Dear Sir Simon Hornby: A gardener of taste advises the new president of the Royal Horticultural Society to weed out 'tacky telly celebs' from the Chelsea Flower Show

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Lovely lunch on Monday - but then I always have a good time on Chelsea press day. This is chiefly because, as you said in your elegant speech, gardening folk are so much nicer than other people: you were even good enough to include gardening journalists in that encomium.

I hope this letter isn't going to dissuade you from that opinion in this, your first year as president of the Royal Horticultural Society. But I don't think I'm the only one to detect signs that the Chelsea Flower Show, that linchpin of the London season, could be getting well, a little naff.

We were all surprised, as I think you were, to see what had been done to the lunch marquee. The usual chaste white tarpaulin had been lined in black and lit by tawdry chandeliers like a sleazy night-club. In the same vein, a hoo-ha has blown up over a 'sex garden'.

Most years there's a 'row' concocted for the media - but even this seems to be slipping in tone. Last year's was something to do with gnomes; this year we had allegations that exhibitors cheat by showing other growers' plants.

Worst of all are the stunts devised by exhibitors in the hope of getting pictures of their stands into the papers. The first thing I saw on Monday was the actress Diana Quick donning a ludicrous three-tiered topiary hat designed by David Shilling. And this for the normally staid National Trust.

Esther Rantzen wolfed a sunflower from the edible garden sponsored jointly by Safeway and, more appropriately, the St John Ambulance Brigade. 'Esther ate my sunflower' may not be as nauseating as Freddie Starr and his hamster, but it is not far off. The point is that, to judge from a quick read of yesterday's papers, no such headlines appeared. Nor did the pictures. The stunts didn't bear fruit.

Old-time celebrities abounded. The former England soccer captain Billy Wright (remember the shorts that went down to his knees?) was naming a rose that sports the Wolverhampton Wanderers colours. His wife, Joy, one of the Beverley Sisters, rushed down from a singing engagement in Abergavenny - but in vain, because I saw no picture of them, either. Nor of the naturalist David Bellamy, the weatherman Bill Giles, or the actors Mollie Sugden and Frank Thornton from Are You Being Served?

I know you, sir, to be a man of sensibility and good taste. When you were chairman of WH Smith, the firm was notorious for its refusal to stock anything the slightest bit tacky. You have always been hot on market research and you must recognise that in allowing press day to become a Mecca for telly celebs you are aiming for the wrong audience. Chelsea patrons watch BBC 2, not Sky One. In any case, what is the point if nobody uses the pictures?

As you begin your term as RHS president, now is the time for a steadying hand. Let's have more show, less showbiz.

Yours in gumboots and green eyeshade,

Michael Leapman

(Photograph omitted)

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