Tuesday, 8 July 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Waiter, there's a Porsche in my flower show


Hampton Court Flower Show opens to the public this morning, like the big South-West London garden fête it really is. Hampton Court is often seen as the people's gardening event so it's no surprise to find the RHS picking the show as a prime moment to nobble the great British public about climate change, growing your own, and other practices you could cobble together under the umbrella term "sustainability". 

It's also no surprise to find that the RHS, like the rest of us, has a fairly inconsistent attitude towards all this stuff. One minute they're telling us we should grow our own veg, the next we're gazing at the Porsche garden.

And what is it with Porsche trying to come over like they make eco-cars? Let me excerpt some of the catalogue description of this particular plot:

"This garden highlights the continuing disappearance of urban
front gardens, so many of which are being paved over to provide
off-road parking.... This raises the likelihood of subsidence and
heightens the risk of localised flooding due to excessive water

Er, you what? You're suggesting that excavating my garden to make a space big enough for a 350 BHP sports car and a lift, is going to leave enough rain-absorbing soil in situ to prevent flooding? That removing tons of soil from the area in front of my house going to help battle subsidence? I just don't know where to start, I'm spluttering with objections. 

To me the presence of Porsche at Hampton Court demonstrates all the trouble we get ourselves into when we want to save the world without making it hurt too much. I don't think Porsche should be showing a garden there at all, if the point of the show is to emphasise the
sustainable. In fact even setting that aside, I don't get what Porsche are doing there. I don't even get it from the point of view of their own marketing - surely a Porsche is a Chelsea Flower Show car, not a Hampton Court one?

Dsc_2417jpegOf course, all show gardening has a high element of wastage and energy use spunked into the ether for the sake of it. The reality of a flower show is that the stringent judging requirements for immaculate presentation create huge tension between wanting to be "green" and having to chuck perfectly good plants away because they are a tiny bit broken.

Under these circumstances, only one garden on site really has the right to call itself green and that's Guerilla Gardener Richard Reynolds' (above right) at B34. Reynolds and friends turned up with a tree and a skip, and salvaged everything else in their garden Wombles-style, from other exhibitors who were chucking it out.


So here we are, with the Porsche garden, and the dopy signage and garden titles (see left), but did we really come away thinking sustainability can be sexy?

And my god, what is this preoccupation with making everything sexy anyway? In the new  "Growing Tastes" area of the show gardeners, chefs and growers even did their best to persuade us that "there's something quite sexy and romantic about growing your own vegetables." (A chef said that.)

Hmm, I'm not exactly sure about sexy, but it was extremely impressive. Immaculate raised beds and tiny cucumbers just starting and all that exciting smell of vegetables growing. And ready to grow. Especially the giant garlic from Isle of Wight garlic. Listen, even Guy Barter was impressed.

I myself got funny looks as I was down on my hands and knees sniffing the baskets. I'm not convinced this was because it was actually sexy, though. But how else are you going to find out which one you like the best?

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