In February, reserves of sunshine stored from last year are arguably at their lowest. While there are signs of spring to be found already, unless you are lucky enough to have a garden carpeted in snowdrops, hellebores, aconites, dwarf irises etc. – and live in a climate where they are out in bloom by this time – these signs tend to be far and few between: a patch here, a potful there… So the RHS Early Spring Show in London’s Lindley and Lawrence Halls is a huge annual draw for the flower-starved.
It is not the most fun to go to the RHS shows with children, I have to admit. My two are well-trained (or long-suffering, depending on who you ask) visiting gardens and the like, and the little one genuinely loves plants. The older one was bribed. So they were well-behaved and reasonably patient. But still. While everyone is very nice, this event isn’t really geared towards children and they can easily get bored and feel out of place. As we arrived amongst swathes of octogenarians, I could sense their hearts sank a little, wondering where on earth I had brought them. I didn’t see a single other child apart from mine during the half day we spent there – although maybe I was just too distracted by the plants to notice.
There must have been some few though, for the lovely ladies from the Chelsea Botanical Art School who offered visitors the chance to try their hand at botanical painting – or, more precise, colouring-in – said they had four children attending their workshop that day already. This is what I had bribed my older one with: the chance to paint. Not her usual subject matter, of course, but still the chance to get some advice and tips on how to use water colours.
Moreover, it wasn’t just the older one who wanted to try her hand at it, the little one, too, all of a sudden was adamant he wanted to have a go. He is too young still to understand the difference between water colour and any other paint – and not just in terms of the techniques and subtleties to use them. Crayons and felt-tips are their usual means of drawing... But the ladies were very nice and invited him to join in, too - and that’s despite all places being booked already before we had even arrived to ask.
Later, whilst touchingly tending to my offspring to the point of it seeming like a one-on-one tuition, they told me they always welcome children, love them to participate and encourage – no matter their age and ability. Because at this point, they said, it was about kindling or nurturing an interest rather than anything else. Proficiency wasn’t important, this might come later.
I can’t really blame them. Whilst it would be lovely for more children to see these beautiful flowers and spring displays, a park or perhaps Kew is a better place to take the kids. At that age, subtleties are lost on them. Besides, there were some pretty porcelain cups, vintage crockery and Edwardian flower pots etc. around, too. I wouldn’t want to be the parent whose child knocked one of those stalls over… Also, the amount of care and attention that has gone into rearing the plants and getting them to be at their best in time for the show, then assembling them into well-designed displays – artfully staged each of them, but many looking almost natural – must be enough to get anyone tense and anxious if there were kids “on the loose".
I also find myself wondering whether some of them are not really just monstrosities, devoid of all the charm the single Galanthus nivalis possesses so abundantly. (You can tell I’m no fan of double snowdrops.) However, many of course are simply different species which naturally grow larger, others only differ in their green or yellow markings and display the same gracefulness and daintiness as their humbler siblings. Also, voices against “over-bread” flowers that are too blowsy now [though not directed at snowdrops] are at least a hundred years old – witness e.g. the backlash against the Victorians’ efforts in the writings of William Robinson, Vita Sackville-West and many others.
The bottom line for me is: I neither have the money for these collectors’ flowers - nor would I be willing to part with it for such curiosities. But I’m more than happy to gawp at them :-) .
We all could agree that the flower displays were very beautiful – both by stall holders and in the dedicated “displays”, such as a compact recreation of the winter walk at RHS garden Wisley (see photos at top; their newly published leaflet detailing the most important plants used was readily welcomed) or the floral installations of NAFAS, the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies.
The work of floral artist Zita Elze, current Artist in Residence for the RHS London, it complemented the “whirlwind” installation perfectly. As only a few stalls were set up in the Lindley Hall, these two works of art had room to breathe and were all the more impressive for it. Just fiendishly tricky to capture on camera – especially with dwindling daylight and nothing but a point-and-shoot one to hand. So you have to take my word – rather than the photos – for it and use your own imagination.
You might also enjoy the following posts:
Dope for the flower-starved: from Monet to Matisse
Tropic and not so tropic blooms against the winter gloom
Indoor gardening on the rise, part 2 - and the RHS's Urban Garden Show