You can see them crouching beside the tables, cameras out, tape measures at the ready: show groupies. A selective and determined small group of people, like myself, who coo and ooh at the size of someone’s plums.
The Northern Mecca for competitive growers and show groupies is the Vegetable Championship at the Autumn Harrogate Flower Show. Table after table of show vegetables and fruit bring life to a drab hall in the North Riding – it’s riot of colour and shallots. There are giant onions, the kind that could bugger the back of an allotment burglar trying to get them in the boot of their car. Then there are marrows, not comedy marrows, not lewd or suggestive marrows, but the kind of marrows that would bugger the back of an allotment burglar, his mate, his wife, his mistress and the policemen who arrested them all on the M62 after spotting the rear axle of their car was buggered. Taking a photo of the marrows meant I had to step back, step back again and then leave the hall and take a photo through the window just to get them all in.
There aren’t just oversized vegetables and fruit here but an assortment of prize-winning ordinary quality produce. Potatoes that have more beauty than a catwalk model, plums with more poise than an extra on Made in Chelsea and carrots more buffed and preened than a Kardashian handbag dog.
Harrogate Flower Show is one of the best flower shows that embraces the showing of vegetables, flowers and produce beside show gardens. There were some wonderful gardens this year with the introduction of Inspiration Street showing us all what we could do with small front gardens, but here there was too much of a leaning towards creating patio front gardens rather than sumptuous planting areas.
In The Artisan Mosaic Garden and Pots & Paving, plants were an after-thought as though the designers were unaware of trends in horticulture to reclaim such spaces for gardens which lessen the impact of flooding. After the first heavy downpour, these gardens would be washing over the front door step. These two gardens fell down on their eco-credibility but there was also little to stop anyone walking straight from the gate to the front door. There was simply little or no plant interest to carry us through the seasons. This was in stark contrast to the vibrant front gardens of Be Resourceful and the Back to Front Garden which set out to challenge our preconceptions about what front gardens through recycling materials and growing produce. Both gardens were constantly awash with show groupies and gardeners pointing out things they could do in their front garden. This is the sign of a good garden; to create debate, to offer a chance to change the way you garden, and that was reflected also in the breathtaking NSPCC garden A journey through childhood (you can hear me talk with the designer of the garden, Susanne Guthrie, here).
The design of the NSPCC garden was careful, considered and worthy of any gold at an RHS show. The garden had a depth of planting and a real sense of metaphor and journey, a reason for every plant. Many gardeners can relate to that – a tree is never just a tree to a gardener, it is a memory, it is a story and Guthrie taps into this. It was good to see not just a designer in play but a knowledgeable plant lover too, and that was missing from some of the gardens in Inspiration Street.
There is no denying that the championship vegetables are the highlight of the show as there was a feeling that many of the show gardens were shoved the edges of the show ground. Several were within spitting distance of an ugly block of toilets and if the show is serious about having show gardens there needs to be more considered planning of their location. The gardens would have benefited from being on the main avenue as you entered, leading you nicely into the halls containing the championship vegetables. A show now is not just about buying the latest tools, enjoying the vegetables, photographing the gardens and eating pies, it’s about creating a sense of a journey for the show-goer. The show groupies know this, they desire it, they want to see the gardens, they want to see the vegetables, they want to eat and then they want to shop. They want to aspire and it’s hard to do that when the inspirational gardens are by the toilets.
Images by Andrew Oldham
Life on Pig Row is the story of Andrew and Carol Oldham’s lives as they raise Little D. It all takes place 1,330 feet above sea level in a small hamlet on top of the Pennines surrounded by the Yorkshire Moors. Pig Row is the tale of their move from a semi-urban life at Drovers to a more self-sufficientish lifestyle in their cottage set within a quarter of an acre. It’s not quite The Good Life but it’s getting there. Come take the road less travelled with Pig Row, you’ll find it makes all the difference.