Bloom­ing mar­vel­lous

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Even in its sec­ond cen­tury, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (pre­viewed on page 58) re­mains with­out equal, much to the vex­a­tion of its im­i­ta­tors the world over. Across Bri­tain, how­ever, there are now nu­mer­ous events where one can sense the very spirit, pas­sion and na­tional char­ac­ter that gave rise to Chelsea and which con­tinue to make it great. These are the small, lo­cal plant shows and gar­den fairs that are fill­ing the na­tion’s cal­en­dar from spring to au­tumn. It’s a phe­nom­e­non no less wor­thy of cel­e­bra­tion than the RHS’S spec­tac­u­lars.

Although we’ve long had it in us to hold them, such events are a fairly re­cent thing. They’re not the same as those time-hon­oured are­nas of close flo­ral com­bat, vil­lage and county shows. They dif­fer, too, from the re­gional com­pet­i­tive ex­hi­bi­tions staged by spe­cial­ist so­ci­eties, the school gyms and church halls var­i­ously filled with pota­toes, or­chids, roses, dahlias, chrysan­the­mums, alpines and ap­ples. nor, usu­ally, are they NGS open days, although their venues may well par­tic­i­pate in the scheme at other times. Think, rather, of a fleet­ing bazaar, ar­ti­sanal but so­phis­ti­cated, that of­fers the in­tensely de­sir­able: rare and beau­ti­ful plants and lovingly made goods, from se­ca­teurs to sculp­ture. The prices are low and the ven­dors ex­pert, en­thu­si­as­tic and of­ten the cre­ators of their wares.

It sounds like a mi­rage, an im­pres­sion com­pounded by the events per­haps last­ing no longer than a day, ma­te­ri­al­is­ing on one’s doorstep, on the vil­lage green or in the grounds of a grand house nearby, and be­ing awash with fa­mil­iar faces, friends and neigh­bours, all of them shar­ing in that most Bri­tish of com­mu­nions, love of gar­den­ing.

It’s not a mi­rage, how­ever. These plant sales and gar­den days are fast be­com­ing fix­tures of coun­try life. For smaller nurs­eries (of­ten the most ex­cit­ing, but hard­pressed), they’re a life­line, an op­por­tu­nity not just to show and sell, but to com­mu­ni­cate with cus­tomers in ways that on­line shop­ping will never match.

For our part, be­ing Bri­tish, we de­light in the ca­su­al­ness and serendip­ity of it all, in strolling out­doors, per­haps in a no­table gar­den, with the dogs run­ning around some­where and cake in prospect, pick­ing up plants as cov­etable as any­thing at Chelsea from tres­tle ta­bles that also do duty at jum­ble sales.

Many of these events raise sig­nif­i­cant funds for char­ity. In host­ing them, pri­vate gar­dens find ap­pre­cia­tive au­di­ences and be­come, briefly, cen­tres of com­mu­nity and, long-term, gen­er­a­tors of phi­lan­thropy.

next week, trends will be set at the world’s great­est flower show, but few could be as pop­u­lar and ben­e­fi­cial as the spread of Chelsea’s coun­try cousins.

‘Think of a fleet­ing bazaar, ar­ti­sanal but so­phis­ti­cated... and awash with love

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