Picture the scene: rolling hills in various shades of green, embracing a soft valley as its river gently meanders through. Trees stand here and there as sentinels at their various posts. Their charge? A magnificent golden edifice hundreds of years old.
The location? Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. It’s a place I always slightly took for granted when younger, not growing up all that far from it. I could never quite understand the reverence shown around the rest of the nation.
Strolling into its grounds on June 7th 2017, I now comprehended. At the building’s feet lay the bubbling spring of attendees to the inaugural RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, and boy was I overjoyed to finally have another RHS show happening “up north”. I took Matt along with me to experience the spectacle.
The idea behind the show was pioneers in design, reflected in the modern day interpretation of Joseph Paxton’s long-gone Great Conservatory (the centrepiece of the show, if Chatsworth House didn’t completely steal the limelight) and embedded in the naturalistic landscape crafted by Capability Brown. Along from the show’s entrance gates were the extraordinary and somewhat extravagant free form gardens. I have to confess myself not au fait with these; I like my designs more traditional and down to earth, like my architecture. I rarely like to analyse a garden, preferring simply to soak in its beauty. The studded dinosaur skull I really did not get. More a failing on my part, I suppose.
The show gardens, though few in number and for the most part smaller in dimension than Chelsea, were much more up my street. The IQ Quarry Garden, designed by Paul Harvey-Brooke’s, won Best Show Garden and a Gold medal, although it was not my favourite. I loved the more planted up end of the space, but am no great fan of metal objets d’art or walls. Sorry.
I liked the whimsy and wildness of the Belmont Enchanted Gardens, but did not echo the judges’ sentiment of it warranting a Gold medal, and the wooden spiral staircase in its centre was a design piece too far for me. Pointless and rather distracting, and I overheard quite a few others say the same.
I didn’t much love the Moveable Feast garden either, yet have to admit that I felt the concept was inspiring and important. It was the grey plastic planters that just didn’t float my boat. Sadly, I found the inflatable Great Conservatory a letdown as well. It all appeared a bit giant-kids’-party-setup to me… Maybe the central “paddling pool” didn’t help…
My top three gardens on display were right next to one another. The Cruse Bereavement Care ‘A Time for Everything garden’ had an eye catching range of foliage colours and forms, flowing around the central stone wall and water seating area. Next up was ‘Just Add Water’ by Jackie Sutton (or is it Knight? I’m a little confused). Rockeries aren’t my cup of tea, but the addition of water to enliven the sandstone and naturalistic perennials to soften the construction really won me over. Thirdly was the ‘Experience Peak District & Derbyshire’ garden designed by Lee Bestall: a brilliant amalgam of the region surrounding Chatsworth, comprising its cattle, trees and wildflowers, haa-haas and neoclassical elements of Derbyshire stately homes’ cultivated corners. It also played with perspective subtly yet cleverly – you had to see from both ends to really appreciate the design.
We passed Adam Frost and Joe Swift on a couple of occasions outside, and we then headed on over the blossom-bedecked temporary bridge to seek out the floral marquees and perhaps Carol Klein.
Well we found the marquees – and they did not disappoint – although sadly Carol was nowhere to be seen. No time to dwell on this anyway, as there was simply so much to take in undercover and time was swiftly slipping away. I was determined to leave with something, and my plant of choice was the Dahlia ‘Karma Irene’, whose magnificent, flamboyant colour on the display stand just drew me in immediately. No flowers as yet in my specimens, however!