Friday 27 April 2012

Dutch Delights

I couldn't resist the temptation to call this post Dutch Delights - on the ferry last weekend from Dover to Calais the coach in front of us was advertising their tour: "Dutch Delights" - the mind boggles!  Our tour - A Hillier Gardening Club holiday - headed off last Friday for Venlo, the venue for this year's Floriade. The Floriade is a mega show staged in the Netherlands every 10 years.  Last time it was quite close to Amsterdam - this year on the far side of Holland near the German border.  The Floriade showcases horticulture, gardening, environment, the Dutch flower trade and the whole industry in the broadest possible sense.  The style is very European, a far cry from the cosy British flower show; it stretches the mind and the imagination.

The journey to Venlo is a long one and by coach from Hampshire is a day's travelling. We took two coaches and passed the time with gardening questions, tales from Chelsea and lots of my thoughts on plants and gardens and lots of Sue's thoughts on houseplant growing and trends in Europe.  Our Floriade day, Saturday was mostly cool but dry with some watery sunshine, a chilly wind and the odd downpour - for this season not bad!

The Floriade covers 66 hectares complete with cable car and the obligatory motorway separating the car park from the show. The entrance is a fusion of modern and futuristic flavoured with the obligatory Dutch barrel organ.  Inside futuristic insect characters roam the park and baffle the arriving visitors expecting to be greeted by flowers and gardens instead of domes, screens, glass and space.  We made our way straight to Villa Flora - a huge glass palace housing a futuristic display of floral art, orchids, new varieties and fabulous house plants.  This is mind blowingly extravagant and very impressive. 
We then made our way through whistering woods to the area that's all about the senses - the power of plants and gardens, wellbeing etc. Some good stuff here, although every detail eclipsed by the fire breathing dragon and smoking stones - tasteful, imaginative and set in probably the least sympathetic garden in the whole show.
Tasting salad sprouts and radishes dipped in chocolate and yellow cherry tomatoes in the Haus of Smaak - (or something like that) was a highlight. Then onto the World Stage - Afghanistan lived up to expectations as did Tunisia - based on a package 2 star hotel I presumed!  The celts living in an orchard cooking their own food and weaving itchy blankets looked happier with their take away hamburgers. Yes, its all there.

For me the highlight was a performance on the amazing stage by the lake.  Probably the most unlikely, camp, Benny Hill does Tiller Girls, Cabaret, Sound of Music and Pirates of Penzance I have ever seen. Defies description - but great fun seeing burly sweating youths throwing Amazonian strapping girls around to good old oom pah music!  Yes, Floriade is the Eurovision of the Gardening World.

Would I recommend it - yes - as long as you are not expecting a trad. flower show its brilliant, fun, whacky, imaginative, ridiculous, brilliant - you wake the next day wondering if it all really happened. Would love to see it again later in the year - needs to mature a bit.  Would you get me on the cable car again? Not b..... likely!

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