RHS Tatton Flowershow 2017: The Gardens

It's been four years since we last visited the RHS Tatton Flowershow, back in 2013 we looked at how RHS gardens can and should become more sustainable. The RHS over the last few years have been working towards this, many of the show gardens now have a home after the show, with many high profile gardens going to hospitals, schools and public spaces. With the show starting today and running until Sunday, we got the chance to have a sneak peak on some of the gardens (we won't be looking at them all as we don't want to spoil the show for you but we'll be picking out some of our favourites from the day, the gardens we lingered over and returned to) before the crowds arrived. I mean, come lunchtime today, you'll be hard pushed to pose by the RHS floral welcome to the grounds.

RHS Tatton Flowershow 2017

We have a love of the small space when it comes to gardening. Many of us have small gardens and hectic lives, and have little space to turn the garden into something that echoes our need for peace. We are not going to talk about gardens as rooms, the whole concept of the garden as a room is rather odd as slugs and frogs don't make their way across your lounge every night. The back to back gardens are becoming a RHS show go to, we know many gardeners now who ditch the main show gardens scrum to rush over to this tiny, intimate and inspiring show garden area. Back to back gardens literally echo the space we often have outside our back doors, if not in design, certainly in size. Our favorite at the show has to be James Youd's Arley's Time To Retreat, Youd is the gardener at Arley Hall. We spent time with him talking about the garden, the choices made, the blend of the traditional and contemporary. We even had time to talk about thistles and lupins, the joys and miseries of getting plants ready for the show. What came across is Youd's passion for not just the garden but the history behind the garden; the journey the garden has come on through the Arley Hall estate and how each plant, from the creeping thyme to sourcing other thymes in the garden, had a story behind them linked to members of his team. We discussed the sculptural elements of the thistles gone to seed, how the seed heads punctuate the garden creating a contrast to the more soft planting that surround a globular gazebo that seems to have mushroomed from the soil. If you see one back to back garden at Tatton this year, drop by Youd's design, it is something that you could lift, gazebo and all, and place it in any garden to create a space that is reflective and brimming with bees. As we stand talking, the bees throng over the garden. It is a garden that has a keen eye for detail, and on each subsequent visit we found new vantage points, plants to delight in the borders and when it comes to a garden in a small space you need this. This is a garden that will become more boisterous with age, more like a secluded dell behind the house just waiting for you to arrive.


Arley Hall Garden at Tatton 2017

We all dream of a green space by the office but an office that is a green space is a wonderful idea, though not always practical in British weather, but the prairie flow and ebb of Jake Curley's Business and Pleasure, takes its inspiration from the High Line in New York. For those of you unaware of the High Line, it is urban regeneration on a large scale, taking the derelict rail lines that ran overhead into New York and re-imagining them as a garden in an urban space. A pedestrianized thoroughfare that puts the defunct London garden bridge in the shade. This idea of urban green spaces and wellbeing throngs in Curley's garden and though we can dream of using these spaces all year round it is worth it for the few weeks you may get to sit in this garden and work and play, and dream.


Jake Curley's garden at RHS Tatton


In the year 2101, how will our grand children's gardens be faring? Michael John McGarr's Cactus-Direct: 2101, imagines a world in which the average UK temperate has risen by 7 degrees centigrade. In this dystopian landscape our native plant species are extinct and drought-tolerant plants are king. Though this garden is slickly designed, the message behind it is hard hitting, this is a garden devoid of all the plants we can find in the previous two gardens, cactus is king here and though there are still sociable spaces it would be hard to imagine, or realise, a country that will see temperatures top over 40 degrees centigrade each day and even pushing into the low 50s. It would make food growing a constant battle and this space echoes a bleak landscape, it is a garden devoid of people, as if they have just left or cannot face the heat. This is a frightening future in which our green and pleasant land will become like the landscape of Arizona. There is something starkly beautiful but frightening about this garden. It'll haunt us for some weeks to come and shows the RHS are fully engaged with climate change, and the impact gardeners have on it.

Climate change garden at the RHS show

Mad Max thunderdrome garden

McGarr catches a Mad Max kind of landscape that is no longer confined to the silver screen, it's coming to our descendants and though this is a space about adaptation, it is an adaptation which we must strive to change or face arid landscapes that don't just kill plants off but kill people too. In stark and vivid contrast is Lilly Gomm's designed Gabriel Ash Greenhouse Garden. Here is a present where we still need to grow under glass and it becomes the focal and even social hub of a vibrant garden. The use of water here is a guilty pleasure after the arid nightmare of McGarr's garden but the water here extends the garden, reflecting the foliage back. This is a private garden that echoes Italianate styles and a pool that extends the space. A pool that on a hot day you just want to sink your feet into. You can imagine the gardener doing so here, pottering from greenhouse to border, to pool, barefoot and smiling in the sun. It's also a greenhouse to have envy over and if that isn't bad enough you then see the garden, and turn green.


Lilly Gomm's garden at RHS Tatton

The show runs until Sunday, 23rd July, 2017. You can see more photos of the show here. We'll return to the Floral Marquee this weekend and to the show's key features next week. You can find a complete list of this year's awards here and see if we were right about the gardens featured here.

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