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Garden Centre

Glass-roofed buildings, battles over tv rights, the weather, gnome bans... it's been all go in the gardening world during 2000. Andy Sturgeon takes a wry look at the year's events

A week may be a long time in politics but a year is only a short time in gardening. Under normal circumstances matters horticultural tend to bumble along at the rate of a snail that’s fallen into one too many beer traps but looking back over this year there seems to have been some unprecedented activity.

Buildings have featured heavily, especially dome-like ones. Sir Norman ‘I know, we’ll give it a glass roof’ Foster has been doing his stuff at the National Botanical Gardens of Wales, which opened in the spring. A mere £43 million spent to enclose 3500 square metres and virtually nothing left for anything else in the gardens. On top of that it’s stuffed so far up a Welsh valley in Carmarthenshire that 250,000 visitors a year by 2004 seemed a little ambitious yet they’ve been coming in their droves. They reached their first annual target in only 20 weeks.

Meanwhile down in Cornwall Tim Smit opened the first phase of the Eden project. The centrepiece is an amazing geodesic dome (naturally) that reaches 200 metres long and 45 metres high and houses a rain forest, which is no mean feat. The projected 750,000 visitors a year is optimistic even by Mr Marketing’s standards but if anyone can do it he can. God knows where they’re all going to stay though, they’ll need an awful lot of B and B’s.

But the most talked about structure, in gardening circles anyway, has to be the new one at Chelsea, now that the old marquee has been chopped up and flogged off as hats and bags. Everyone eagerly awaited the unveiling of the new building so they could all be rude about it. But lo and behold it’s fantastic, bloody marvellous in fact. Higher, lighter, cooler and with less obstructions - it’s a major triumph. Being split into two halves, the whole thing has become so bearable that you no longer feel in need of counselling when you finally make it out.

Whilst we’re on the subject of Chelsea, the BBC has wrestled the coverage (and that of all the other big shows) back from the clutches of Channel 4. Promising higher audiences and potentially more extensive and better coverage, this is potentially good news because the Beeb does put out some pretty good programmes. But in one fell swoop they’ve killed off gardening at Channel 4 so on terrestrial TV in 2001 there will be no competition, no balance and no choice. Surely not good. Where is the Monopolies Commission when you need it?

The RHS down at Wisley is also undergoing change. Desperate to struggle free from its stuffy, and quite frankly well-earned, retired Colonel image they’ve installed some sculpture in the garden. Although one piece in particular (entitled Kniende I think) is more abandoned than installed where it sits under a tree with no obvious relationship to its surroundings. The two Henry Moores are incredible pieces and probably quite a coup but they look rather dated to my O-level artist’s eye. So by trying to be modern the RHS has virtually shot itself in the green wellie-shod foot by moving on and moving backwards at the same time. Still, at least the thought was there.

Meanwhile over in France they had a garden gnome exhibition, considered by many to be the epitome of bad taste. “We do not consider gnomes to be directly garden related,” said Bob Sweet of the Chelsea Flower Show whilst explaining their longstanding ban. Garden gnomes not directly garden related? Hmmm.

Plenty has now been said about our bizarre weather this year and its effect on our gardens, but the silver lining of these storm clouds has been largely overlooked. Over the last two years, spurred on by hosepipe bans and Ground Force, the nation had gone bonkers for Mediterranean gardening. Plenty of good lawns were ripped up, acres of gravel were laid, tens of thousands of silver-leaved shrubs were planted and if something stood still long enough it got painted blue. All this rain may have caused a lot of problems for people but thankfully it stopped that particular trend dead in its tracks just as it was roaring out of the starting blocks.

Way back in March members of the RHS debated with the Royal Meteorological Society. “Are winter floods on the increase?” Nick Reynard of the Institute of Hydrology bemoaned the difficulties in detecting the change in flood patterns. One can only assume he now receives more than enough data by watching the news and looking out of the window.

Also this year…

The Leylandii debate got into full swing. Government tried and failed to legislate against them and there was a spate of arson attacks. They burn rather well.

Elm trees can now be inoculated against Dutch Elm disease and resistant varieties are being bred so we should see a resurgence of this beautiful tree.

A successful control for vine weevil, the ultimate millennium bug was discovered and an organic weedkiller was approved. Derived from a fungus, Fusarium oxysporum, the spray is capable of wiping out broad-leaved weeds without harming grass. Could this signal the end of carpet-covered allotments?

Photograph of Eden Project courtesy of Apex Photo Agency; Photograph of National Botanic Garden of Wales © David Mansell

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Other Andy Sturgeon Articles
   2000: Goodbye To All That        Chelsea Show Diary
   Christmas Already        Community Gardens
   Exploding the Makeover Myth        Guilt-free Souvenirs
   Know Your Rights!        Larging it in the Allotment
   One Man and His Shed        Playing With Nature
   Spooky Hallowe'en!        What's In A Name
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