I keep a fair table, a well stocked drinks cupboard and comfortable beds but know that my visitor is not here for me. It’s my own fault; I’ve been boasting about the spectacle, the rare specimens, the fizz, pop and sparkle for so long, it would have been rude to miss it. I dragged myself out of bed at stupid o’clock to ensure a parking space in the same hemisphere, crammed my fat carcass into a floral patterned dress (yes, my bum does look big in this) and levered my feet into sensible shoes. I jammed my purse with cash from the housekeeping fund and felt ready for anything.
A nearby town hosts a four day gardening extravaganza and picking the right day is of paramount importance. I’m not interested in slebs, so I don’t want to trip over soap actors, local news teams or swarms of camera technicians on my way to the floral marquee. The interesting plants sell out early but the bargains are only available on the last day. The weekend is most crowded and usually attracts rain, the first Thursday and Friday are roomier but the senior citizens are pushy, wielding sharpened umbrellas and trolleys girded with razor wire. This is like plotting a military campaign.
The displays are entrancing; adverts for the specimens on sale by each exhibitor, they are pimped to the maximum, grouped with exquisite care and examples are offered at top price. I bought a white Crinum moorei (Natal lily), a Crinodendron bungei (cashmere bouquet) and a Coreopsis, all of which grabbed my attention from a distance of one hundred paces. I purchased unusual bulbs including Eucomis, Fritillaria and Urginea maritima as well as bags of lilies and tulips. I stuffed my wheeled box with cacti and succulents, placing those with lethal prickles to the front. Punters on a pension are often knowledgeable, wily and ruthless; they can cope with a variety of painful medical conditions but an Opuntia pushed smartly into their thighs could disable them long enough to give me a chance to win the prize. We took time off to eat, which featured a pasty of amorphous content and a coffee which would stiffen the resolve of a corpse. I gained a chair upon which to rest by faking a heart attack. My earlier fainting fit, although accurately portrayed, went unnoticed.
Coreopsis (tickseed) ‘Jive’
I inspected the show gardens and found them lacking. These have become commercials for producers of hard landscaping and are laden with lumps of limestone and dollops of decking. The water features are pretty but require the services of an electrical substation to run them. Don’t worry, the power pylons can be disguised as frames for climbing roses. The planting often lacks imagination and that, after all, is what I have come to see. I don’t want a garden room where I can guzzle Chardonnay sitting on sterile astro turf. I want a scented collection of glorious colours, shapes and textures, surrounded by enough hurtling bugs to make sipping a challenge.
Lots of lilies
I ignored the stalls full of ugly plastic knick knacks, expensive cheap clothing and honey from dubious sources. The sunlight gleamed off the serried ranks of trowels, rakes and props but I have a comprehensive collection of my own at home. The motor cycle display team droned like hornets and so did the horticultural experts, bussed in from TV and radio. The singer on the bandstand was over amplified as to make him inescapable and so utterly God awful that I wanted half an hour to show him my skill with secateurs. When he mumbled “ciao bella” in a Lancashire accent to a simpering matron, I nearly lost my lunch. See? There’s something for everyone.