Tatton Park is a little over 20 miles from my home, so by far the easiest and quickest for me to get to (though I’m only a mile from the new, 5th RHS Garden – Bridgewater – though they don’t yet have a garden, let alone a flower show!). I set off at 8:15am this morning and arrived at Tatton Park at 9:10am – although at 8:45 I was actually still closer the Bridgewater than I was Tatton! – it was pretty plain sailing once I made it onto the M56.
The event itself was well signposted as soon as you venture within a few miles, and there are plentiful staff on hand directing traffic. Having previously been to a number of major events such as the British Grand Prix (numerous times!), Tatton was without doubt the most well organised in terms of traffic management and staffing. Once parked, I headed towards the entry gates – despite being 45 minutes early, there were already a few hundred ahead of me in the queue. Fortunately, they opened 15 minutes early, and it was a matter of minutes thereafter before I was in.
Once inside, you can choose from various routes – there is no set direction to go, and whether you go left or right here, you’ll still find show gardens, eateries and trade stands. Personally, I always head for whichever side looks quietest – so left it was for me! The initial impression is that the show area is *huge*, but I think that’s more to do with the various avenues along the way – every time I went back to an area, I found another area within it. All told, I clocked up just under 8 miles of walking throughout the day – though I did visit some areas a few times.
In terms of facilities, they were plentiful – you’re spoilt for choice in terms of places to eat (though I couldn’t find anything suitable for my low-carb, vegetarian & gluten free diet – fortunately I’m well aware of how fussy my body is and always take my own food with me now anyway!). Toilets were clean and plentiful, and I didn’t witness any queuing. Water bottles could be topped up for free on the United Utilities stand.
Access was generally good – pathways were well defined, though the recent weather means the grassed areas could easily be walked on anyway. Various maps are never far away and are helpful to find your way around, if you haven’t purchased the show guide (which has a map too). I witnessed quite a few people on mobility scooters, and they appeared to be able to navigate their way around with ease.
There’s a huge number of trade stands, some of which are as well presented as the show gardens and could be considered an attraction of their own. The independent traders, particularly those in the craft / handmade sector were a joy to view and not unreasonably expensive, though you’re unlikely to pick up any bargains elsewhere. If you’re plant shopping, you’re spoilt for choice – from the many little ‘tent’ traders through to the floral marquee, there are shopping opportunities everywhere. Pricing, from what I could tell, was pretty much in line with what you’d expect from a garden centre. I was a little disappointed to see so little choice of fruits or ‘unusual’ veg plants – things that would be nice to ‘see in the flesh’, and a relatively small selection of seeds on offer – but of course it is a ‘flower’ show, so I perhaps shouldn’t be surprised.
The Gardener’s World team could be seem filming various segments – they were usually easily found by looking for the big crowds surrounding them(!), though Francis Tophill did seem to have knack of blending in around the show – I found myself stood alongside her a few times – perhaps it was the numerous clothes changes that helped disguise her?
A number of presentations were on offer, from flower arranging to growing and propagation – all of which seemed to be well attended, but not crowded. I believe there are some food shows on offer too, though I didn’t see any taking place. The RHS themselves are positioned in various places offering advice, and the RHS shop near the centre features a selection of gifts and a pretty extensive collection of gardening books – many of which were signed.
Aside from the floral marquee, it is of course the gardens that people want to see – and these are scattered around the ground in different groups. The school gardens are well worth a look as every one of them has clearly been a labour of love – and many feature ideas that you could take away to use on your own garden at home. There are 3 ‘show gardens’ – Ginspiration, From Hop to Glass and Jungle Fever. Jungle Fever was, by far, my favourite of these three and I was disappointed to see it only achieved a Silver – something I heard echoed by many others. There are a further 3 ‘Future Spaces Gardens’, which are a similar size to the show gardens but follow a set theme. The ‘Back to Back’ gardens are the ones you’re most likely to find any idea you can take home and use yourself, and in my view these were more typical of what a garden ‘is’ – they may be much smaller, but most of them are gardens I could actually see myself spending time in. Finally, the Young Designer gardens are worth exploring to see what ideas the future show gardens may take – some you’ll love, others you’ll (probably) hate – all 5 of these are very different.
I do however really wish the RHS would publish some comments alongside the awards given to the gardens so we could better understand *why* the chosen award was given – I do know that the brief, conception and reality is a factor and not just the finished design – but many others don’t know that, and listening to other comments from visitors, I wasn’t alone in wondering how or why certain awards were given. However, I have deliberately refrained from voicing an opinion on the gardens here – obviously personal tastes are a huge factor in garden design, and regardless of what you think of the end result, it’s clear that a great deal of effort went into each and every one of them.
I would advise, if you have time to spare, taking time away from the show to explore the Tatton Park gardens themselves – it’s a 5 minute walk via the ‘Mansion’ exit (make sure they stamp your hand on the way out so you can get back in – especially if you’re parked at the Deer park side!). The Tatton Park gardens are a joy in themselves – I virtually had them to myself for 2 hours this afternoon, much to my surprise. Entrance to the gardens costs £7, but is free for RHS or National Trust members.
Before visiting the show today, I didn’t really have any idea what to expect – I’d never visited an RHS show before. Some others had voiced their opinions to me when I mentioned my visit, and I came away somewhat echoing what they had said – but that’s another post for another day.
I’ll be sharing a full gallery of images from the RHS Tatton Park in the next day or two
Founder and Editor, ForkMojo. Organic Allotmenteer, Husband, Father & Programmer.