What a buzz at Chelsea

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor - Fol­low @agromenes on Twit­ter

IHAVE never seen the Great Pav­il­ion look so good and work so well as in what was, for me, the best RHS Chelsea Flower Show for years. It ex­celled in its core pur­pose —the cel­e­bra­tion of flow­ers—from the tini­est alpine to huge and showy al­li­ums, pale and sub­tle shades of pink and blue hold­ing their own with vi­brant pur­ples and car­di­nal reds, and hol­ly­hocks, lupins and fox­gloves with the bon­sai and the cacti. What’s more, this amaz­ing pre­sen­ta­tion of so much va­ri­ety is much eas­ier to en­joy now that they have per­fected the sig­nage sys­tem. Each area is ad­mirably de­lin­eated and you can find what to see eas­ily and sim­ply. The prob­lem that re­mains is pro­fu­sion. There is so much and so much of it is so good!

Yet, this time, there was also a sub­tle change of em­pha­sis. For years, the RHS has used its in­flu­ence to pro­mote sus­tain­abil­ity as well as ed­u­ca­tion and the in­volve­ment of young peo­ple in gar­den­ing. These themes have been clearly present in its own house ex­hibits, but now they are much more in­te­gral to the show over­all and there’s clearly been en­cour­age­ment for ex­hibitors to cam­paign more di­rectly. This is in­tended to sharpen the vis­i­tors’ ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the health threats to gar­dens and the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment more widely.

A par­tic­u­lar ex­am­ple was the Pro­tect our Mighty Oaks stand, which strik­ingly il­lus­trated the threats to our 121 mil­lion oak trees from pests and dis­eases. This on­slaught is bound to in­crease through more ex­ten­sive hu­man travel and com­merce, as well as changes in the cli­mate. Such threats are car­ried more eas­ily and en­cour­aged by warmer con­di­tions. Like other stands in the Dis­cov­ery area, it pro­vided a heady cock­tail of cel­e­bra­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and warn­ing.

That same mix was pow­er­ful in The Power of Bees!, where the con­tri­bu­tion of pol­li­na­tors to life was graph­i­cally por­trayed by the char­ity Bees for De­vel­op­ment. It has in­vented a Bee House that is so sim­ple and yet so ef­fec­tive. It en­ables poor com­mu­ni­ties to pro­vide a mini­hive for wild bees to pop­u­late and thus en­able fam­i­lies to har­vest honey to con­trib­ute to their liveli­hood and their chil­dren’s school­ing. The en­cour­age­ment of pol­li­na­tion also helps with the fer­til­ity of the crops upon which these vil­lages de­pend. Backed by well-known com­men­ta­tors, such as Monty Don and Martha Kear­ney, the idea is an ideal mech­a­nism to link our con­cern about pol­li­na­tion at home with the wider is­sues of poverty and de­pen­dence on sub­sis­tence farm­ing. This is a very proper ex­ten­sion of the RHS’S ed­u­ca­tion work, es­pe­cially if linked with the do­mes­tic ac­tiv­i­ties of fel­low ex­hibitor Ur­ban Bees.

This in­no­va­tive or­gan­i­sa­tion col­lab­o­rated on the Hon­ey­comb Meadow Bee Gar­den—also in the Dis­cov­ery area—which high­lighted the im­por­tance of bees ev­ery­where, in­clud­ing in cities and high up on ur­ban roofs. It was in­ter­est­ing to see that this pre­sen­ta­tion fit­ted per­fectly with the Hor­ti­cul­tural Trades As­so­ci­a­tion’s The Great Es­cape—a clever demon­stra­tion of the im­por­tance of gar­dens to re­lax, grow, play, and en­gage with Na­ture. This was yet an­other ex­am­ple of the grow­ing ef­fect of the lead­er­ship that the RHS has given in re­cent years.

That’s the in­no­va­tive part, but the real tri­umph of this year’s show was in its core busi­ness. The flow­ers were sim­ply out­stand­ing. From hostas to glad­i­oli, grow­ers had reached a new level of ex­cel­lence. Some vis­i­tors may have been dis­ap­pointed by the re­duc­tion in the num­ber of dis­play gar­dens, but that was more than made up for by the sheer bril­liance of the Great Pav­il­ion. What a Bri­tish tri­umph. Let’s cel­e­brate a unique achievement.

Stands de­voted to sav­ing oaks and bees pro­vided a cock­tail of cel­e­bra­tion, ed­u­ca­tion and warn­ing

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