The environmentalist John Vidal wrote yesterday (22nd May 2012) in his piece "The Chelsea flower show is nature for the 1%" that RHS Chelsea epitomises a surreal version of nature so cherished and exalted by London's wealthy "garden enthusiasts".
"But gawd bless the Chelsea flower show in these straitened times. This glorious jubilee year we can still buy a conservatory for a knock-down £700,000, a sundial for £60,000, a gate for £10,000 and a gothic folly complete with real gold stars for just £60,000. This may be the best place in the world to buy a beehive (without bees) for £10,000 or a sculpture covered in 23.5 carat gold. In the parallel universe of London SW3, bird boxes cost more per square foot than just about any house north of Watford."
For a while now I have found the coverage of the show bluntly unappealing. The contrived displays and conceited presentation are a world away from the practical remit of our average garden designer, landscaper and gardener - those who provide service to the 99% perhaps.
Of course I understand the artisan nature of the wares on sale and indeed some of the fantastical show gardens, and it would be churlish to say that I don't admire and draw inspiration from some of the show gardens - but perhaps John Vidal is right when he suggests that:
what [Chelsea] promotes is a cynical, corporate view of the natural world where gardens and money inevitably blossom together, and human wealth grows naturally.
The seemingly elitist nature of Chelsea projects an elitist apparition of the RHS, and indeed the industries represented from within the show, that simply does not represent the 99% of intelligent, creative, knowledgeable, hard-working businesses and individuals that constitute the remainder of the landscaping and gardening industries.
The crazier part of this issue is that, despite the long and cold shadow of austerity and recession, many of the plethora of smaller regional shows that take place around these islands attempt to recreate the lavish aspiration of Chelsea in both form and presentation - most cases, no doubt, to an audience of more modestly harboured means.
If we are, as has been recognised so frequently in the past, a group of peoples intently keen on gardening and spending time out doors, does the folly and false aspiration of the Chelsea Flower Show (in its present format) really serve us (as industry practitioners) in any meaningful way, and does it serve the paying public to see what can be achieved in false scenarios, forced sponsor-themed environments, with prosthetic-ally produced planting schemes, and with exorbitant amounts of cash?
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