Sunday, 10 April 2011

RHS Show Cardiff 2011

Today I visited the local RHS show in Cardiff and I've captured a few bits and bobs for those of you who couldn't attend.  I always try my best to visit the show as it's only down the road and it's a great way to offer my support and catch up with gardening friends I rarely get to see.  We've had fantastic weather for it this year and it's really helped to lift the spirits, add energy and help lift the plants and gardens.

In a similar ilk to my post on the RHS Show Cardiff 2010 I found that yet again the show was seriously lacking on show gardens, although the numbers had increased a little.  Overall what was on display did little to inspire progression or influence new styles and I guess when all was considered the general feeling was that  it was pleasing at best.  It would have been great to see something that added a sense of challenge or spectacle but unfortunately this was not to be.   Maybe next year?

Sheds, offices and other rooms featured heavily in this years gardens maybe indicating that the garden office or space is fast becoming a staple.  All I know is that I would love to have something similar in my garden from which to work or read.
West Meets East - Gaynor Witchard Garden Design and Alfresco Landscape & Garden

The 'Best Show Garden' (above) winning a Silver-Guilt medal used a limited palette of colour and a lot of restraint to achieve its primary goal of fusing the Japanese garden with the West.  When I met with Gaynor she discussed that it was hard work to get the job done in such a short space of time as there was so much gravel to clean.  As a result the pond area was rather tricky to execute but Gaynor battled on and said she was pleased with the overall result.  Gaynor's garden at last years show entitled 'Irene's Garden' also won Best Show Garden and couldn't be further away from this design.
The Reading Room - Ben Brook

This garden also used a garden room and other similar influences to create a modern space for reading and relaxing.  Again we see a rather muted and limited use of colour with the garden being somewhat dominated with wooden landscaping.
Sweet Retreat - Imogen Cox & Pippa Tee

'Sweet Retreat' stood out from the other gardens with it's busy use of colour, both in the planting and in the hard landscaping.  This really grabbed the attention of passers by and coupled with the dominating yet beautiful shed had the potential to work well.  What really let the garden down, I feel, was the sheer volume of plants and their proximity to one another.  Overall the garden felt as though it was suffocating and did not appear to be at all practical in the long run.
The floral marquees were gorgeous as ever however I am beginning to see quite a lot of repetition as the years go on.  Despite this there are still new and exciting things to discover and I guess that's half the charm of  attending.  I didn't leave with armfuls of plants this year but instead I restrained myself buying only a small selection of perennial herbs and plants including Tree Onions and Winter Savoury.  Some of the Erythroniums on display were absolutely stunning and I may have to look in to buying some of these to add to my garden.
Entertainers were on hand to cheer the crowds and keep small children out of mischief and they really did succeed this year.  Yes, those are indeed vegetable and fruit babies!
And finally, RHS Cardiff is not complete without the schools wheelbarrow competition.  This year my vote went to this 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wheelbarrow' Royal wedding inspired number, which is truly eye catching, I think you'll agree?!

On reflection this year's show left me feeling as though I'd seen it all before.  It did little to truly hold my attention for any meaningful amount of time and it did not have enough content to keep me entertained for even half a day never mind a full day out.  Perhaps it was the lure of a meal at a nice restaurant or my general state of tiredness that led me to feel this way but I can't help but think I am trying to make excuses as I really want this show to do better? It's a shame really and I sincerely hope that in the near future the garden element improves and grows as surely it is this that should be at the heart of the spectacle?


  1. Gaynor Witchard10 April 2011 at 02:39

    Ryan, we are only given SIX days to build these gardens and for half a day we are disturbed by the judges for them to 'pre-judge' them. Also, there is very little in the way of financial support. Perhaps if the Cardiff show attracted interest and investment like Chelsea and all the other shows you might get more designers on board.
    Seen it all before eh? You are lucky to see ANYTHING in Cardiff!!!

  2. I agree with your comments on this years show. The show gardens were very disappointing. There was no inspiration at all. Interestingly you photographed the best in show from the side. The whole garden needed to be turned by 90 degrees for the best angle.

    Considering the amount of visitors the Cardiff show attracts, you would think potential sponsors would be queuing up to have a garden at the show. I think the RHS has to push harder to promote Cardiff.

    The craft/food section seemed even bigger this year and it looks as if that's how this show will evolve, with gardens as an after thought.

  3. You've both hit the nail on the head there. In my opinion the gardens really should be the heart of this show and whether that means more investment I'm not sure. What I do know is that their creators would benefit from more time to execute their designs and possibly a little more in the way of being offered centre stage at what is at it's heart a garden show.

    Gaynor I couldn't agree with you more, time is everything. If the organisers gave more time to the build it would help the displays a lot. Don't get me wrong, when I talk about the show. I do mean the whole thing in terms of the same nurseries, same displays, same traders, same products etc. I'm just really worried that as the years go on it is the gardens that are being left behind in terms of them being undervalued as the main attraction whereas the food and retail areas, which are receiving the most space, are growing rapidly. As I said to you on the day the gardens were presented really well but wouldn't it be nice to see a garden designer truly excel and play with more time, space, possibly more financial backing and maybe a larger stage? After all Cardiff attracts lots of visitors and the organisers and sponsors can surely see that the show demands this?

    Nic: It is a sobering thought to think that a garden show's main area of growth is in the food and craft market? And in terms of ground space it most certainly felt that the wheelbarrow competition held more space than the gardens themselves?

  4. This year was my first visit to the Cardiff RHS and quite rightly so I was excited at the prospect of seeing some inspiring displays and the opportunity of finding some rare and unusual plants.

    My first port of call was the floral tent no. 2 (on the left as you entered) I was hoping for an explosion of colour and aroma, I didn't get this what I got was a very spaced out marquee even if you take into consideration potential visitor flow and H+S. However the standard of displays and quality of the plants were of a high standard. I especially liked the tree onion and herb display and really regret not purchasing a tree onion!

    Moving on from the flora tent I went over to the show gardens. Far better than what I can do for sure in terms of neat and tidy and well executed. I tend to be a bit more chaotic in my garden - which works for me. I do have to commend Gaynor on her water feature I really did like it, but wasn’t to sure about the west element to the garden. I did find the designs of all the gardens to be a little bit tired. If I am to pick a favourite one it was the one by the Cardiff Rangers (?) This had wild flower planting with hedge laying and shabby gate - I'm all about rural crafts at the moment.

    I have to agree that the food stalls (it would have been nice to see Riverside Farmers Market there) and craft stalls (not all handmade or local), did seem a little excessive and it was a shame that this took up so much space as did the entertainment area. It was a garden show not a gig!

    I by passed the wheel barrows this didn't interest me and I agree a little large or rather too spaced out; another show garden could have gone here. The final stop was the flora display tent no.1 I went through here quickly as nothing grabbed my attention.

    On my return home I received a tweet asking if I agreed with a post on this blog, my reply was that I hadn’t read it as I didn’t want my thoughts to be influenced by anyone beforehand. I thought I was being a bit hard about the event but I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who was left unsatisfied by it.

  5. Beware of 'attracting more investment', Cardiff. If you're really successful, you'll end up like Chelsea... which is a dungheap of an event.

  6. One thing to note. The garden winning Best Show Garden won a Silver Gilt Medal - and not the top award, a Gold Medal. So even the RHS judges acknowledged that the show gardens were not of the highest standard.

    I was last at the Cardiff show in 2007, when I was a judge of the floral displays. I thought the show gardens were poor, but judging by the pictures of more recent shows it certainly seems as if they've improved. And it's year six of Cardiff, so they should have improved.

    Ryan's remarks, and Gaynor's response in particular, should inspire the RHS to allow more time for set-up with a view to enabling exhibitors to create more impressive show gardens.

    I really don't think that seeking improvement on what the RHS itself judges to be below-Gold-standard show gardens is "damaging".

  7. Graham is absolutely right about the medals demonstrating room for improvement. And comments from a seasoned visitor who is passionate about the subject can only be helpful as feedback for improvement.

    At Tatton the back-to-back gardens get 8 days to build (24sq m) so this should be the norm to give the garden creators a fair chance to achieve the top standard.

    I think the Amateur Gardening article is a storm in an eggcup. Papers have to write something and picking two disparate positions and pitching it as a row is one way.


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