Every year Mrs C. and I go to the Harrogate Spring and Autumn shows. This year was no exception; having been back at work for almost three weeks I felt I needed a break so made representation to my boss (it was actually more like pitiful pleading accompanied by a pathetic limp - think of Dickens' Tiny Tim). Having successfully thrown myself prostrate on the executive office rug we trolled off to Harrogate on Friday.
The North of Yorkshire Horticultural shows, as they are more properly known, differ from the larger and grander shows of Chelsea and Hampton Court in a number of ways. For one, you are more likely to find people who garden at Harrogate as opposed to people who have gardeners; for another, the stalls reflect the likely interests of people who garden rather than an aspirational approach to what the latest garden designers are doing; ergo you can buy a wide range of plants direct from the nurserymen (oops sorry I mean nurserypeople...I've got a diversity meeting this afternoon!), together with a mass of handy gadgets and aids for the jobbing gardener.
Another notable feature of the Harrogate crowd is their distinctly northern, pragmatic approach to the products on offer. For example, stood in a crowd of people watching a demonstration of a garden irrigation system, a brash Yorkshireman (I'm safe here he was a man and I'm sure wouldn't object to being so titled) commented
"That's awreet on yer flat garden bur it'd never work on th'ill I 'ave at 'ome" (roughly translated as: don't send southern jessies up North with gadgets only fit for soft southern gardens); and of course, being a brash Yorkshireman he wasn't shy about passing comment loud enough to cause the enthusiastic salesman some discomfit.
If you ever consider opening a stall a show one thing guaranteed to go like hot cakes is anything handy in the garden that you can carry something else in for example: trugs - marvellous in the garden but can equally carry your purchases; folding wheelbarrows - again a garden boon that can be trundled round full of bought bedding plants. Of course being veteran show goers we were not to be conned into buying anything unnecessary and went equipped with two Tesco Bags For Life: good handles, you see.
We usually set off with a strictly limited list of intended purchases - limited by number and by the amount of cash we take with us. After a couple of hours though, the list is discarded in favour of inserting the trusty card into the thoughtfully provided mobile cash machine. This year I came back with a handy tool that will reach right to the bottom of my compost bin where I can wiggle it about thus aerating the contents and encouraging quicker rotting (should I get my anorak now?). This Spring's unfortunate purchase - we always have one - was five corms of a beautiful plant; we just can't remember what it's called. Our garden is full of plants like that: we could never be those clever folk on Gardeners World showing Monty Don round and telling him the Latin name of each plant.
Another area of the show that attracts the (Mr) Croft attention is the Yorkshire food section - I came away with a Fat Rascal (thought got a crack off Mrs C. for calling it something else), and a Yorkshire Curd tart. The lady on the stall looked like she'd been making them all her life and had simply popped out of her kitchen with a shopping bag laden with goodies to spread on the stall. I love characters like that, the show is full of them, people who look like they spend ten months of the year talking to their plants and only mix with the public twice a year. That's the joy of Harrogate for me: no Alan Titchmarsh, no demi-celebrities, just simple honest folk who garden.