The RHS Tatton Park Flower show earlier this month left me with mixed emotions. Inspiring and grand to a degree, but a definite feeling of it being a bit like an exclusive club of which I didn’t belong. Nor one I particularly wanted to be a part of.
I didn’t however want that to be my only experience of horticultural shows. So, today I took a trip to the Chorley Flower Show. A very different experience altogether. It took just 20 minutes to get there, and despite the rather changeable weather, was no less busy than Tatton was on Members day. In many ways, it actually felt busier. I suspect that was more down to things being a little more tightly spaced. Knowing this was a more ‘family-friendly’ event, I took my 6-year-old daughter with me too. We queued to get our wristbands, £10 for myself and only £2 for my daughter.
Much like Tatton, there were copious numbers of trade stands. The big difference was that these were mostly local craftsmen and plant nurseries – along with various wildlife trusts and charities offering the usual ‘summer fayre’ activities such as tombolas and raffles. However, it didn’t feel ‘cheap’. Whilst it was nowhere near as glossy as an RHS show, the plants on offer were no less healthy and the people no less knowledgable. Overall it felt like a really good balance – enough for serious gardeners, whilst still offering something for people with only a passing interest.
A number of marquees were offered, including the usual floral marquee which was crammed with both the usual and unusual offerings. I uncovered a local seed supplier of ‘unusual’ veg in here and will be perusing their catalogue in full in the coming days. Another marquee featured exhibitions from both amateurs and professionals alike. I was particularly pleased to see that judges added comments in some cases, including one presentation that was excluding based on size, but was praised for the idea. Small differences such as that, to me, made this show feel much more accessible to all. A ‘garden roadshow’ theatre was also found in here, with Adam Frost presenting a particularly popular talk as we drifted past.
There were a number of ‘community’ show gardens, roughly the same size as the school gardens at Tatton. A number of these also completed by local schools, and just as worthy of their place at a flower show. The single biggest difference however was visitor involvement. The community show gardens were all manned by people representing them and explaining them. Some even encouraged visitors to take part in them. My daughter painted a pebble to add to one of them. The show gardens, of which there were two, could both be explored fully. You were welcome to walk around them and touch them. The main show garden, ‘The Garden of Reflection’ had a stonemason working on it as part of the display. My understanding is this this garden will remain as a permanent feature at Astley Hall, where the show takes place.
This was my first visit to Astley Hall, but won’t be my last. The walled Vegetable Garden, open but not necessarily part of the show, was beautifully well tendered. A place I’ll certainly explore in greater detail at a later date. As is often the case with walled kitchen gardens, inspiration and ideas were at every turn.
The show continues tomorrow, July 29th (2018) and tickets are available at the gate. Whether a master of horticulture or a complete beginner, there’s something on offer for you and well worth a visit.