Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sunshine, show gardens and winds of change

So, there I was, thinking that this week would be a gentle wind-down to my long-anticipated holiday.
I'm heading for the United States of America on Sunday, with my daughter, who is recovering from glandular fever, and we are spending a week at Miami Beach.
I would say the aim is to chill, but in fact the aim is to get away from the chill (in London) and hopefully find some sunshine (in Florida).
So have I packed? No. Have I stocked up on sun cream? No. Have I unearthed my swimsuit? No.
Have I stayed up until 2am writing pieces about gardening, or left the office at midnight after a busy day? Yup.
Still, it's been fun. I wrote a piece for Anne Wareham's website, Thinkingardens, about the forum I attended on Monday at the invitation of the Royal Horticultural Society. This was reviewing the rules concerning the judging of show gardens, and it was fascinating.
The RHS was looking for feedback on issues that its own committees had found difficulty in resolving, so the audience was composed of interested parties in the form of judges, designers, plantspeople, and the gardening media. You can read my piece here.
There's already been quite a bit of reaction to this, so before everyone gets too excitable, I would like to make a few things clear.
First, I am not criticising the judges. I have no quarrel with them whatsoever. Some are even friends of mine.
Second, I am not criticising the RHS. My point was to suggest that, while the RHS was looking at making changes, it might like to make public the judges' comments on why each garden was given a particular award. This was not because I personally think there is any skulduggery going on. I just think it would be interesting.
Third, a lot of people seem to be very sceptical about the RHS - "it'll never change, it will always be run by gents in panama hats and ladies who lunch" seems to be a common theme. Well, it is changing. Not a howling wind of change, exactly - but a cool, gentle breeze is gently wafting through the Horticultural Halls.
The RHS was under no obligation to hold a forum on Monday. In the old days, it would have sent out a couple of closely typed sheets of paper on the subject - which we'd all have thrown in the bin.
I didn't have to wear a false moustache and a hat pulled well down over my face in order to get into Monday's forum. No, I was invited - AFTER I told the press office that I was writing a piece for Anne's website.
Indeed, I wore a down jacket with faux-fur trimmed hood - as did just about every other woman there. It caused a lot of confusion on the coat rails afterwards, as designer Sara Eberle can testify ...
OK, that's enough of being sober and responsible. All through Monday's forum, the sight of the RHS judges huddled together at the front of the hall nagged at me. It reminded me of something - and it was only hours later, after I'd got home, that I remembered what it was. The painting by Rembrandt of The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp.
James Alexander-Sinclair referred to them during the forum as Statler and Waldorf, the two grumpy old men from The Muppet Show. There was a whiff of Burghers of Calais (the sculpture by Rodin) about them too. Were you there? Have a look. See what you think.