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Features: Flower Shows

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The RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park 2003

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Tatton Park is the Royal Horticultural Societies' (RHS) newest annual flower show. The 2003 show was only the fifth in what has proved to be an extremely popular and successful show. This feature has a look at the 2003 show and what it had to offer from the wildlife gardening perspective.

The show in general

The Tatton Flower Show is a huge affair. At Tatton 2003 there were some 17 show gardens, 24 'back-to-back' gardens, two giant pavilions devoted to plants (which together with a 'plant-plaza' represented over 100 nurseries), 14 'show features', a national flower bed competition, floral art, stands representing a large number of plant/nature societies, shops and more. Open quotesAnyone with a garden of any sort would find something of interest hereClose quotesAnyone with a garden of any sort would find something of interest here, but the 'plantsman', in particular, is in seventh heaven.

The show is staged in the beautiful rural setting of Tatton Park in Cheshire. I attended on 'members' day on Wednesday 23rd July. I was lucky with the weather; Open quotesIt pays to fork out for a programme and identify the 'must see' bitsClose quotes despite a forecast of rain, we enjoyed mild summer weather all day. To be honest, there's too much at the show to examine it all properly in one day. It pays to fork out for a programme and identify the 'must see' bits before you start getting dragged this way and that by whatever catches your eye.

I made a point of having a good look at all the show and 'back-to-back' gardens as well as a number of the 'show features' and society stands. I did look around the floral pavilions but, since I'm not particularly in the market for plants at the moment, I didn't spend too much time there.

Images from the show
These images can do no more than give a flavour of what there was to see at Tatton 2003; there were dozens of gardens (all of them picture-worthy) and hundreds of exhibits and stands.

'Tranquility' show garden
The standard of design and workmanship in the gardens exhibited at Tatton 2003 was universally high as demonstrated by this show garden entitled Tranquility. (View bigger image.)
'A Hidden Retreat' back-to-back garden
A Hidden Retreat is an example of one of the gardens exhibited in the 'back-to-back' category. The garden is meant to represent a small part of a larger garden where you can escape into a secluded naturalistic setting. (View bigger image.)
'Rock and Water Garden' show garden
The Rock and Water Garden exhibited as a show garden was one of many gardens with a strong naturalistic water theme at Tatton 2003. (View bigger image.)
'Rock 'n' Water' show garden
Here's another show garden with the same naturalistic water theme, this time called Rock 'n' Water. (View bigger image.)
'Purple Stripe' back-to-back garden
Despite the many fantastic show gardens at Tatton 2003, it was one of the more modest 'back-to-backs' which caught my attention most. This was a garden created by Macclesfield Borough Council called the Purple Stripe. (View bigger image.)
Meadow area
This closer shot shows a detail of the meadow area in the Purple Stripe garden. This area included several native grasses and attracted a large number of insects. (View bigger image.)
'A Contemporary Bucolic Idyll' back-to-back garden
Another 'back-to-back' garden which caught my attention was A Contemporary Bucolic Idyll. The planting was, in one sense, secondary to the extensive and beautiful dry stone walling which it was designed to showcase. Nevertheless, I found the subtle use of native and naturalised species like this teasle (Dipsacus fullonum) very much to my taste. (View bigger image.)
Driftwood horse by Heather Jansch
Just as an example of the huge number of exhibits at Tatton 2003 (apart from the gardens), I've included this picture of a stunning driftwood horse sculpture by Heather Jansc. This was one of a pair priced at 25,000. (You will need to take your wallet if you attend one of the RHS flower shows!) (View bigger image.)

Wildlife gardening interest

Although I did not go to the RHS Chelsea Flower show, my impression from the media coverage was that there was quite a theme of 'biodiversity' running Open quotesthere was not much evidence of biodiversity or wildlife gardening being an important theme at this showClose quotes through that show this year. I had expected the same at Tatton but, on the whole, I was disappointed in that respect. Although there were a number of show gardens and, more particularly, back-to-back gardens which were very naturalistic in design, there was not much evidence of biodiversity or wildlife gardening being an important theme at this show. That does go to show that the RHS flower shows are all very individual affairs - not just an RHS 'road show' - but in my opinion, Open quotesan issue as important as biodiversity deserves more prominence at every showClose quotesan issue as important as biodiversity deserves more prominence at every show.

Despite this, I did manage to find plenty of interest to me as a wildlife gardener, both in the gardens and among the other exhibits. Open quotesMy favourite garden in the show was the Purple StripeClose quotesMy favourite garden in the show was the Purple Stripe: one of the 'back-to-back' exhibits. This garden was created by Macclesfield Borough Council to represent the ambience and spirit of the borough's parks. Well if the parks are anything like as good as this garden, I should like to pay them a visit! There was a stunning meadow area in this garden which included a number of native grasses, e.g. crested dog's tail (Cynosaurus cristatus) among the nectar-rich flowers. Open quotesThe bees and hoverflies liked it as much as I didClose quotesThe bees and hoverflies liked it as much as I did. Not evident from the pictures above are some innovative design features in this garden, including a sunken area with lush green planting amongst stones which lay under a metal grid walkway.

Open quotesAnother garden which I particularly liked was A Contemporary Bucolic IdyllClose quotesAnother garden which I particularly liked was A Contemporary Bucolic Idyll which was a 'back-to-back' exhibit featuring beautiful dry stone walling. The complementary planting of native and naturalised plants was chosen to showcase the walls and create the bucolic ambience. For me, it worked superbly well: a very relaxing garden. One particularly interesting feature was a small enclosed area (about two foot square) containing nothing but ripened wheat. It fitted the atmosphere and colour scheme perfectly (and gave me an idea for a feature within a cornfield annual border which I'm planning!).

There were a number of societies and retailers of interest and I visited as many as I could including the Cheshire Wildlife Trust, British Mycological Society, Landlife, the Wiggly Wrigglers shop and the C J Wildbird Foods shop.

If you ever get the chance to attend this or one of the other RHS shows, my advice to you would be to take it. Admission is not cheap (I paid about 19 for my ticket), but you will have a full day out and find plenty of interest - whatever your interest is!

First published August 2003.
Copyright Richard Burkmar 2003. Permission is hereby granted for anyone to use this article for non-commercial purposes which are of benefit to the natural environment as long the original author is credited. School pupils, students, teachers and educators are invited to use the article freely. Use for commercial purposes is prohibited unless permission is obtained from the copyright holder.

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