I have attended many up-country beanos and they follow a similar format to the Chelsea Flower Show, differing only in scale, lunch or entertainment menus and quantity of sunshine. Gurgling crowds of vacuous E list celebrities are in mercifully short supply.
I am exhilarated by the fizz and dazzle of innovative ideas, the new varieties and clever planting schemes, the shiny tools I never realized that I might need. I take huge pleasure in the set pieces, not forgetting the schadenfreude that goes with plants that will outgrow their space within six months, indeed if untended, may punch through the sitting room floor. I smirk at the inclusion of bloody minded self seeders that will swamp all other comers in clouds of grassy froth. I look at penny sized lawns surrounded by menhirs of solid rock and think thank Christ I don’t have to try to get a mower around down there.
Epiphyllum (orchid cactus)
Plants on sale will include familiar friends alongside weird stuff that you’ve never heard of, seen before or dreamt was possible. I fell for a Dracunculus vulgaris (dragon arum) at a northern exhibition. I thought that the other worldly wine dark bloom would make a statement. Oh yes it does. For a fortnight, the sinister spathe rises in the border and since it is pollinated by flies, it produces such a fetid, ghastly, dead body stink that no-one can go out of the back door without an attack of nausea. On the other hand, I would never have found a number of examples unavailable on my doorstep. If you don’t know the name, it’s much more difficult to track down such beauties as Erythronium (dog’s tooth violet) Paulownia tomentosa (foxglove tree) or Arisaema (Jack in the pulpit).
Eryngium alpinum (sea holly)
Garden goodies on offer may have been cosseted in an industrial scale greenhouse, by hordes of green fingered hand maidens or men and will require hardening off before you thrust them into the ground back at your place. Keep up a regime of watering, unless your prize is to some degree dry living, in which case use your eyes and common sense. In my experience, they often die quickly whatever you do, no matter how much you paid or in which Divinity you place your hope. Make sure that you have a label for everything that you buy, so that you can do some online research before digging a hole. Take a pen and write the description of bulbs on their paper bag; you will thank me for this advice after you have handed the eighth sack of booty to your partner, whilst growling “Iris germanica, Sultan’s Palace” at him, like he’s going to remember. I encourage Attila the gardener to join me on the condition that he carries the bulk of my purchases without protest, that he stumps up cash when I’ve spent all of mine and that he doesn’t bitch about anything, under any circumstance, for the duration of the day.
Physocarpus opulifolius (ninebark)
Take your own refreshments, unless you have a higher mind than I. When forced to pay £10 for half a dozen flabby chips and a warm coke, I can only be resentful about the ravishing tasty flora I cannot now afford; eating and drinking is for the weak. If you pack an umbrella, you risk heat stroke. If you bring sunglasses and a floppy hat, you court a monsoon. Be prepared for anything.
When the dust has settled and the circus has left town, go to your local nursery and get a copy of the RHS yellow book or leaflet covering your area. Visit gardens open for charity and see local plants for local people. There will be vegetation on sale at prices that won’t make your nose bleed and homemade cake that will silt up your arteries just by looking. Enjoy.