Victoria Summerley: Elitist and poisonous – welcome to the world of the herbaceous Borgias

 

Share

Lordy, lordy, and you thought the Chelsea Flower Show was all about flowers, trees and water features. If you believe some of the reports in the papers this week, it's elitist and environmentally poisonous. Talk about herbaceous Borgias.

I never know whether to laugh or cry when I read this sort of thing. Most of the garden designers involved in the show take environmental issues very seriously. Most of the nurserymen and women are struggling to make ends meet. They're not spurred on by filthy lucre – they get their hands dirty not by short-selling or putting their fingers in the till, but while breeding some ravishing new cultivar.

Let's take those claims in reverse order. First, the environment. A group of protesters dressed as giant bees demonstrated outside the showground this week to highlight a new report by Reading University, which says that use of pesticide on crops (crops, note, not gardens) has risen in the past five years. Meanwhile, inside the show, an exhibit by the University of Leeds drew the attention of show visitors to bee-friendly gardening. It was so good it won a gold medal. So much for Chelsea being cast as the poisoner of the planet.

Next up: elitism. This always rears its head at some point, like a particularly pernicious weed, partly because Chelsea is often described as the start of the London Season. In actuality, the number of people attending the Chelsea Flower Show who care about the London Season is probably pretty close to zilch, I reckon. Most of them want to know when to prune their clematis, or how to get their wisteria to flower.

You don't have to pay some vast subscription to go to Chelsea. You don't have to be a member of a particular social stratum, or be an Old Etonian or an Oxbridge graduate.

At the cheaper end of the ticket scale, you can enjoy an evening visit to the show for less than the price of a couple of takeaway pizzas. It doesn't really get more democratic than that.

This afternoon, I'll be working as a volunteer – as I do every year at Chelsea – in the cloakroom, which is run by the gardening charity Plant Heritage. In my years as a volunteer, I have booked in the bags, coats and picnic baskets of all sorts of people – young, old, male, female, Brits, tourists, you name it. I have never come across anyone who seemed remotely posh, or elitist – or poisonous, come to that.

Indeed, most visitors think admission is comparatively good value, given that, for less than the price of a ticket to a Premier League game, they have been able to spend an entire day taking in examples of horticulture that are the best in the world. (You can't say that about English football.)

The trouble with Fleet Street's coverage of the show is that most news reporters are urban, nocturnal creatures who may be familiar with the keys of their BlackBerrys or laptops, but wouldn't know a blade of grass if it hit them in the face. They can't believe that anyone can be genuinely interested in gardening, so they feel a need to spice up their coverage with spurious claims.

The saddest thing about this orgy of denigration is that Britain really is a world leader when it comes to horticulture. Our gardens, and our plant breeders, are among the best in the world, thanks to the combination of a mild maritime climate and a history of expertise that goes back centuries.

At a time when other sectors are struggling in a harsh economic climate, the UK gardening industry is buoyant, with a turnover of more than £5bn a year, fuelled by an increased interest in the environment and the role of gardens in maintaining habitats, and the grow-your-own movement. There are even job vacancies – 11,000 of them.

Yet there is a kind of Britannic malaise that spreads across any homegrown success story like powdery mildew. We seem incapable of patting ourselves on the back – it's far more cool to sneer. The politics of envy – that's what is really poisoning Britain.

v.summerley@independent.co.uk

Twitter: @VBackyard

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever