Sir Richard Carew Pole became President of the RHS in 2001, after having been elected to the Council of the RHS in 1999. He currently sits on a number of committees, including Floral 'B' Committee, which advises on hardy trees and shrubs and the Gardens Committee, which agrees plans for the development and maintenance of the RHS gardens. A keen gardener and plantsman, he divides his time between London and his family estate, Antony, overlooking the River Lynher in East Cornwall. Antony is leased by the National Trust and has impressive gardens, originally laid out in about 1794 by his ancestor Reginald Pole Carew.
What does being President of the RHS involve?
Somebody once described my job as being the best job in the country. I’m lucky enough to deal with wonderful subject matter - plants and gardens - and I also get to meet expert specialists in their particular branch of horticulture. Most of the people I meet want to achieve the highest standard in the gardening world and yet also spread and share their knowledge with others, particularly the younger generation.
As the RHS is a charity, my job involves being president of the trustees. I regularly attend committee meetings in London and at the four RHS Gardens. I also attend all five major flower shows each year.
I have a major role to play in fund raising. Recently I've been very involved in raising money for the new glass houses at the RHS Wisley gardens.
What garden themes and trends are prevalent at the show this year?
Many gardens this year have a war theme, to reflect the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Sir Terence Conran’s Commemorative Peace Garden and Julian Dowle’s the Ecover Chelsea Pensioners' Garden are two primary examples from the show gardens. And pupils from special-needs school, Oak Lodge created Peace is Special using their visits to the Imperial War Museum and the Tank museum in Bovington to get a real feel for what peace and war is really about.
Growing plants for food would appear to be flavour of the month at the show, if you’ll excuse the pun, particularly following on from Jamie Oliver’s campaign for healthier school dinners. Many of this year’s gardens and exhibitors are using edible crops. Jekka’s Herb farm, one of the leading organic exhibitors at Chelsea, is encouraging everybody to grow their own bag of salad.
Why do you think the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is considered to be the best in the world?
Firstly, it has a long history - the show itself (originally called the Great Spring Flowering Show) is 160 years old. This is the show’s 83rd year on this site in the Royal Hospital grounds at Chelsea.
Also, Chelsea is in the centre of London and is therefore easily accessible to everybody, and consequently attracts the finest exhibitors and designers from around the world.
Do you prefer the traditional or modern gardens at the show?
I love any garden that is interesting, well designed, and uses a wide variety of plants which have been well grown and are at their peak. I enjoy a garden based on these qualities rather than whether they are traditional or modern.
I welcome the growing attention that the smaller gardens are being given at the show. They're similar sizes to most people's gardens at home and visitors can therefore easily relate to them and take away new ideas and inspiration.
What is your garden like at home?
I live in Cornwall in a National Trust house, that was built by my family in the 1720s. Each generation of my family has had an interest in gardening, trees and the wider landscape. They've all imposed their own particular taste and I very much continue in this manner. One of my favourite areas in my garden is my woodland valley and I am particularly interested in camellias, rhododendrons and magnolias.
Sir Richard’s garden is open to the public five days a week from 1 March to 31 October. Find out more at the National Trust website.
Which particular stands attract your attention in the Great Pavilion at Chelsea?
There are so many wonderful stands. Two particular exhibits that I always enjoy are Notcutts and Hilliers. They are long-standing exhibitors and they both grow the trees and shrubs that I'm interested in.
Every year, there's something different in the marquee that catches your eye and you realise what a remarkable genus of plant they are. The specialist exhibitors are always such an important component of the show.
Each year you show the Queen around the show. What exhibit or plants is she interested in?
She likes to see as many exhibits as possible and get a general view of the show. Unfortunately she was unable to visit this year as she’s in Canada. However, this is only the second show that she has missed in her entire reign. This year, other members of her family attended in her place.
The Royal Family have always been strong supporters of the show, and most are very knowledgeable gardeners in their own right.
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