Tatton is second to Chelsea in the hierarchy of British flower shows, where aspiring garden designers promote their visions and compete for the coveted award of best in show or for medals that descend in order of merit from gold, through silver gilt and silver to bronze.
As a member of the Royal Horticultural Society [RHS] which runs the show, I can enter on Members’ Day, the first show day, and this day is less crowded than later days are.
You can walk around the stalls and buy flowers; there is also a rich market in specialist foods and craft goods.
Situated a few miles south of Manchester in the verdant fields of rural Cheshire, Tatton Park, a National Trust property, hosts its flower show in late July.
This year’s show runs from 22th to the 26th of that month.
You have the feel of attending a quintessentially English occasion, as quiet, gentile garden lovers congregate to relish the beauty of the flowers and the general air of culture and civility that displays England at its best. This year the weather, which has been unsettled, was not bad, just a small shower or two, and that was a great boon.
I took the courtesy bus which runs from Altrincham Interchange to the show, and from the drop-off point, I traveled via the courtesy taxis that take show attendees to the show ground. If you take a car to go to Tatton, the spacious grounds are well-organized for parking, as are the access routes through the narrow country lanes of Cheshire.
The show is meticulously planned. All marquees and tents must meet RHS standards, white being the only colour permitted, but within this colour code, reminiscent of the Wimbledon Tennis club, the stalls display a rich range of produce. Devotees lovingly erect the show gardens over several days, which luxuriate with the products of the horticultural imagination.
As a contestant two years ago in a successful gardening team, I recall the excitement of setting up and manning the stall. But the team has since not competed, and I miss being a competitor. Maybe in a year or two.
The Show Gardens
Designers and nurseries compete to display their show gardens, and the aim is to produce a design that is original and attracts the customers. The range of designs is creditable. Alongside the professionals’ productions you find offerings by local schools, some primary age and some secondary.
One design that struck me, which you can see here, is the offering by Ness Botanical Gardens in Merseyside, South Lancashire. The willow sculpture represents the sun with the rays radiating from it. The theme of this display is that the plants, which are all taken from the Asteraceae family, show the range of types of sunflowers.
The viewer is amazed that so many apparently different plants are so closely related, and the display is a testimony to the knowledge and skill of the growers in the North of England.
There is a large marquee in which vegetable growers display their products, all neatly arranged, washed and trimmed vegetables, such as carrots, leeks, potatoes, tomatoes and many others are lovingly, proudly, hopefully displayed in the hope of gaining a certificate.
The size of many is a testimony to the expertise of their growers. As a gardener I am left with the feeling that I could do better. Next year I will produce vegetables of that quality, I tell myself, but many others are saying the same thing.
Britain’s plant nurseries descend on Tatton, and the flower enthusiast is for a short while transported into horticultural heaven, as a luxuriance of blooms is presented to the visiting public on an array of stalls.
The quiet people who tend our nurseries arrive in the hope of impressing with their offerings, and you cannot fail to oblige as a dazzling array of plants of all hues is on display.
Yet the repute of the show is that the length of England is represented. I spot a nursery from the remote southern tip of Britain, near Land’s End, and I have a long talk with a farmer’s wife who with her husband has come south from the beautiful Cumbrian mountains to sell their range of bracken and wool composts.
I am on foot today, so won’t be taking any away with me, but I take their leaflets and phone numbers. I can use their products on the allotment.
The Shopping Experience
There is a wide range of stalls, and the Country Living marquee is a paradise of quality goods. Having wandered through the plant stalls, my wife and I arrived at the marquee, and temporarily went our separate ways, she relishing the fabrics, furnishings and perfumes, I seeking specialty cheeses, pies and wines.
The woman on the cheese stall must have a good memory, or a nose for business, or both, as she recognizes me from the previous year. She must know a cheese lover when she sees one!
My wife and I met up again each carrying bags. There was no overlap between their respective contents! Later on we window shop, my wife inspects some lovely coats, while I inspect some quality garden tools, and more pies and cheeses.
Besides the edibles on display, Britain’s purveyors of quality garden goods arrive, and you can, if so disposed, inspect and purchase greenhouses, furniture and high quality garden tools. There was a stall displaying garden clothing, mainly aimed at women who want to be stylish when they are gardening. Not that work clothing is the only type on display– there are some very classy coats for sale.
The Artistic Side of the Show
This year saw an innovation that added a pleasant dimension to the show, the presence of a dance troupe who paraded through the show at some times in a variety of costumes.
Some were dressed in butterfly costume to symbolize the role of pollinators. The group, who were a mixture of male and female children and adults, provided a rich cultural augmentation of the event.
Tatton Flower Show
Tatton is my local show, and I am committed to going every year, and hopefully competing again, either this year or next.
I tell myself that next year I will have vegetables good enough to show. So one year you might be getting a report from a competitor, not just an admirer.