It is a truth universally acknowledged that a middle-aged woman in possession of a garden is in want of an RHS show. Not Chelsea this year ( see I Don’t Want to go to Chelsea ) but the brand new RHS Chatsworth.
It didn’t start well, the first day of the show having to be abandoned because of tempest and dangerously strong winds. And my journey from London didn’t start well either. ‘Remember your Umbrella’ was emblazoned across my ‘e’ ticket for the train journey to Chesterfield. As we sped northward from the sunny capital and rain splattered the train windows I was glad to be wearing boots and to have a hooded raincoat in my overnight bag.
But just driving from Chesterfield to Chatsworth on country back-roads – the main roads being horribly congested with traffic heading to the Show – our spirits lifted. The dramatic high moorland and lush, green folded hills and dales were breathtakingly beautiful, even in the rain. An added bonus was that, because we approached by the back way, there was no queue. We were shepherded onto a grassy bank which served as a car park.
It was all very ‘English Summer’, with lots of people pulling on wellies and kagoules or barbours in the rain (umbrellas were, despite the railway company’s reminder, useless in the high winds ) and trying not to step in the sheep poo. We did the same and followed the line of folk striding down into the valley towards the tented show ground. Once inside we tried to contact other friends so as to meet up, or at least let them know when and where we had booked lunch. No signal. We were in a valley. Try across the river.
The River Derwent runs through the Capability Brown landscaped parkland which surrounds Chatsworth and the Show was located on its banks, with two pontoon bridges constructed to allow visitors to cross from one part of it to another. In the pouring rain and covered in mud these became very slippery indeed and people were clinging to the handrails when crossing them.
Upon reaching the other side we tried the phones again. No joy. We were not the only ones milling about, looking at some of the show gardens while checking screens and icons. The gardens were not at their best, in the rain and blustery wind and the ‘Just Add Water‘ garden, which boasted a stripey hammock and a sunhat on a pole just looked dejected. But the planting was interesting and the colours, of plums and bronzes and blues, were very much de rigueur across the whole show.
There were also some interesting structures, using industrial-style metal forms, another feature of this show. Derbyshire, though rural and very beautiful, has an industrial history, with the water power of the river valleys forming the basis for the industrial textile mills which made the fortunes of so many ‘cotton kings’. So this theme was locally appropriate.
Finally we managed to contact our friends and we all headed off to the restaurant for lunch. This was in a raised tented structure with excellent views of the park. Just as well, given that we were standing on the platform outside it looking at them for at least thirty minutes, despite having booked for a specific time. It was clear that timings had all gone wrong. Nonetheless, once inside the food was good and the view could be enjoyed in the warm and dry. Two and a half hours later, after coffee, the sun was out and we were looking forward to viewing the remaining gardens.
The dispersed meadow planting style so popular in recent years was again in evidence, but often with the aforementioned nods to an industrial past. This was most appealing in two gardens, the Brewin Dolphin garden (above) which used reinforcement rods (the things found in reinforced concrete ) to very good effect and the ‘Best in Show’ Quarry garden (left) with its wall of rust steel and limestone and a stark concrete sunken pond.
By late afternoon the bands, which had been gamely playing over the wind and rain, had attracted an audience in the deck chairs surrounding the bandstand. Fortunately grass rejuvenates quickly and the muddy patches will disappear as the summer progresses. Interestingly, the whole show ground will do the same. Nothing of it will remain, not the gardens, or the plants or any of the structures. Chatsworth parkland is, apparently, a ‘listed’ area and it cannot be changed or augmented in any way.
Not a bad thing, perhaps, given some of the ‘installations’. These garden equivalents of modern conceptual art were an excellent idea to promote innovation – Chatsworth has a proud record in championing modern sculpture, there are Frinks and Connors in the grounds. In practice, however, the pieces were uninspiring and crudely ugly, made worse by the pouring rain and their position, with the English Baroque West Front of the house immediately behind them. Juxtapositions like this can work amazingly well, but not this time. They failed to challenge me into thinking or seeing anything differently. Though maybe I was feeling too strongly the call of lunch when we passed them.
As for the Conservatory and Floral Marquees, well those are for another post.
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