It's not that far off going to a festival, really. At the beginning of the day you're jogging over to a train just pulling away (should have looked up the times before) then following a breadcrumb trail of helpful conductors to the connecting train where you wedge yourself in among a crowd of colourfully dressed and overexcited people and chat to strangers in awkwardly smiling staccato, then a quick change, then a tiny station where the most excitable stationmaster has taken on the role of compère and is treating the crowd to improv comedy as they negotiate the shufflequeue. More cupcakes and children maybe, but then I've not been to a festival in earnest for three years. Maybe it is all about cupcakes nowadays.
The ferry is fun. I'm definitely doing that again. It drops you into the turf sculptures (which the moist weather had scattered with fairy rings) and artisanal snacks zone, and then straight into the conceptual gardens, which were all about the sins. I like this, because for me gardening is definitely sinful. It's indulgent - inefficient compared to the supermarket, often producing nothing of practical use, time consuming. It is sisyphean, the job that cannot end and will always expand to fill any time. It involves anger and murder (usually in relation to snails and slugs). Covetousness sends fingers shuffling through pretty shrubs in other people's gardens for softwood cuttings, Pride puts our pretty successes onto Facebook, envy drives us to open gardens to see what true focussed attention could achieve and then we return guilty to our own imperfect green squares, tangled in delight and dissatisfaction. Sloth was delightfully conceptual - just tools and soil, with big shovels in open graves, bearing the gardener's heart, brain and (?soul). Greed had a kneeler to observe the fancy and chaotic sides of its split garden. Pride was far from sinful - Stonewall, smashing through concrete with a bright march of feisty perennials. Wrath was lava-coloured plants in volcanic scree, and exploded into steam and water on a regular basis. Gluttony was gigantic pop-art food containers spilling jelly-bean coloured climbers. Envy had a perfect green lawn in a strange green cube but I had to learn this from another viewer as I was not even tall enough to see over the surrounding grasses! Then there was Lust, which I saved it for last. Neon peep-show signs, an overstuffed chaise-longue spilling orchids, bat lilies and a bearded hipster waving us through who greeted each polite enquiry about the planting with "I don't know much about plants, I'm just here to look pretty."
Show gardens followed, starting with the Just Retirement garden (I got a linen bag!) a sinister affair where you proceeded down a central path as the planting got steadily more morbid and monochrome, until you were finally presented with a small formal pergola full of slightly awkward people hanging around chatting, presumably representing the crematorium. Others offered the chance to mediate on the healthiness of your diet, the sufferings of the third world, you and your loved ones getting cancer and your failing eyesight (represented by a massive murmuring sculpture that invited you to close your eyes and listen). I swapped my email address for a packet of calendula seeds and some tasty coffee from the Grow Hope garden (recycled wooden construction and packing materials in bright orange), and nipped round the back of the contemplation/advice courtyard (there was a queue!) at Macmillan to photograph their funky bicycle sculpturettes and shot out into the summer and budget gardens.
Funny how even a budget garden themed around drinking wine can end up looking a bit corporate, but I liked the one made of recycled industrial metal. I also found a small GuineaFowl, some exciting roses including one made entirely of thorns and one called Dorothy Perkins, a mermaid made out of flowers, a completely insane set of tomato seeds and half a motorbike surrounded by faceless birds. But all this was only a precursor to the main event; a swanky tree-house stuffed with silent consumer technology reached via a fifteen minute queue and a short lecture on the importance of silence.
After all that I needed flowers, then lunch, then more flowers, in that order, and including all the beautiful flowers, and those varieties so new they had hand written signs and occasional question marks (one guy had Delphiniums in a sort of electric peach colour - "these are the last two," he said, bristling at my camera, "You'll shift them," I replied, "No problem.") and some ferns please. Also I wanted fancy ice cream but the queue never dipped low enough for me to join.
There comes a point in the plant marquee when you know it's time to go. The bags are too heavy, everything is beautiful, blood sugar is crashing and you feel drunk on colour, like a woozy hoverfly. I was staying with my sister that night, which meant a 1 hour 20 minute journey across London in rush hour, desperately shielding the plant bags at every step. On her driveway, I breathed a sigh of relief, relaxed, tripped and faceplanted, scattering flowers every which way.
But everything survived, and my jeans have that bit more character now.