour at Marylebone Farmers’ Market: 11 September 2016
- Malvern Autumn Show: 24–25 September 2016
- RHS London Harvest Festival Show & Harvest Festival Late: 4–5 October 2016
- RHS London Shades of Autumn Show: 28–29 October 2016
- RHS London Urban Garden Show: 12–13 November 2016
- RHS London Christmas Show: 17-18 December 2016