One of the things I admire most about the Brits is their love and support for public and private gardens. Their parks are outstanding and ubiquitous. Big British cities like London bear no resemblance to our American urban centers for lots of reasons. The age of the architecture matters, but one of the other things that is starkly different is the prevalence of public green space. A walk through London inevitably and invariably takes the walker through one public garden or another. Gorgeous formal plantings provide resplendent swaths of color. Wide-open spaces with walkways and waterways make room for children and adults of every age to walk, run, bike or scooter with reckless abandon. It’s a glorious thing.
We have flower shows in the US but putting them in the same category as British flower shows is a bit like serving Velveeta on a platter with Gruyere. Michael Pollan and I think the former would best be employed as floor tile. I’m certain that the two products have similar chemical compositions, and I’m not much for eating floor tile, at least not if there are other options available.
In 2009 we missed the Hampton Court Flower Show by a single day. I was not going to make the same mistake twice. On opening day 2010 my nephew, my flower loving children and I made our way to King’s Cross to take the train from London to Hampton Court. Not an expert on Hampton Court nor on British trains, I noted that our car was a tad crowded, but didn’t think too much about it. The train was bustling at the first stop, but by the time we pulled into Hampton Court Station it was mobbed. We exited the train along with half the population of southern England and made our way with the horde to the gates of the Flower Show. In the US you only see such crowds for Presidential Inaugurations or clearance sales at Walmart – certainly not to gaze wistfully at daffodils. Passing through the gates to get in took nearly an hour, with a brief detour to negotiate with a splendid British Steward who was convinced I would lose my children inside the grounds (I didn’t – never have – but perhaps the other American tourists he’s encountered have a propensity to discard their offspring like so much unwanted litter). He put wristbands on the boys with my British mobile number emblazoned in purple Sharpie. This was not a bad plan since none of us had managed to memorize the 47-digit prime number that was necessary to successfully dial my “mobile.” I continue to find it mysterious that they need that many digits. The whole country has the population of Rhode Island or Delaware, or one of the other smallish states whose license plates never seem to roll by when we’re on a road trip playing the license plate game in the US. In any case, with a good random number generator you’d think that the whole thing could be handled with 7 or 8 digits, not the 36 that they seem to need.
Armed with excellent wristbands and a massive map we entered flower wonderland. The wait was worth it. The Hampton Court Flower show is massive. Giant white tents dot the landscape – each one filled with plants more beautiful and awesome than the last. The open-air areas include all sorts of “outdoor rooms” built by large corporations ranging from banks to tractor companies. Proper Brits by the thousands walked quietly past the outdoor rooms admiring the amazing plantings, products and handiwork. Everything you’d ever want for your garden and lots of things you never imagined existed were for sale, from water fountains to seeds, to tools, to landscape design services. The kids and I could easily have stayed a week, or comfortably moved in. We did see a number of discarded American children, but I keep mine safely by my side knowing that trashing them was out of the question. They finally had my phone number.Print This Post