Alan Titchmarsh: The Chelsea Flower Show needs to stop pandering to trends and remember that it’s a celebration of gardening

Our columnist Alan Titchmarsh is a supporter and Vice President of the RHS. But he worries that horticulture is in danger of disappearing from the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show.

What is the purpose of the Chelsea Flower Show? Is this a highlight of the social calendar and the start of the season? Is this a chance to draw attention to gardening when spring is in full swing, and an opportunity for garden designers to brag, shock, and sometimes piss off? Or is it just a way to advertise the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)? That’s really it, and having visited this horticultural extravaganza every year since 1969, it’s been interesting to watch it evolve and become more and more popular.

Perhaps this profile has something to do with the nation’s ever-increasing awareness of environmental issues – climate change, global warming and sustainability. But it would be a shame if this was the only driving force. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but I like to think that in the third week of May, on the lawn in front of the Royal Chelsea Hospital, we have a chance to celebrate this RHS middle initial. It means horticulture, which is defined in the dictionary as “the art or practice of growing and managing a garden.”

The main purpose of the RHS Great Spring Show – to give it its original name – must surely be to celebrate horticultural excellence and provide an opportunity for growers of all types of plants and designers of all types of gardens to showcase their craft and pass it on. future generations. I can’t think of anyone who would argue with this goal, it’s just sometimes obscured by the need to demonstrate that gardeners are not hardened traditionalists, but energetic people who know a lot about current realities. pulse of the environment. This can lead us to a garden path that endangers what we should hold dear.

“Letting one garden based on Human Hands-Off to be Best in Show is risky, but if it does then RHS could be legally accused of shooting itself in the foot. Why are we so afraid to promote gardening?”

I am a big supporter of RHS. I’m one of her vice presidents. I applaud his support for children through the School Gardening Campaign, championing gardening as a vital factor in our health, both physical and mental, and his commitment to the importance of gardens and gardening to wildlife and humanity. But what worries me is the danger of pandering to current trends and allowing horticulture to be based on a kind of non-intervention an attitude towards plants that eschews all human interference, on the assumption that nature is best left to its own devices and that any interference on our part is deplorable.

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Gardening by its very nature is an intervention, but intervention aims to enable the plants to grow well and create a scene that we find uplifting. Last year’s best garden at the show was Landscape of Britain Regained, a mixture of wild plants that showed no signs of “horticulture” except, of course, that it had been harvested by gardeners.

Britain’s Wilderness Return Landscape, designed by Lulu Urquhart and Adam Hunt, was named “Best in Show” at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022.

I sense Lady Bracknell’s moment approaching. You remember: “To lose one of your parents, Mr. Worthing, can be considered a misfortune; losing both looks like negligence. In other words, allowing one garden based on Human non-intervention to be considered Best in Show is risky, but if it happens again, then a society committed and based on the transfer of gardening skills can be rightfully accused of shooting itself in the leg. . Why are we so afraid of gardening propaganda?

Two acres of my own “garden” are set aside for a flower meadow. I like it. The other two acres show more design influence and use of a wider range of exotic (non-native) plants. I am an organic gardener and do not use chemicals or sprays. My “cultivated” garden is teeming with a wider range of wildlife—birds, mammals, and insectivores—than the meadow. It is a mistake to believe that only native species attract native wildlife. What they like is a range of plant materials offering pollen, nectar, food and shelter. Call it biodiversity if it calms your conscience.

Chelsea is an opportunity to celebrate our ability to grow a wide variety of plants from around the world. This country is home to some of the best specialist manufacturers on the planet. They need support, and sometimes financial help, to populate the Grand Pavilion, where they have dwindled over the past few years.

Show garden judges should remember that thousands of show goers are enjoying the beautiful plants and gardens they think they want to see, even more than out-of-the-box design ideas that are considered “cutting edge”. Yes; we need fresh ideas, but at the heart of this show should be a celebration of gardening. I really hope that my 55th Chelsea Flower Show proves that it is.

Former Country Life gardens editor Katherine Bradley-Hole hopes Chelsea’s pendulum has swung back towards traditional gardens.

If you can’t make it to the RHS Chelsea 2022 Flower Show – or even if you can – here’s our take

“A Pile of Rewilding and Beaver Dams” Won Best of the Year at the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, and Charles is Desperate

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