RHS Cardiff Show 2014

A combination of a sunny day, some old friends and some new ones contributed to my visit to the 2014 RHS Cardiff Show being an enjoyable experience.

To be honest, after a somewhat less enjoyable 2013 show, I had originally decided to give 2014 a miss but, in the end, I was glad I went as it was much better than in previous years.

I’ll skip over the trade stands around the field: a mix of plant, food and crafts, other than to say that I, and several others with whom I chatted, felt that the quality of plants on sale “in the open air” was rather poor this year. Those on sale in the two floral marquees, although more expensive, were of noticeably higher quality.

I did also wonder how we were supposed to get home with a “take home tub of ice cream” still frozen.

One thing I do like about the Cardiff Show is that the show gardens are usually attainable by the ordinary person. Anyone with a normal (fairly small) garden and budget could replicate at least a few of them. Try doing that with a Chelsea show garden! A little known fact is that whilst the Chelsea gardens attract tens of thousands of pounds in sponsorship, those at Cardiff may attract a small grant from the RHS but, in general, are self-funded. The time available to build them is also measured more in hours than in weeks!

The Show Gardens

Wales in Bloom

This little garden was deliberately designed to fit into a small garden area with a summerhouse, spring flowers, some shrubs and a small water feature.

I’m not sure about the legs though. And the judges may not have been sure either as they didn’t award this garden a medal.

As show gardens go, this is definitely not showy. But that’s as intended and I did like its simplicity.

Incidentally, to view any pic in this post in a larger format, click it. Then click the browser’s back button to get back to the post.

A Taste of Things to Come

This garden grew out of a partnership between the Heronsbridge and Bryn Castell Schools and represents an allotment scene in the Ukraine. The building is a traditional sauna where the whole family would relax after their day of planting.

I liked the fact that children in the schools were actively involved in making this garden. I guess the judges liked it too as they awarded it a silver medal.

China Tea

This garden, designed by Sue Thomas, celebrates Cardiff’s twin Chinese city Xiamen. I wonder how many people realise that, as well as giving the world tea, China was also the origin of what has become the quintisential British pursuit of gardening!

The water, bridge and tea house are some of the traditional Chinese features in the garden. I didn’t warm to this garden but it also gained a silver medal.

 A Norwegian Garden in Wales

Last year, Victoria Wade took the honours at the Cardiff Show. This year she could only manage a silver-gilt medal which, I thought, was a little unfair.

Celebrating the city’s links with another twinned city, this time Hordaland in Norway, with the countryside in that area being reflected in the mossy stones, vegetation, pools and birch trees. The pavilion has a “green” roof and the pathways, made with reclaimed granite setts, are reminiscent of the cobbled streets of Bergen. Even with many people milling around, this garden exuded peace and tranquility.


Dwr Cymru/Welsh Water commissioned this garden from a team of designers to demonstrate how homeowners can manage the rain water that  falls onto their property.

Well I visited this garden three times during the day and guess that each visit co-incided with a “staff” tea break. I am none the wiser about what each bit of the garden is supposed to achieve. The judges must have been more fortunate and visited in between tea breaks as they gave the garden a bronze medal.

A Woodland Garden: Esmor’s JCB Wheels of Fortune Marathon

OK, this garden was promoting a charity fund-raiser as Esmore Davies drives a new JCB from John O’Groats to Lands End to raise funds for a garden being build at Blind Veterans UK’s centre in Llandudno. For me, it was a rather overpowering JCB . That it managed to get a gold medal (the only one awarded to a show garden) was presumably down to someone hiding the JCB when the judges were walking around.

To be fair, though, the non-JCB part of the garden was peaceful and looked woodlandy. And it’s particularly nice to know that, following the show, the garden will move to a permanent location within Cardiff’s Bute Park.

Theatre of Learning

JCB to the left warning!

Bridgend College are a regular show garden exhibitor at Cardiff and usually come up with something very original. This year they teamed up with another show regular, Cardiff City Council.

The resulting garden is the culmination of a process whereby students at the college produced various designs and endeavoured to sell them to a team of Council experts. The winning design in that process was then built by a joint College/Council team.

I thought the result was a very clinical design that looked ok as a clean, white construction. But weathering will ruin it for me. So impractical as far as I’m concerned, despite being capable of fitting into a small garden space and winning a bronze medal.

Two Other Show Gardens

There were two other show gardens on the site. One was by Cardiff Council’s Ranger Service. I missed it altogether as it was hidden away in a corner behind the wheelbarrows (more about the Schools’ Wheelbarrow Competition later) amongst the so-called heavily overcrowded “Family Area” from which I was sort of forcibly guided into one of the floral marquees by the general press of people. The judges gave it a silver medal though.

The second “other” show garden was located in the middle of the site and comprised a large wooden structure with seating around the inside and a central planted feature, surrounded on the outside by a series of raised beds planted with various fruit trees herbs and edible plants. By the time I reached it, it had become an overflow seating area for the performance stand and Pimms sellers. Indeed, it looked more like a trade stand selling expensive furniture than a show garden: perhaps because people were allowed in! I am always uncomfortable with photographing unsuspecting people for this blog so didn’t take a pic of it. But I liked the layout and, if I had a suitable space, would have certainly considered buying one had one been for sale.

And the judges must have liked it too as they awarded a silver-gilt medal.

The Wheelbarrows

The schools’ wheelbarrow competition has become a focal point of the show since its launch a few years ago. By “focal point” I mean that it supposedly encourages very young gardeners and so, from its original position in the centre of the show, spaced out to afford space to meander around, it is now compressed into a corner near the entrance.  Turns are tight and I noticed a few people having problems maneuvering electric wheelchairs around.

I encountered a different problem: there’s an opportunity to vote for the best wheelbarrow (more later). So you join the caterpillar winding its way around. Then (unless you’re voting for “your” school) you need to go back to the start and follow the caterpillar round again to drop your voting token into the appropriate box.

When it comes to voting, I look for two things: an attractive display and, perhaps more importantly, evidence that the children have actually had some part in making the barrow. Cynical I may be but some stood out (as every year) as made by teachers with an appreciative audience of children.

Some examples:

Teacher’s writing here
And what did the children do here?
Children’s writing or clever teacher? Somehow this looks more like children’s work.
I wonder! Look closely – perhaps not quite perfect enough to be teacher only?
Did children drop the little pebbles in the middle?

I’d really like to see more evidence of the wheelbarrows actually being made by children. Perhaps the rules could be that the empty wheelbarrow is brought to the site and filled by children under supervision from show staff? And please can someone allocate more space so that we have (a) time to look without having to move with the flow and (b) the opportunity to vote properly?


Every year, some bright spark engages some mobile entertainers to, well, entertain. They usually come in pairs. In the last couple of years, they’ve been rather “large” and tend to block the walkways. This year, I think (I say “I think” because “I think” I came across them) we had two people walking around with binoculars and inadequate amplifier thingies mounted on their belts. They seemed to be announcing that someone had some sort of look. I was standing a foot away when they made one of their pronouncements; I would have laughed my head off if I lacked any modicum of intelligence. Actually, probably not. I’ve never seen anyone, old or young, react positively to these mobile thingies. Save some money!

Please keep up the good work of avoiding any display of images of David Domoney promoting gardening David Domoney. Didn’t see any this year. Happy!

Remember that all visitors might like to see  show gardens. If it rains, ground gets muddy and difficult for wheelchairs (not just the electric ones but the many manual ones that I saw being pushed around). Wheelchair users have enough inconsideration to cope with as it is (Heaven forbid that some people give way and deign to step sideways off one of the walkways to let a wheelchair through!). I always think it odd that the “tracks” stop before the show gardens.

But ………..

Overall I’m glad I went. The 2014 show was, for me at least, a significant improvement on 2013.

But that may be because the noise from the performance stand was less this year!  I’m not sure what the relevance of that is. If Cardiff Council follow through with their proposal to reduce the sponsorship funding for the show (part of the local government funding cuts) then that stand could disappear without detriment to the show. It’s loss might even be an improvement!