The Trouble with Flower Shows…


The Trouble with Flower Shows…


What trouble, flowers shows are meant to inspire us, show us how to garden & display amazing plants in wonderful garden settings!

Shows are the pinnacle of horticultural achievement, where they lead we should follow….

Or should we?

Well before all horticulturalists rise up in horror, these shows are not being unceremoniously damned. The fact remains though,  flower shows are not the best way for the average gardener to gain inspiration or indeed purchase plants.

So, what are Flower Shows for?


Shows have one main purpose and that is to get us, the general public to buy stuff. They are a large colourful horticultural supermarket disguised as a horticultural competition sited in a floribundant marquee. We flock in our best dressed thousands, to see who wins gongs and awards. We partake in all the glory of the show gardens, infused by the scents of the ammassed displays of flowers and it’s lovely.

Take a more pragmatic viewpoint though and behind every scented bloom is a price tag offering a 3 for 2 deal or a special show discounted price.

Sanguisorbia Hakusanensis ‘Lilac Squirrel’ if you want to know!

Exhibitors have paid thousands (in some cases) to be at the show and it costs vast amounts of money to stage one , feature gardens are ridiculously expensive to create – so the show itself has to make a profit for everyone or there’s no point in running one.

Flower shows are primarily there for trade.

Flower show gardens and displays are simply the means by which horticulturalists entice the general public to the show – and once surrounded by beautiful plants, we quickly succumb to the temptation to purchase all manner of things horticultural.

Now, there is nothing wrong with this at all, but what happens is this. We walk around the displays and see a plant that looks lovely & buy it. Walk around a bit more and see another one that catches the eye….& buy that one too.

Pretty soon, you’ve spent a fair amount on an eclectic collection of plants. Once home the problem that normally arises is where to put them. So you tend to pop the plants in any old gap in the garden and hope for the best!

It’s an easy way to make an expensive mistake.

Who are Flower Shows really for then?



This is a much more loaded question but does it really matter, well yes it does. Esteemed bodies like the RHS lay on shows, they stipulate the criteria for ‘showing’ plants and minimum standards for show gardens and displays. All of which raise the standard of the displays and ensure you, the general public, get value for money.

The rub is this, it is a closed circle. Exhibitors adhere to the rules laid down, these standardise the displays, we flock to see these types of displays (but, they are the only ones on show) and because we do, this reinforces the belief that this is what ‘we ‘ want to see – the RHS deems the show a success and off we go round the circle again.

So, are flowers shows there to promote the standards of horticultural excellence deemed by the RHS and thereby infer to us mere garden mortals that this is what we should aspire to.

Are shows there to showcase the horticultural trades ability to master the ‘science of horticulture’ by displays of plant perfecction, the inference being that anything less than this standard is somehow not good enough?


Or are shows there to benefit the public at large by showing us how to create beautiful gardens at home.

Perhaps flower shows should primarily be for the insects that use them?

There is however, one group for whom shows are not primarily set up to impress. The sad fact is though, these are the main beneficiaries and users of our gardens.

To be fair to the RHS, this year the trend in was a much more relaxed Bee-friendly planting scheme. This is a welcome trend, but the floral marquees are still packed selling plants which bees cannot feed from.

What then, is the trouble with flower shows?

It’s all about mixed messages and the inherent belief amongst the industry; which is that everyone knows lots about plants; which clearly they don’t.

Plant Displays

The general public are presented with immaculate displays of perfect floral specimens. Identical, uniform and perfect in every way, a feat only achievable with knowledge, expertise, patience and resources. These displays are then ‘gonged’, awarded Best in Show, gold medals, certificates etc, which tell us garden mortals this is standard WE THE RHS think is good enough.

This is not a natural standard though, it is a standard of horticultural science over nature.

With equal prominence, the RHS and shows promote hybridised (useless for insects) show stopping plants with these gongs and awards but they also then champion garden ecology.

The two are mutually incompatible – which one should we copy?

Show Gardens

The Show Gardens themselves are now far more conceptual, the idea of the garden being utilitarian has all but disappeared. So how on earth can these gardens inspire?

Show gardens need to inspire but they are becoming so distant from the reality of modern gardens. It is becoming impossible to have any form of cross-fertilistion of ideas.

Take this for example. What possible inspiration can be used in an average suburban garden? Trees that wobble, hardly. Shallow pools sited underneath deciduous trees. More time will be spent fishing stuff out,  just to maintain their reflective qualities.

So, the trouble with flower shows is that they are run by horticulturalists. They are there to promote the industry to itself, to congatulate itself on it’s achievements, to set impossibly high standards of horticulture the average gardener simply cannot aspire to.

What’s needed is a flower show run to show the general public how to really improve the garden. Garden design for the masses, making gardening more fun and less technical, giving us the ability to ‘go home and do it ourselves.’


What flower shows need is to think like IKEA!

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