My memories from those long
ago visits mostly centre on fragrance. I remember getting there as the
show opened, on the first day that regular non-royals were allowed in,
and being made almost dizzy by the perfumes that had collected overnight
in the huge marquee that housed the displays. I remember the lupines
and the delphiniums going up forever on their stands, and the perfection
of the vegetables marshalled in their unreal glory - parsnips too long
to have been dug from the ground, and carrots each the same length and
diameter to the exact millimeter (or hundredth of an inch as it was
a new millennium, a new perspective and a new display structure,
glistening pearly-white and settling a gentle light evenly over
everything with not a hint of a ripple to it, as that long-ago canvas
might have had. The displays still magnificent, but hard to do justice
to in words or photographs, as I realise now that I am putting this
Taking photographs certainly
not made any easier by the number of visitors - no let me say it, not
made any easier by the crowds. It was crowded, full of interested and
civilised people, but still crowded to the point where it was almost
impossible to see some of the display gardens. As my daughter said,
working our way to the front of the several-deep ranks of onlookers
was harder than getting a pint in a pub on a busy Saturday night.
in the main display area had something for everyone: roses to fill
a thousand bouquets in every shade of meaning; vegetables grown
to the same impossible perfection as ever, and arranged with the
age-old precision of true craftsmen.
There were orchids, my well-remembered lupines and delphiniums, garden
and native herbs, poppies and even out-of-season daffodils to recreate
And everywhere clematis - to
this displaced temperate gardener, one of the most vivid memories of gardens
had walks through shrub gardens and woodlands alive with underplanted
flowers, and the tropics were not forgotten with more orchids and
gingers, herbs and spices and edible plants.
Outside, the gardens gave
us their designer's visions of idyllic surroundings, their serene look
defying us to remember that they had been put together from bare ground
in the few frantic days before the show opened. The range, as you might
expect, spanned the barely-out-of-reach dream garden to an Arabian nights'
splendour that would work well in a Las Vegas casino hotel. Some gardens
shared their secrets if it was possible to stay studying them quietly
for long enough, others needed a storyboard to explain the designer's
idea. Again, blame the crowds for taking the edge off the pleasure of
the most soothing gardens, and making me, at least, walk past a few
that did not grip me at first glance.
The crowds again. Learn from
my experience: don't try to meet someone there for the first time; take
sandwiches and eat sitting on the grass far away from the restaurants.
Go with plenty of time, and, whatever the small irritations, treasure
the spectacle of a beautiful site, filled with glorious exhibits and
thronged with people who share your absorbtion with the plant kingdom.
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