Lessons Learned

As you might have been aware from Wednesday’s wordless picture, the Golfer and I visited Chatsworth for Members’ Day of the inaugural RHS Flower Show. It was not a good start, as it took almost 4 hours (a 54 mile journey), the last couple of hours spent in mostly stationery traffic all but 2 miles away from the venue – heaven help any locals caught up in Show traffic! The previous day, Press Day, had been cut short at 1.00pm because of the wet and windy weather and marquees closed earlier for safety reasons, but with better weather forecast for Wednesday it was confirmed that the show would still open, with wellies advisable.

Following the traffic chaos on Wednesday, organisers swiftly announced additional measures with the aim of improving the situation: swifter access to the car parks, increased parking spaces and additional staff to enable faster parking on the grass, with more shuttle buses from the station. For those unable to make the venue on Wednesday because of traffic delays, refunds or alternatives have been offered, and hopefully most visitors will accept that weather conditions are outside the control of the RHS. With the general public admitted alongside members for the rest of the week, it will be interesting to see how well the site copes with the inevitable larger numbers.

So how was the show? Well, arriving at midday instead of before the opening time as had been planned was not a good start, and the majority of visitors were in the same position so naturally the site was heaving. I have not been to a major RHS show since Chelsea in the late 70s (!) but after my last visit to GW Live 6 or 7 years ago I all but vowed never to go a big garden show again, crowds restricting access to the show gardens, the marquees similarly packed and the outside stalls a very mixed bunch, including a large number of only vaguely relevant goods – and it was rather like that at Chatsworth too, albeit in very attractive surroundings.

Am I being controversial in saying this? We caught glimpses of some of the show gardens but in retrospect realise there were others we didn’t even get a peep at, not helped by the informal way they were arranged around the site. I am sure they were all delightful in their different ways, and there was a refreshing informality in some of those we did glimpse, but we have been spoilt with the BBC coverage of RHS shows in recent years where we get to see the gardens as complete entities, and from within, not just random sections between the crowds. I did, however, enjoy my glimpse of the Brewin Dolphin Garden, designed by Jo Thompson, outlined with flowing lines of reinforcing rods:

I did make a few purchases: merchandise from the NGS stand that I had neglected to order online as intended, miniature hostas from a golfing friend of the Golfer  and a nice rusty metal stem of cow parsley, two of which could have easily have been achieved without this visit. We readily spotted Carol Klein in one of the marquees in a wonderfully bright red coat but Jonathan Moseley could have been easily missed, standing discretely and unassumingly on his much talked about Palladian Bridge, the willow snake adorned with flowers and succulents designed to challenge perceptions of what constitutes a pretty arrangement and as a homage to the constantly developing gardens at Chatsworth.

I was pleased to have a tiny but this time adequate glimpse through the various peepholes of the presumably updated Antithesis of Sarcophagi, first seen at Chelsea in 2016 and now destined to remain at Chatsworth for a further 12 months. This huge cube of granite is described as ‘a world turned inside out; a garden inside a sculpture; desolation versus life; civilisation versus nature’. Through the peepholes are tantalising views of woodland plants wafting in the breeze and leaving us wanting more – such a clever idea, presumably involving mirrors.

So what I have learned, or been reminded of – again? That although it’s a lovely idea, visiting a ‘big’ garden show is sadly not as pleasurable an experience as one would like it to be – and I look forward to seeing a fuller and closer view of RHS Chatsworth on Gardeners’ World tonight.

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20 Responses to Lessons Learned

  1. I think your honest opinion is perfect. I have never been to a show that is so crammed with people. There are several venues I won’t attend that are popular but not worth the effort due to too much humanity crammed together. I think you are quite the soldier to basically wait in traffic for four hours to get to the garden. I am sure it has some interesting exhibits but is it worth it??? Wouldn’t be for me. I would just read about it. Love your pictures. Those hands planting the tree are interesting.

  2. ellie says:

    I am going to RHS Chatsworth tomorrow and am concerned regarding numbers and traffic etc. The first year of a show is always ‘interesting’ – lessons will be learned and things will be improved in the future. I used to go to GW Live, but once they included Good Food, it all seemed to get out of hand and it wasn’t an enjoyable experience. I did like Tatton, the one and only (so far) time I visited. It was like a Country Fair and my only criticism was that there weren’t enough seats!
    We shall see about Chatsworth tomorrow…
    Best wishes

  3. Chloris says:

    That is the problem with garden shows, sitting in a traffic jam and battling with crowds is no fun. I have given up on Chelsea. Hampton Court is better because there is more space. Thanks for the photos. I love the giant hands scrabbling with the tree.

  4. Interesting Cathy, I was disappointed with Chelsea this year and thought I might go to chatsworth next year. I don’t know but I think the RHS has lost its way a bit. There must be a way of managing visitor numbers to enable us to enjoy looking

  5. Thanks for being so candid, Cathy. You make so many good points, personally, wild horses wouldn’t drag me to such a busy show day but it’s fascinating to see it through your eyes.

  6. Pauline says:

    I agree, much more restful to watch it all on TV! I’ve been to Hampton Court twice but these days I feel you see more on the television.

  7. Heyjude says:

    I agree with you that it is much easier to watch this all on TV without the crowds, though to be honest I thought the Chelsea coverage this year was boring, the same old same old every night! I gave up after Wednesday! I much prefer visiting gardens where there is none of this razzmatazz, and as for your journey of 54 miles in 4 hours!! Oh, boy! (I appreciate the lengths you went to to get some photos for us though 😉 )

  8. You’re absolutely right Cathy, I’m not going to crowded places where you can not see anything. And four hours for 54 miles! It’s better to watch it on TV. I like hands planting a tree, they are interesting. Have a very good week. Greetings from Margarita.

  9. rickii says:

    I think as many things perish from too much success as do from being ignored. Your sacrifice in bringing us this report is much appreciated.

  10. Anna says:

    How could we have missed those huge hands Cathy!! !? Like you we didn’t get in to the show until later than planned. Our train was in an incident involving a falling/fallen tree – luckily no serious damage done but it held us up for forty minutes or so. The shuttle bus to the show worked well and no traffic queues so we thought that we had cracked it. However once we left the bus we had a ten minute walk and then had to queue for at least twenty minutes in the rain to get in! 😦 We slipped in about a minute before noon. Very, very wet underneath and walking was hard going at times especially on the far side of the river where the ground was sloping down to the water. We met the traffic queues on the return journey on the outskirts of Chesterfield, dashed out of the coach at the station as our train was about to leave but left three of my plant purchases behind we think. Boo hoo! Funnily enough one of them was that deep red astrantia ‘Star Of Love’ which was featured on GW on Friday night – just to add insult to injury.
    On balance we enjoyed the day especially the plant marquees. I loved walking through the Palladian Bridge and we were able to gaze at the show gardens in comfort unlike at Chelsea. We thought that there would be inevitable teething problems which were compounded by the unpredictable atrocious weather conditions. We decided that that we will give the show another whirl but on member’s day.

    • Cathy says:

      Oh no – what a shame about your plants! 😦 I wonder what will have happened to them… So you had a mixed day – but I am glad to read you got to see the show gardens. I have lokoed back on the plan and there wer definitely several we missed – don’t think the plan was too helpful in that respect… I wonder how busy it was in terms of numbers compared to the other days? Certainly the weather was out of anyone’s control and there is a limit to how much that can be prepared for, I suppose

  11. At least you saw the show gardens and got some photos Cathy – we went on press day and were only there for about 45 minutes before the show was closed – I was so disappointed. We had a quick look around but between the driving rain and high winds really all I wanted to do was find a warm pub for lunch so I didn’t even get my camera out. I am not surprised the traffic was such a problem – there was very little show traffic on Tuesday and it was still a very slow approach. I felt so sorry for all the people involved in the show and hope things improved as the week went on – I need to catch up with Gardeners World to have a proper look at the show!

    • Cathy says:

      Oh Julie, what a shame… 😦 We did briefly consider turning back at one point when we had been sitting in the traffic for sometime and I wonder how many did – there was no way of knowing what was happening as the website was down and we could hear the people in the car behind trying to ring and of course getting nowhere. There will be lessons learned for next year, I am sure

  12. Pingback: RHS Chatsworth: a review of the reviews and the views of my views | The next square metre

  13. Hello Cathy, I’m just catching up on your blog so am late to the discussion here. I too visited Chatsworth, though I went on the Friday which was much the best day as it turned out, both for weather and I think ease of access.
    I was interested to read your comments- this was my first ever visit to such a show so I wasn’t really sure what to expect and I didn’t know whether my slight disappointment with certain aspects (especially the haphazard layout of the show gardens and some of the stalls selling non-garden related wares) was due to overly-high expectations set by the TV coverage of the likes of the Chelsea show, or whether it genuinely was a bit sub-standard in parts.
    The crowds were not quite as oppressive on the day I visited as you experienced, I found the show was quite sprawling which gave (some) room to move- though did hinder navigation as I say.
    All in all, I think I’d give it another chance- it’s just so nice to finally have the RHS doing something like this in the Midlands- but I’d hope for more show gardens and better organisation.

    • Cathy says:

      Interesting to hear your views, Eleanor – another blogger who went on Frifday found access OK but a friend who went on Saturday was queing for some time at the actual ticket entrance. I might write to the RHS about the haphazard (as you call it) layout and the lack of info on the plan because however long it takes you to get there you want to be able to make the most of it once you ARE there. Although you say it is in the Midlands access will always be affected by the road network and even without our delays it would have been quicker to get to Chelsea from here!

      • Apparently the RHS was going for ‘innovation’ and ‘thinking outside the box’ so perhaps that was the thought process behind the rather random (or they might say ‘relaxed’) layout. I quite agree though that this doesn’t prevent them providing decent wayfinding information once you’re at the show. Basically if you didn’t shell out for a frankly cumbersome show guide you were a bit stuck. We ended up ripping the map out of ours to make it easier to use, that was the only bit we really wanted!

        • Cathy says:

          Yes, we had the guidebook in advance and took the map out but (as we realised after we seen GW on the Friday and knew then we had missed lots out) you would need to refer to the guide to know what the numbers on the map were – not helpful, cos you don’t want to do that when you are walking round

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