As the Chelsea Flower Show reveals every year, it is very human to seek the solace that comes with growing things
Imagine, if you will, arriving in Britain from another planet, or even from another country, and attempting to understand, as an anthropologist might, the locals’ obsession with horticulture. Is there anywhere else in the world where the panellists of a weekly radio advice show about raising plants and vegetables – BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time – are greeted like rock stars by their live audiences? The questions posed to the experts, indeed, often seem like so much more than requests for pruning advice. What existential sadness is concealed in the soul of the person who asks about their never-flowering myrtle? What roiling passions lurk in the breast of the man who every year tries, and ever fails, to grow bigger pumpkins than his rival on the allotments? When Bob Flowerdew, Pippa Greenwood and the other, only slightly less suitably named experts dispense advice, there frequently seems to be rather more at stake than peat-free compost and slug deterrence.
The Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, open to the public and covered on , is another efflorescence of the British relationship with tending gardens. The event has its grandeur and pomposity and ridiculous flirtation with celebrity, but in reality, it is only like a magnificently pumped-up version of a local fete or produce show, with gold and silver-gilt medals standing in for the rosettes.