…sang Elvis Costello back in the ’70s. But I do and have – been going to Chelsea that is – for twenty years and more ( twenty five actually, I first went in 1994 ) But not this year.
It’s very strange seeing the nightly BBC coverage, the taut canvas of the Grand Pavilion behind Monty Don and Joe Swift as they address the cameras. It’s just over the river after all – we would hear and, probably, see any celebratory fireworks. And I know it well, I can probably name many of the exhibitors in the marquee, as well as many of the garden designers along Main Avenue, but this year I’m not going. Which feels very odd indeed.
Why the change in behaviour? Is this a reaction to Brexit, a flight from the ‘Leave’-voting countryside? No. Chelsea isn’t about the countryside, it’s about gardens and gardening and, although it is the English middle class at play, which means more than a little snobbery, it’s actually quite serious about its subject. It’s just as much about potting on in Potters Bar and mulching in Mile End as planning your arboretum’s lime-tree walk so that the sight-lines to the village church tower are pleasing. Topiary is as much Tottenham as Tunbridge ( though the prices veer towards the latter, this is SW3 don’t forget ).
No, I am eschewing Chelsea this year for another Royal Horticultural Society show, this time in the wilds of the north (well, Derbyshire). The RHS has decided to stage a show at the grand and beautiful Chatsworth House, home to the Dukes of Devonshire and set in the glorious countryside of the Peak district. In one of those peculiar coincidences, the original Tudor Mansion of Chatsworth, designed by Bess of Hardwick, is also the main setting for The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle, one of the authors involved in The Past is Another Country at the Clapham Book Festival recently.
The mansion has featured in any number of films and TV adaptations. It became Pemberley, home to Mr Darcy, in the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice, though Chatsworth itself would probably have been one of those grand houses which Elizabeth Bennett and her aunt and uncle visit on their travels. So, like the fictional Eliza, though older and with a wit less sharp, I travel north.
Chatsworth is, as anyone who knows its location will tell you, almost inaccessible by direct national public transport. The nearest train station is at Chesterfield, a two hour journey from London St Pancras and still 12km from Baslow the nearest village to Chatsworth ( there’s a two km walk from Baslow to the house ). Fortunately the RHS has catered for this and a half hourly courtesy coach will be running for those with RHS tickets between the station and the house. Once more like Eliza, I will take my coach to the grand house, though it will be horse-powered rather than horse-drawn.
This is the very first RHS Chatsworth Flower Show and, while there will be old favourites, like the formal show gardens and a great pavilion, just as at the Royal Hospital, there will also be new things like the ‘freeform’ gardens along the River Derwent. The river flows through Chatsworth’s parkland. There is also a series of modern garden sculptures set in the stunning Paxton-designed and landscaped park and gardens. I’m hoping for a sunny day, but, even if it rains and we are forced indoors, there’s always the house to look around.
I’ll report back from the first ever RHS Chatsworth Show.