RHS: The End and Goodbye

Big Friendly Giant
Big Friendly Giant

I had already decided that this would be my last visit to the RHS Cardiff Flower Show. My first visit some years ago, left me thinking it could be better; then it did get better (well David Domoney wasn’t shoved in your face on posters and in person). Last  year I thought it went down around the edges again and this year didn’t disappoint: the decline continues. Although I’ve seen lots of praise on Twitter, I’ve realised, from talking to a number of others, that I’m not alone in coming to a critical conclusion. 

I’ve also ended my membership of the RHS. If you want to know why, here’s a link to a discussion about the benefits – or lack thereof – of being a member. Instead, I’ve joined the Hardy Plant Society. Much more friendly. Things actually happen all through the year. It costs a fraction of RHS membership and its publications are far more informative. I spend more time reading one edition of its Journal than I’ve spent reading a year’s-worth of “The Garden“. AND NO JUNK WITH IT!

And those who visited the show this year got a double – or triple – whammy! The ticket price had gone up a quid. Then the show guide – free in previous years – now cost a quid. Finally the catering prices which, in the past, have been reasonable, have shot up this year. Nearly £5 for a coffee, £2 for a packet of crisps, near on another fiver for a sandwich. And nowhere to sit – I overheard others complaining that they couldn’t sit down with what they’d bought as all the seats were taken by people eating packed lunches they’d brought with them. Looking around, I could see their point! I even saw one group cracking open the cans of beer they’d brought. Sensible people given that a pint on-site was nearly a fiver.

RHS Cardiff GuideOh, and if you’re going to charge a quid for a show guide, PROOF-READ THE BLOODY THING! What rhymes with map? CRAP! And that’s what the show map at the back of the guide is.

A lot of thought clearly went into preparing the text. Chances are that, unless you were in the pre-10-am queue, you bought your guide inside the showground. Even if you were in the queue, you were already there. So this important announcement on page 9 (if you read it before leaving the show) was definitely sound advice:


Eeeek! You’re already there with your sample of plant! What do you do? Surreptitiously drop it on the ground hoping no-one notices? Or own up and wait till someone calls the bomb-disposal squad to contain this dangerous specimen that could infest the thousands of plants on sale with some incurable ailment? Better late than never, I suppose. And, of course, as soon as you bought your guide you would have stood still and read it from cover to cover before venturing beyond the entrance, oblivious to the blockage you were causing.

Question to the RHS: What’s the bloody point of including a warning in something that, by the time anyone is going to read it, will be too late? Please, it’s a joke! If we send our show guides back to you, will you refund our quids? And maybe next year, will you sell an A4 sheet with the map on one side and a list on the other? The list can be anything you like. What about the latest top 20 singles? That’ll be about as much use as your show guide this year.

I’m going to set you a little test, I think. Tests can be fun things. Here’s a link to one page of the show guide. It’ll open in a new window. And here’s a link to the map that’s at the back of the guide. Again, it’ll open in a new window so you can jump around between this page, the guide and the map.

The page image is of the “Family Fun” page of the guide. You’ll have noticed that the page refers to a number of show features which should be fun for the whole family:

  • There’s the Danny the Champion of the World gypsy caravan at location A30
  • There’s the Tree Climbing Team at location A5
  • There’s the Owl Sanctuary at location A39
  • And there’s the Give Nature a Home show feature (whoops, they forgot to add the location and the proof readers didn’t pick that up). Though if you bought a copy of the guide, the information can be found on another page.

You’ll notice that nowhere on the map are any numbers preceded by the letter A. The guide also uses prefixes B and C, among others.  but these don’t appear on the map, nor are they explained anywhere in the guide. But you can ignore them as they don’t mean anything to the average show visitor.

So, your test is to find locations 30, 5 and 39.

If you bought a guide, you might like to try an additional test. You mustn’t cheat. Only use the guide to get the answers.

  • What is at location 1a? (This location is on the right, just below the wheelbarrows as you look at the map).
  • Why, do you think, do the craft stalls (Craft Market) and produce stalls (Farmers Market) have much more space around them than the plant stalls?
  • What happened to FM2/13?
  • What’s at location 59?

And I noticed that a number of stands in the floral marquees were smaller than last year (when many were smaller than the year before). Outside, annual plants were mixed with perennials on many of the trade stands: confusing to many. The over-priced tat, sorry craft, area was still there (and was one part of the showground where you actually had room to move). The temporary paving again ended part way up the row of show gardens (fortunately there had been no recent heavy rain to create a wheelchair wheel swallowing quagmire).  Indeed, I saw a number of people tripping on that temporary paving – bolt heads, gaps.

I know this is a temporary showground and there are limits but it is definitely not wheelchair-friendly and woe-betide someone who happens to be navigating the queues in front of a wheelchair. I don’t blame those using the electric wheelchairs or those pushing non-powered ones for the number of times the backs of my ankles got whacked! They were still painful a day later (and I won’t post a pic of the scar on one!). The metalled pathways need to be twice as wide, achievable by re-imagining the space around the non-plant areas. It doesn’t require a PhD in crowd control to realise that people want to browse the plant stalls before buying something. So why is there three times as much space around a stall selling jewellery than there is around a plant stall? This is, after all, a flower show.

And what’s the bloody point of the crap “entertainers” who get hired to wander round scaring the crap out of little children? This year we seemed to have ducks and idiots in poor animal costumes screaming away for photo opportunities.

The show gardens were far more muted than in previous years. And not that many years ago, it was possible to stroll into one. Now they are roped off, Chelsea style, to be viewed rather than experienced. Somehow the “pizazz” was missing.

This year’s “Alfresco Garden” looked like this:

Alfresco Gallery Garden. Designer Paul Melvin. Sponsor South Wales Turf and Topsoil.
Alfresco Gallery Garden. Designer Paul Melvin. Sponsor South Wales Turf and Topsoil.

A building, a bit of planting. OK. But compare with Victoria Wade’s best in show/gold effort last year:

Barbecue on the left; kitchen sink at the back. Even comes with its own photographer.
Barbecue on the left; kitchen sink at the back. Even comes with its own photographer.

No competition there!

Yep, they are sharp!
Yep, they are sharp!

The wheelbarrow competition, usually a real highlight for me, was, this year, a let-down in my view. It had a theme this year, like the show, – Roald Dahl’s centenary. There seemed to be extremes: on the one hand barrows with bugger all in them and on the other barrows crammed over-full of anything that was available to cram them with. You can vote for your favourite barrow. I had to choose between two which actually had some evidence that the children had played a part in making them. There was one barrow with shards of CDs making teeth. Yes I did gingerly press a finger to the teeth. I hope no children were harmed in the making of that particular barrow. Indeed I doubt they were let anywhere near it for fear of injury and a court case!

So did anything serve to change my mind about never darkening the doors of this show again? Definitely not.

Did I, once again, buy loads of plants that I probably have nowhere to plant? Nope. I had planned to buy 8 plants. I bought those 8 plants. I might have been tempted to buy others if I could have got close to look but fat chance of that, though I did manage a little squeeze of a very soft lily bulb. I also came away with a number of non-plant items, every one of which was on a list of intended purchases. Coffee and sandwich aside, I didn’t spend a single penny more than I planned to spend. In fact I spent £2.50 less because something wasn’t in stock on one of the trade stands. And saved another tenner because I was given an unexpected show discount on a purchase that I would have happily made at full price.

But now I’m no longer a member of the RHS old-boys-club; I will no longer get a mass of junk mail (never read as I unwrap and shake over the paper recycling bin) with the monthly magazine “The Garden” (which usually ends up in the same recycling bin about 10 minutes later); I will no longer have to bemoan the fact that, living here in Wales as I do, I’d need a second mortgage to get to any of the RHS Gardens; I can buy the May edition of Gardeners’ World magazine for a tenth of the RHS subscription and get 2-for-1 admission to most, if not all, the RHS Partner Gardens (where I’d only get 1 freebie as an RHS member and whoever’s with me would have to pay full price which is sort of 2-for-1 isn’t it?) and given that I think the Cardiff show is poor value for money already, there’s no way I’m going to fork out the additional non-RHS-member amount to get a ticket. And don’t mention that aberration that’s Chelsea!

But I’d like to divert from the negatives for a bit to praise the staff of Cardiff Council’s events team. They could not have been more professional, friendly and helpful. It was Cardiff Council staff who scanned your tickets when you arrived, who cheerfully wrapped the “I want to come back” wrist bands around your arm, who shared a joke, who never failed to smile, who’d engage in a bit of cheerful banter. It was a Cardiff Council chap who said “Hi” as I walked from the car park through Bute Park before the show opened, the same Cardiff Council chap who said “Hi” as I walked back to the car with my first lot of purchases and the same chap who remembered me as I walked back to the car with my second lot. These “on the ground” people are the face of the Council, not the Councillors and behind-the-scenes bosses or the chain-wearing mayoralty who wandered around with the suit-wearing entourage following at a respectful distance. And, as usual, they did the Council proud. Even a chap who was navigating through the camellias picking litter gave me a “Hi” as I passed.

And I hadn’t realised how tall Toby Buckland is! I got a “Hi” from him too, as did lots of others as they wandered around. Didn’t see Monty Don at all but as, in my mind, he rates only marginally higher than that Domoney chap, that wasn’t a loss.

Oh,and finally……

Dear RHS. There seems to be a pervasive feeling amongst the businesses of central Cardiff, well the pubs that clean their outside space at least, that the so-called gardeners who visit your show don’t give a monkey’s cuss for the environment. I know complaints have been made by members of the public about the rubbish. The amount of rubbish in the central area of Cardiff that was clearly show-related was embarrassing to me! The impression is that gardeners don’t care. Or is it a case that too many visitors to the show aren’t gardeners? That it’s a show? A day out? Hang on, I’m a gardener. I won’t be going next year. But I bet there will be enough non-gardeners, show goers, rubbish droppers, that I won’t be missed. But this crass disregard for the environment is actually another reason why I won’t go again. I DON’T WANT TO BE ASSOCIATED, BY IMPLICATION, WITH RUBBISH!

So, for me, the RHS is history. And I hope the person to whose question about which way to plant a lily bulb I responded “shove it in the ground pointy side down” will forgive my frustration. Right then, I’ll let the camera take over. As usual, click a pic to open it up big and then click your browser’s back button to return here.

The Show Gardens

My usual approach is to dash through the showground to get to the show gardens before the crowds appear. And I usually take several photos of each to get a full picture. This year, a single photo of each seemed enough. And I needn’t have rushed. I could have got the same photos quite easily a couple of hours later.

Some of the Floral Displays in the Marquees

I got to wondering whether visitor numbers were down. I’ve never before been able to get any decent photographs of the marquee displays because of the crowds oohing and aahing in front of them. Though, as usual, the exhibitors did a great job. Often, it’s not just the staging of the display but also getting the plants they’re displaying to bloom at the right time. This is a skill which I often think is not appreciated by the “punters”. I just hope that their takings justified the effort, and the cost of renting their space. If too many more join the “it’s no longer worth it for us” brigade, these shows will become a thing of the past.

The Wheelbarrows:

This was my favourite. Merely because there was visible evidence that children had made a contribution rather than oohing and aahing as teacher did what teacher does.


But here’s a selection of the rest. There was a clever take on the Cadbury purple among them.

And …..

Nothing at all to do with the show but I saw this frog in the park as I walked around. Couldn’t resist sharing with you.

A wonderful bit of carving. I want one!
A wonderful bit of carving. I want one!

6 thoughts on “RHS: The End and Goodbye

  1. How have I missed this post, this is a perfect example of why I like your blogs.

    I’ve never made it to the Cardiff show from here in the East Mids, and I doubt I ever will.
    But your description of your day sounds just like my experience’s at many other shows. Chelsea, Hampton, Tatton. I’ve also noticed along with many other gardening/blogging pals that the RHS are instigating many changes, and certainly not for the better. Its like they have become an event management company.

    And next year they launch RHS Chatsworth Show.!

    1. I’ve sort of felt an obligation to go to the Cardiff show – the “use it or lose it” thing. But I’ve never been the least bit tempted by Hampton Court, Malvern and definitely not by Chelsea and I won’t bother with Cardiff again. I would have thought the Devonshires were enterprising enough to organise a show without the interference of the RHS whose primary aim seems now to be to make money, gardening ibeing third or fourth in their priority list.

  2. I agree with everything you say, but you forgot to report the full-blast ear-splitting amplified live music at lunchtime directed straight into the eating/sitting area, 1950s/early60s rock style which was actually quite good but FAR too loud and totally inappropriate for a restful lunch break.
    I was one of the people bringing my own sarnies after the previous years’ bought experiences.
    They had actually reduced the number of available seats – previous years they had wooden picnic tables and benches.

    1. You should have been there earlier. I thought there was a cat in agony near a microphone! And the cacophony was not only right by the eating/sitting area, it was also right by the show gardens!

      Still, I suppose they must entertain all the non-gardeners somehow. Or maybe they were trying to dissuade all the people who brought their own food and deprived those of us who paid for the over-priced stuff on sale of the ability to sit to eat it.

      I was ok, though, as the over-sized wads of inedible wilted spinach in my egg mayo sandwiches (£4.60) made nice ear plugs.

    1. II doubt you have a convenient bus service so you’re forgiven.

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