Yesterday, I visited the final day of the inaugural RHS Urban Garden Show. Knowing it was targeted towards a cooler, metropolitan, gardening-is-the-new-black demographic, I donned my coolest trainers before ambling towards Victoria. I envisaged a dimly-lit room of wall-to-wall beards, quirky eyewear, scarves, tattoos, skinny girls with asymmetrical haircuts wearing stripes and Apple watches and chipped metallic nail varnish – on both sexes. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see an elderly couple with their young granddaughter ahead of the me in the queue to get in. Yes, a queue. To get in.
The entrance to the event in the beautiful glass-ceilinged Lindley Hall was through a grove of enormous palms and ferns – this sat well with the Edwardian architecture and combined with large, still pools of dark water in corten steel ‘ponds’ gave a distinctly jungle feel. ‘Urban jungle’ reference, tick. The light, elegant space of the hall was bustling with people – pleasingly of all ages and races, with and without beards. On sale were herbs, seeds, bulbs and succulents galore. The RHS stand sold its usual gardening books, gifts, diaries, cards and toiletries. Seedlip served served delicious non-alcoholic cocktails. Make proffered steaming coffee. The Inkspot Brewery (a microbrewery based in a Victorian garden in Streatham) provided beer and there were four stands serving delicious vegan cakes, curries and street food.
There were posters up advising people to use the hashtag #urbangardenshow on their social media pictures of the event and thus be in with a chance of winning £25 worth of retail vouchers. And there really were plenty of opportunities to take pretty pictures. The design of the show and that of the stands was clearly paramount. Appealing to design-conscious urbanites of all ages, especially those (like myself) welded to their iPhones and besotted by Instagram.
The show was small (and thus a little crowded) and had the atmosphere of a cool, carefully curated village fete – people sat on bright red metal garden furniture nibbling gluten-free cakes and veggie curries or walked around sipping craft beer or artisan coffee, contorting themselves to get the perfect angle for their Instagram cactus pic and then chatting happily to strangers next to them about herbs. A group of thirty-to-fortysomething women in the corner were making pretty flower crowns and then cheerfully modelled them for a myriad more Instagram snaps. The elderly couple from the queue told me they had bought Christmas cards, an orange tree and a tiny cactus and some chilli pepper seeds for their granddaughter.
There were workshops on hand-tying seasonal bouquets, building your own terrarium and making macrame plant-hangars. Seminars included the merits of a plant-based diet, green architecture and social media for gardeners. A refreshing mix of right-on and worthy with off-beat and fun.
I had a nice chat with the couple behind the stylish, uber-hip, gardening magazine ‘Rakes Progress‘ that repeatedly pops up on my social media streams. It is perfect for the target demographic of this event and those who aspire to it. And I couldn’t hand over my bank card quickly enough. Fabulous photography and art direction and unique, interesting and insightful copy. It stands out a mile from the rest of the gardening publications and really is a thing of beauty. Even Humphrey my cat thinks so.
I also spoke to one of the guys from the ingenious GardenTags app – a joyous mix of Instagram/plant encyclopaedia for gardeners. I’d been following them on Twitter for a while but not actually downloaded the app. So, persuaded by his cheery patter, I returned home and downloaded the app. And it’s lovely. People sharing pictures of their beloved plants and gardens and offering care tips and advice to other gardeners. When it stops raining here I will be out in my shady little garden photographing some of my plants and uploading them to the database.
The show was charming. And friendly. Down to earth, quirky and definitely with a very different feel to the larger, ‘posher’, more formal RHS shows. Whilst I love succulents and appreciate they are having ‘a moment’, I would have liked to have seen a greater variety of houseplants on offer. And perhaps more containers, pots and planters for those gardeners whose only outside spaces are window ledges, narrow balconies and tiny patios. This minor quibble aside, I look forward to visiting next year and seeing how the RHS develop the show over time. Next year I may pay a visit on the Friday night ‘Late’ session which featured music, low lighting, free-flowing booze and smooching amid the palm trees. Allegedly. What happens at the Urban Garden Show, stays at the Urban Garden Show. Until someone posts it on Instagram…
The Urban Garden Show at the RHS Lindley Hall, SW1 ran from Friday through to Sunday – with late opening on Friday 6-10. RHS members were free. Non-members £6 in advance and £9 on the door.