Attending the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time, I looked forward to a day of hobnobbing, heavenly scents and horticultural wonders. I was not disappointed.
With a gardening expert as my guide, I discovered the joys of red velvet coleus, learnt how to stop slugs eating the hostas (grow them with allium), and purchased small pots of cacti that even a novice can’t kill.
There might have been the odd glass of champagne involved and some rubbernecking at the endless varieties of floral frocks but, in short, spending time among plants and plant people in the rarefied environs of SW3 was exactly what it was cracked up to be, hours of innocent enjoyment.
But no. Days later, three women stormed the Royal Hospital site, threw orange powder over a display garden and told visitors to choose good over evil, life over death, right over wrong.
“Everything we hold dear is in peril… this is a genocide… a war on the young,” preached the Just Stop Oil trio before a plucky bystander in a green dress grabbed a hose and gave them a soaking.
Maybe I had missed something but when I was at the show the forces of evil and death were nowhere to be seen. If Chelsea in May is not a haven for all things bright and beautiful, then what on earth is?
Apart from the obvious splendours, the accent is heavily on the ecologically sustainable, the triumph of nature, and the preservation of its treasures.
Show gardens that didn’t champion just causes, for man and beast, were in the minority: we had the Samaritans’ Listening Garden; the Centre for Mental Health’s Balance Garden; the Centrepoint (charity for young homeless people) Garden.
There was a garden celebrating the success of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme and replicating the Afromontane of Central Africa.
Waste was repurposed, weeds were allowed to proliferate, and wildness was embraced. In the café overlooking Chelsea Embankment even the food, all vegan, was playing the green game.
The protesters had surely targeted the wrong event. Although the plot they vandalised was sponsored by a wealth management firm, the flower show is pollinated by grassroots planet savers: gardeners.
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Their T-shirts aside, the Naomis, Rosas and Stephanies were among their own. One of them is, in fact, a landscape architect.
Notwithstanding the lady with the hose and a few hecklers shouting “morons”, the zealots were applauded by several onlookers. One plummy woman in pink shouted “well done” and promised to join them, while another shook her fist in solidarity, though the leaf arrangement on her head suggested she may have been a plant.
And here we get to the crux of the matter. This is certainly not the first climate change protest to be mounted by bourgeois outlaws.
Monty Don might have railed against the overwhelmingly white, middle-class milieu of the Chelsea Flower Show, but a more telling point is that its seditious element is posh-ish too, as are eco warriors everywhere.
The women who stole lambs from the King’s Sandringham estate, the activists who tried to halt the Grand National, the twentysomethings who chucked tomato soup at Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and the eco mob who routinely block the traffic are disproportionately representative of the socially advantaged.
Sometimes you need a private income to be free to criss-cross the country, seizing livestock here, paint spraying there.
Araminta who did arts foundation at Leeds is more likely to have time on her hands to glue herself to the M25 than a white van man, who must get to work to pay his rent.
At Chelsea, the JSO lot found friends as well as foes, and when Phoebe Plummer, of Van Gogh fame, spoke recently at Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences, she was reportedly warmly received. Of course she was, for green activism germinates among the hothouse flowers of privileged institutions.
Away from the real world, civil resistance might seem like a fun activity laced with moral righteousness, anti-social behaviour that’s acceptable because it’s for the greater good.
But it’s not, is it. Green extremists are not cuddly liberals who have the answers to all the world’s ills. Their tunnel vision precludes any rational understanding of global crises and how to solve them, and their tactics are typically mindless of the consequences.
It’s when they rub up against ordinary folk going about their business that their myopic self-indulgence is exposed.
The well-heeled couple in Tayside who thought it would be cool to release beavers into the surrounding countryside did not consider how their freelance wheeze would ruin farmers’ livelihoods.
And the privately educated Cambridge undergraduate and the jet-setting mother who lives in India when not scaling motorway gantries don’t care if ambulances are delayed, children can’t get to school and grieving relatives miss funerals.
The police seem unable to protect the public from these eco nuisances but their failure to engage with the masses and convert more of us to their crusade will do for them in the end.
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