13 MARCH 1993, Page 46



Ursula Buchan

Afar as I am aware, the only thing that I believe I have in common with Rupert Murdoch is that we can both boast a great-grandfather who was a minister of the Free Church of Scotland.

As a result of this singular common her- itage, which naturally informs our behaviour and view of the world (for the blood will out), I suppose that Mr Mur- doch must be unaware that News Interna- tional is organising and sponsoring, with the RHS, the International Spring Garden- ing Fair at Wembley Conference Centre from Maundy Thursday to Easter Monday. You do not have to be descended from Calvinists — any Christian denomination will do — to find the idea of a gardening show over Easter, and on Good Friday in particular, inappropriate.

Despite my natural reluctance, however, and in the highest traditions of selfless and unjudgmental journalism (of which Mr Murdoch would surely approve), I should point out the good things about the exhibi- tion, for those who have no objection, moral or practical, to spending the Easter holiday just off the North Circular Road.

The 'fair' is aimed at the amateur, even novice, gardener, and the intention is edu- cational as well as recreational. Although there will be many nursery stands, and even a few showpiece gardens — the responsibil- ity of one or more stars in the News Inter- national newspaper constellation — the idea is that everyone should come away having learnt something. As well as full- dress lectures, given by horticultural super- stars like Roy Lancaster and Beth Chatto, there will be a great many smaller talks and demonstrations, many with a severely prac- tical emphasis: this is the place to find out how to plant up your 'patio' containers and take softwood cuttings. The `fun' element is provided by quizzes and question-and- answer sessions.

It may well prove to be the perfect anti- dote to Chelsea Show for all those who feel undermined rather than exhilarated by its perfection, and for those, like the sellers of lawnmowers, who play second fiddle to designers and horticulturists there. This fair also comes at just that moment in the year when many gardeners wake up to what is outside their back door. At Wembley, unlike Chelsea, they will be able to buy and take away plants and other goods, and save

themselves the bother of a trip to the gar- den centre. For those who sometimes feel they have had enough of rhododendrons, hostas and roses — so prominent at Chelsea in late May — the colour of unforced spring shrubs and bulbs will be welcome. Above all, there should be room enough to move around freely.

There are a few misgivings about the event (apart, of course, from the one trou- bling Mr Murdoch and me). One is that the Royal Horticultural Society, having taken on the running of a new garden this year (Hyde Hall in Essex) and a large show (Hampton Court in July), is in danger of overreaching itself. If it does so, there may be repercussions, most obviously anxiety over loss of quality and reputation. In gar- dening, as in politics, it is self-evidently important to look after your constituency. The RHS should take care not to irritate fuddy-duddy old loyalists in a dash to acquire exciting new converts.

Moreover, although the 'trade' is sup- Porting the show, it is a moot point whether its ability to sell plants and sun- dries at Wembley will make up for the preparation, money and manpower required to stage an exhibition there in those precious days of early April. After all, the Easter weekend, with its Bank Holi- day tacked on the end, is generally viewed as the most profitable one of the year by owners of garden centres and nurseries. It will be interesting to see if the event is worth it for them, as they emerge blinking from the gloom of recession,

For the ordinary gardener, however, any mass event which seeks, in an unstuffy way, both to inform and entertain must be wel- come. The problem is not the validity of such a venture, but the timing. No doubt, if the fair is a success, it will become an annu- al event, and people will cease to mind. After all, although only in the recent past, few now remember when newspapers were published on Good Friday for the first time. Sensibilities were offended then, but Proved to be as out of step with the mod- ern world as one of my great-grandfather's sermons. How dispiriting that a holiday intended to promote religious observance should now inhibit it.