Any of you who are gardeners will no doubt turn verdant green with envy when you hear that rather than battling with hordes of RHS members and peering over twenty of their backs to catch a glimpse of one corner of a show garden, I spent yesterday wandering in comfort around Chelsea Flower Show, only occasionally touching shoulders with a roster of A, B and C list celebs and even more camera booms and trolleys.
I was, as I do each year, accompanying my old friend Anne Davies to the Chelsea press day. Anne, apart from being a keen gardener, is the RHS consultant on access for the disabled – so we did spend a good deal of time checking out the ‘disabled’ loos. I go because hope springs eternal that one year I will find that just one show garden, cottage garden, urban garden or even display will have taken the needs of allergic gardeners into consideration and will have created a low allergen garden. But no – yet again, not only no garden, but not a mention of allergy anywhere – or if there was it was so discreet as to be effectively invisible.
And yet there are hundreds of thousands of keen gardeners (many of them exhibiting and working at Chelsea!) who spend much of their gardening lives in a fog of puffy, itchy eyes, blocked, sniffly noses, wheezing chests and antihistamines – not to mention those who need to remain totally covered up and gloved to avoid itchy, cracked or peeling skin. Yet they do not need to do so!
There are many, many flowers and plants which do not cause allergic reactions and many ways of designing a garden which will allow hayfever, asthma and eczema sufferers to work it and enjoy it without suffering the endless misery of ongoing allergic reactions. OK – so you may not be able follow every horticultural fashion (so who needs grass in their garden? Grass is for fields!) but there are so many alternatives. Just check out a few of the articles on the Low Allergen Gardening section of the FoodsMatter website for some ideas.
But what entirely baffles me is that, despite the number of pollen etc allergic gardeners, both professional and amateur, and despite the wonderful opportunity that a showcase such as Chelsea would provide, no one is prepared to create an allergen-free show garden.
I have now more or less given up hope but a few years ago I decided to try to do something about it and spent some months over the summer contacting both the RHS and various of the designers who had exhibited that year at Chelsea and floating the idea of an allergen-free show garden. The RHS were friendly and receptive but said that had absolutely no control over what designs were submitted.
Some of the designers I spoke to were quite enthusiastic but felt that the chances of getting funding (a major consideration when planning a show garden as the cost is so high) were negligible. Some of them suffered from hay fever themselves – but when I asked whether they would be keen to have a garden which did not make them ill, they were depressingly negative. ‘Oh well, I suppose so – but I just take the antihistamines. It’s not great but I guess I’m used to it….’
When I suggested that they might have clients who also suffered from hay fever and who might like a garden which did not make them ill, they were quite surprised by the idea and, when they considered it, thought that their clients would rather have a garden with every plant the heart could desire than one which allowed them to breathe freely…. I find that hard to believe, but what do I know…
Meanwhile, this year’s Chelsea show gardens were, I am afraid, just as much of a nightmare for allergen sufferers as they have all been since the fashion for grass took over – although they did look very beautiful… See the Laurent Perrier garden above with its wonderful summerhouse with spinning walls.
However, one personally pleasing (although depressing) aspect of this year’s show was the new enthusiasm for combining vegetables and flowers in your garden. A number of dedicated vegetable gardens had claimed places (including one entirely grown by school children) but the most spectacular was the M & G garden designed by Bunny Guinness. It was filled with raised beds and planters overflowing with spinach and chard,
cabbage, mustard, kale, beans of every type, peppers, squash, courgettes, chervil, sage, fennel, chives, lavender, pelargoniums, roses, tulips….. Wonderful – but very disheartening when I came home to inspect my sad little chard shoots which seemed, if anything, to have got even smaller and weedier since I last looked. I am putting it all down to that cold easterly wind. Now if we just got some nice warm weather…