This year’s inaugural RHS Chatsworth Show had the misfortune to be held during one of the most inclement weeks of the Spring so far. But there were plenty of opportunities to get under cover, not including Chatsworth House. At the centre of the Show was the Great Conservatory, a nod to the building of the same name constructed by Joseph Paxton to house the Duke of Devonshire’s collection of exotic plants. One of which was the Cavendish Banana. Did you know that the banana is actually classed as a herb? I didn’t, but it is.
This Conservatory contained interesting displays on the original Conservatory, which burned down, on the banana and other succulents. Its centre-piece, a giant ‘wet’ sculpture, wasn’t operating when we visited, so it looked a little forlorn, the green ‘arms’ reaching around a glitter-ball above an inflatable ‘pond’. There were plenty more displays, however, in the two Floral Marquees.
We found excellent presentations from the Bluebell Nursery and the National Dahlia Collection. Special thanks to the lady on the latter who answered my, slightly ignorant, questions with knowledge and grace. I’m watering and feeding now, thank you.
In contrast with the Grand Pavilion at Chelsea there were plenty of plants for sale ( and purchases were made ). It was one of the similarities with the RHS show at Hampton Court and we found another as we ambled through the commercial area – you can spend a lot of money here, on things not even closely akin to gardening.
So, what’s the verdict on the first RHS Chatsworth? Well, it isn’t a ‘northern’ copy of Chelsea or Hampton Court, it is itself and its ambition is to be applauded. The setting is beautiful, in the midst of such glorious parkland and it’s trying to be innovative – with the ‘installations’ and the ‘free form’ gardens. Some of the show gardens were very good indeed, inspired to use the location well. Possibly rather better than at Chelsea when the backdrop is more prosaic.
But I don’t think it quite pulled it off this year, mainly, I suspect because of the weather, which made the location difficult to negotiate. If one stood too long in any one place in the Marquees one found oneself sinking. I enjoyed going around these displays, but they weren’t a patch on the Great Pavilion at Chelsea.
There were teething troubles. Locating a Show like this miles from any public transport, means people must drive to get there. On Day Two the RHS apologised to members for the very long queues to enter and the state of the ‘car parks’ – sodden fields – when entry was finally achieved. They also apologised to local residents for the disruption and delay on the roads. By Day Three, when we went, the Courtesy Bus from Chesterfield railway station was running every twenty minutes – there had, apparently, been very long waits on the earlier two days for those arriving by train.
Then there were the long queues along the plastic walkways to get into the Showground itself and, when one did, there was no signal for mobile phones (although the credit card machines were working). Note to the RHS – phone aerials can be hired for the day or the week. If people are travelling to get here they might want to meet their friends when they do. If an aerial is too costly at least let people know that their phones are unlikely to work before they arrive. Oh yes, and sort out the catering. The food was good, but the organisation and timing was poor for something which isn’t cheap (£45 per head without wine ).
All in all, a good experience, though it’ll be back to Chelsea in 2018 I suspect. Maybe come to Chatsworth in a few years time, when the little niggles have been ironed out. And hope that the weather is good.