Virginia Barton

22 May 2014: Chelsea


22 May 2014


In paradise, I suppose, it rains conveniently, at night, or during one’s nap. Flowers never fade, and neither blackspot nor canker blight the roses. Muntjac find fodder other than my aquilegia — in fact, with luck, they’ve been banned altogether.

In paradise, slugs, snails and other what Nick King refers to in his splendid translation of the Pentateuch as creepie crawlies, know that their diet need not include my begonias and hostas. Once upon a time Eden was organic; then Lucifer barged in and ruined everything. But we gardeners try again and again to replicate paradise in our individual way; much as the exile tries again and again to recreate “The old ways just as they used to be.”




The Miltonian imagery is brought on by the Chelsea Flower Show, now in full swing. Only the elite or the very hardy should attempt a visit. It’s a killer: akin to visiting a sumptuous art gallery – so much to see one just doesn’t know where to look. Art galleries, exhibitions, country houses, cathedrals and the like, leave me numb and dumb searching wildly for tea-rooms or exits. Mind you, I DID see a fabulous bed of trillium at Chelsea, the flower of Ontario, I believe, its impossible whiteness rivalled only by a white butterfly orchid. Do people actually grow those lovelies outside specialist gardens?

When BH showed me Paris one glorious spring, we moved gently from one pavement cafe to another, absorbing atmosphere rather than artefacts. The glory of Versailles was the gardener’s little bistro, probably the least known eating place in all France. It had neither stars, rosettes, nor a mention in Gault et Millau or Michelin; but we ate there like all the Kings Louis put together. Sensibly, the gardeners (like us) spent about four hours over lunch and put away several carafes of vin ordinaire.

Halcyon, carefree ‘Sixties!


Two days ago a friend gave me a posy of roses fresh picked from her garden. The dew was still on them and their fragrance filled the flat. They say (rightly) it’s the thought that counts but what about the deed? My friend is rarely seen without an armful of flowers for her friends – wonderfully generous, God bless her.

Unfortunately I take after my late mother’s surly old wartime gardener. Whenever she asked for flowers for the house, he invariably replied that there was nothing ready, the roses had rotted on the stems or the rabbits had got everything.

I’m so mean I would rather BUY flowers for friends (or the church) than pick my own. What an admission. No wonder so many of my garden plants are devastated by creepie crawlies.



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