Friday, 20 February 2009

the electric urban orchard - better late than never...

One funny thing I have noticed most about blogging is that if you are lucky enough to be blogged about, you will probably miss the scoop on yourself. So, it is with belated joy that I bring you another report on the new look RHS London Plant and Design Show 2009 (with some back stage snippets...).


From months of planning, we found ourselves heading up to London in a Luton van containing the entire garden last Saturday evening, arriving at the very concrete yet beautiful RHS Lawrence Hall at approx 7pm. Unloading the modules for the garden and a myriad of fruit trees. Leave by 9pm and treat ourselves to some chips on the way home. Oh yes, a very romantic way to spend a valentines night.

It has to be said that the facade set up the RHS commissioned is extraordinary - in scale and undertaking. I am told it is not a one hit wonder, and will return in other guises at other shows, so watch this space.

5.45am sunday - take van back and catch train to London (which takes an hour longer than usual due to engineering works). First day of build goes relatively smoothly, plants arrive and we almost get everything we want done. Collapse.

7.30am monday - back on site to complete the garden. Try and revive some squashed violets that did not fare as well on the journey from the nursery as the thyme, lavender and rosemary. Pretty much fail. Continue anyway with build, take delivery of two crates of organic British Jonagold apples to hand out as part of the promotions and the two very heavy yet wonderful electric scooters from Gnewt. Panic that our staging will not take the weight of said scooters and breathe a massive sigh of relief when it does. Suddenly look up at 5pm to see a wafting past of smartly dressed press, journalists, sponsors and waiters. The press event has begun.

Manage to tidy up enough to be presentable (including myself, which involved putting on my leather jacket in an inside rock style to hide the dirt and crap on my t-shirt). Do a bit of hobnobbing, including chatting to the wonderful Nina Acton from The Malvern shows, and the very eloquent James Alexander-Sinclair. Drink one very beautiful cocktail and wish I'd eaten more than a posh vol-ou-vent all day.

Continue with build until we get kicked out (again) at 10.00.

Show day one - arrive at 7.30am and do the last titivating before judging, get banished to the cafe whilst judging happens, then back in the hall for the arrival of the hoards.

Unfortunately, the very first comment from the public on our garden was awful, stating that 'motorcycles have no place at an RHS show, and where are all the flowers?' I told her (politely) about drainage issues of paving over a front garden for parking, but gave up after I guessed she probably would not have a parking problem in her huge Kensington abode. So I pointed her in the direction of the Lindley Hall, which was magnificently packed full of flowers.

Fortunately this was as bad as it got, and most people I spoke to were very happy with the new design element of the show, and very receptive to our garden.

Our recycled glass permeable paving got lots of attention, as did the biowall panels from our chums at BioTecture, and I was (rightly) quizzed by a few people about apple pollination groups in our mini orchard. Fortunately I had done my homework, and I think all went away with a satisfied little nugget of new info for their brains.

RHS medals then were filtered out from the offices and we had a Silver plonked onto our garden. Was I disappointed? Yes. I really wanted the Silver Gilt, but there you go, my violets weren't in flower and medals can be won or lost on such a small detail. What was interesting though was the more traditional the garden, the higher the medal...

The second day was started with a bang with the exhibitors meeting. I think I turned a few heads when I spoke out at my first exhibitors meeting, but as you are probably now aware dear readers, is that I am not one to hold my tongue.

After a couple of comments from the plantsmen about the new 'design' element I pointed out that the RHS is in vital need of younger blood to prevent it dying and that the younger generations are more receptive to good design than a stand of wonderful plants. The key is to link the two, and we suggested a linking of a specialist nursery to a designer for the next show, to highlight wonderful, seasonal plants in a well conceived show garden environment. Will the RHS take up our suggestion? Watch this space...

So, that's about it - day two went well, the sell off raised a few quid, and after a very speedy breakdown, we were back in Brighton before midnight on Wednesday.

Thank you to all those who managed to come and say hello, including the fab Deb Bird, and VP herself, and all those who have posted nice things about the garden.

I'm off to sleep some more now, and ready my brain for the next show garden stretch - the Malvern Spring Show.

As they say - I'll keep you posted.


  1. Fab fab fab. Well done girl (and fella). See you soon :) x

  2. Silver-Gilt? I wouldn't have given you a bronze! Where did you study horticulture and garden design? I am assuming you have a decent knowledge of plants as all serious garden designers have.
    I think your attitude towards the RHS is really unacceptable, who are you to tell them they are, "dead on their feet"?
    What really annoys me about you is your self-deserving attitude and bolshy manner. Would you survive as a 'designer' outside of the London Eco bubble? I think not. Will you be around in 5 years? I think not.
    Best regards

  3. Thank you indeed for your comment William, and even thought your comments are quite spiteful I have published them as I believe everyone is entitiled to their own opinion.
    For the record, I never said that the RHS was dead on it's feet, but that they are in dire need of younger blood to ensure that they remain the pillar of the horticultural world for now and many years to come. I have the upmost respect for the RHS and I apologise to all if any of my comments have been taken in the opposite manner to which they were intended.
    To get any medal from the RHS is an incredible achievement, and I am never complacent that I will get anything at all, so to label me as self-deserving is totally unfair and unfounded. If the RHS saw it fit to award the garden a Silver medal, then I am more than happy, but are you telling me you have never been striving for anything more than you were given?
    Also, I do not have a bolshy manner, but can understand why you may feel this way - I am not a wallflower and will not stand by and bite my toungue if I feel I can contribute to a situation. Any discussion is better than no discussion as this is how progress is made.
    Thank you for your concern, but I do survive as a designer outside of the 'London Eco bubble' as fortunately many people are concerned about 'green issues' throughout the UK and the rest of the world, and not just in the W1 postcodes. And I do intend to be around for many more than 5 years.
    And lastly, I do have a good knowledge of plants, which is constantly expanding, which is great. All people have their stronger and weaker areas, and I am aware of mine, which is half the battle.
    My primary training was actually to degree level in Interior Architecture, and I have been working in the design and architectural industry since I graduated - I never profess to being a horticulturalist and never will.
    If these are your best regards, I'd hate to see your worst.
    Many thanks

  4. Ignore that comment from what seems to be an empty site. And probably an empty mind.

    Clearly some internet troll stirring it.

    I enjoyed your garden and yes, the show was full of superannuated old crusties, moaning.

    Ignore them all.


  5. Claire - an excellent response to William's comments.

    You're exactly what the gardening community and the RHS needs. You're a breath of fresh air and passionate about what you do. If straight talking = bolshy, then more of it please. And whenever we've spoken, I've always thought you were very constructive in what you said.

    Sticking around for 5 years? More like 50 I'd say

  6. I guess when we decide to write a blog, we willingly open ourselves up to all manner of scrutiny. And the very nature of the Blog provides only a snapshot of who we are, where we have been, and what we are capable of. Does that give the scrutineer the right to deliver unnecessarily personal and inaccurate critique? I'm not so sure about that one.

    For what it's worth, I think having the guts to put yourself out there, whether it be through a blog, through a garden design, or by standing up and saying your piece in a meeting is something to be proud of.

    Keep on keeping on, my dear.

  7. Hello folks - I am overwhelmed by the responses I have had to the above - many thanks for all your views on the issues raised.

    I received the comment below from Jenny via my email as she was unable to get the verification word to work - thank you Jenny for taking the extra effort to send me your views, and I am delighted to post the below on your behalf:

    Fascinating to read about building a big garden in the Halls, I've only ever helped build a nursery stand before - sounds like your experiences are about 10 times as nerve-wracking!

    I think (hope?) the design/plantsman divide that some find so alarming is a false one. There's surely a continuum of preference and experience which we all fall along. I do regret that the RHS is reducing the number of London shows - you can't beat that first moment of excitement coming up the steps to the hall to see what is spread out in front of you. I'm sure you can work on them from the inside (always the best way to tackle big organisations I find ;-)) now you're a known exhibitor to make change.

    Congratulations on your medal - and I'm sure there will be many more to come.

    Best wishes,
    Aka NewShoot

    (… and before that I was R. Pete Free, but that's a long story!)

  8. Hi Claire

    I just found your blog. I saw your urban garden at the RHS Show and thought it was very smart and chic. The scooters were a nice touch too. I live in an urban terraced area myself (another Brightonian) with a small front garden and all the design problems of what to do with wheelie bins, recycling boxes, bikes etc. and it was good to see that someone had come up with some interesting ideas. I might just post a photograph of your garden into the house across the road from me. He paved over his front patch and parks his bike and some pots on there. It looks reasonably smart but plain and a couple of biowall panels would certainly improve the view from my house!