Behind the scenes at RHS show, Tatton

Gardening expert Sue Beesley takes us behind the scenes at the fabulous RHS show at Tatton

Searching through my picture library for garden photographs in July, I found I had almost none.  After a bit of head scratching the answer came to me - RHS Tatton Show!  Each July for the past three years I’ve left the nursery and garden in the safe hands of others while I dash around the north west in search of materials and plants, then create and reveal a garden at the north’s premier horticultural show.  No wonder my own plot gets ignored!

So, as a change from my usual column I thought you might enjoy a behind-the-scenes peek at the art and graft (mostly graft!) of show gardening.  

The starting point is always an idea, a central theme for your garden.  My first theme was about the pleasure of shade in the garden, the second was a tribute to gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd and last year’s was an office garden.  This year’s garden is called ‘A Banquet for the Birds’ which should give you a big hint about the topic...  You put your idea in writing (a ‘brief’), apply to the RHS for a space and keep your fingers crossed!

The bigger gardens have specialist contractors and all the plants are bought in.  But at the smaller end, it’s usually a hands-on effort by family and friends with favours pulled in all round.  My father-in-law built the fence surrounding my first garden, I borrowed a large banana tree from Arley Hall for our second garden, and my design partner Isabelle lent us a sculpture from her own garden last year. We also grow almost all the plants we need at the nursery - and that’s the really tricky bit.

Persuading a reluctant plant into flower in time is a real headache. Does it need more sun, more heat, more feed, a bigger pot, dead-heading?  You would think someone would have written a manual by now, but no, we all just use our experience to date and otherwise guess and grow twice as many as we need.

So, the eight days of building, digging, painting, planting and preening come to an end and the feared judges arrive.  What do they look for? The big question they ask themselves is, have you fulfilled  your brief? 

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If you nail the brief, have perfect plants and finish your garden off with precision, you’re in with a chance of that elusive gold medal. I haven’t achieved it yet, but then, I don’t do it for the medals - I do it for the challenge and for the pleasure of sharing my love of gardening with the appreciative visitors to Tatton Show.  See you there!

Sue Beesley was runner up in the BBC’s Gardener of the Decade and is the owner of Lodge Lane nursery and Bluebell Cottage Gardens in Dutton, Cheshire. Check out her website

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