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“Beware the Tendrils of the Vine, my Son” he warned

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I have, for the third year in a row, been to The Moscow Flower Show. This is my diary…

Day One and there has been judging in extreme heat. It may not have been exactly standard RHS Judging but judging all the same. The Russian system is roughly one of my own devising with the various categories adapted for the Slavic mentality. This year they took it one step further by never having all the judges in one place at one time. After judging there was Georgian food – something about which I have written in depth after previous visits. Suffice to say that cheese and meat are the main ingredients with the odd cleft cucumber and bunch of parsley. If you are a vegan then Georgia may not be the best place for you to spend time.

The gardens themselves are finished much better than in previous years and some of them are really good – considering the short time they have to build them and the vagaries of Russian landscapers. One designer complained that the landscapers had refused to dig holes for his posts and instead had sawn off the bottoms and nailed them to a plank. Not the sort of thing to which Crocus often resort.

At least one would have easily won a Gold Medal at Hampton Court. Easily. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photograph so cannot prove it to you.

Day Two was a day for visiting clients. I have two just outside Moscow. The first visit involved a fair bit of hard graft. “James” she said (although she pronounced it “Jems” which I find rather appealing) “I have two carloads of plants arriving this morning for you to set out”. By “cars” she meant “closely packed lorries”.

The process I employ for setting out plants is to look at the plan, look at the plants and then change my mind and this was not exception. The difference was that I was doing it while ten gardeners, a client, a landscape architect, a foreman, an enforcer, a driver, an architect, a landscape architect’s assistant, an interpreter and sundry builders watched. Now I quite like an audience but this was a bit much. No sooner had a plant been placed than scores of eager workers descended on the poor thing and it was planted in seconds. At one point I queried the position of a 4m high tree (which had been planted in October) -and  before you could say Vladivostok it had been dug up and moved to a better position.

The second client was much easier and just wanted to show me what had been achieved. The plan had been adapted slightly but that is the Russian way – one cannot be precious. She then fed me cherry dumplings which, I can tell you, is one of the very best things I have ever eaten. I ate nine of them and could have had more but thought that might be pushing diplomatic relations. If Mark Diacono can replicate them then I am prepared to do most of those things he keeps begging me to do. Trafficy drive back to the city chatting to my very charming young interpreter who has, over the past couple of days, developed a bit of a taste for gardening.

Friday is seminar day. I am to deliver a talk about Britain in Bloom.
It is very disorientating giving a lecture through an interpreter. Jokes are pretty much impossible, spontaneity interrupted and any kind of nuance is not even worth considering. It is particularly difficult when the interpreter sounds as if he is reciting the Siberian telephone directory very slowly indeed.

I am followed by a chap called Jago Keen who talked about trees in cities and then by the Mayor of a small city founded by the Soviets to house factory workers. He is a remarkable fellow who has taken the idea of urban greening to a whole new level. Fifty percent of his townsfolk are involved. There are flowers everywhere, vegetables in other places and almost every weekend there is a garden party somewhere. All the local residents bring food and drink, there is then dancing and games. It is a cross between a village fete, a street party and a ceilidh. There are no cigarette butts in the streets, almost all the rubbish is recycled and there is a strict policy of planting five trees for every tree that is felled. Much of the audience has followed him, they are almost exclusively women many of whom boast a lot of gold teeth which leads me to suspect that the dentists as well as the Gardeners are doing okay in that particular corner of the country.

The day then lapsed into one of those gloriously eccentric Russian days in which the following happened
I gave a television interview to a pretty but supremely uninterested girl. The cameraman picked up the whole camera including tripod. At one point and moved it. I doubt that it will make the programme.
I ate pasta which sitting on a sofa.


Wrote out medal cards for every garden and certificates thanking every sponsor, media partner, visiting dignitary and interested party.
Gave a guided tour of the show to the British Ambassador – who was impressively bearded and accompanied by charming children.
Presented the aforementioned prizes one hour after the scheduled time. The audience had been patiently waiting in the slightly chilly Moscow evening.
There was loud fanfary music, more speeches, emotional thank yous, applause, plaques and the solemn presentation of gift bags containing tea by girls in interesting corporate uniforms. One lucky girl was given a chainsaw. And all through this there were photographs – hundreds of photographs. Russians love photographs and no event remains unpictured.
This took a while.

One of the popular features at the show are a series of headless torsos made of flowers – people queue up to pose behind them. A variation on those cut outs through which you can poke your head at the seaside. Seemed like an unmissable opportunity.
There was then an extravagantly dressed buffet with cold meat, delicious cucumbers with very thin skins and a variation of the old pineapple and cheese on cocktail sticks thing but with gooseberries and raspberries .
I them spent a very jolly hour dancing to, among other things, Boney M with a collection of happy Russians and jolly French people. The Italians had bailed out earlier.

The evening had not yet ended.

The finale was a trip on the Metro: the Moscow underground is a serious deal. Built in ? the stations are as grand as ballrooms and as cavernous as a gilded pothole. The trains rumble through every minute or so and, at rush hour, are stuffed with fragrant Muscovites. At 11 PM it is almost empty and like riding through a cathedral.

Day four begins with a 5:30am taxi ride. The back of my taxi driver’s head is fascinating. He is slightly balding with short cropped hair but the skin on his head is rippled: like a little piece of sharpei grafted onto a kiwi fruit
He is driving very fast indeed.
Russians have a habit of saying “Good luck when they leave you in the same way that the German guard says it to Gordon Jackson in the great escape. Both the taxi driver and the pilot did it, maybe it is a transport thing.

Finally I am happily settled in the aeroplane being fussed over by a very flirtatious steward called Aleksander. There are no films on this flight so I guess that flirting is the alternative to inflight entertainment. Even though it is still very early.
The man across the aisle is sleeping loudly with his hand covering his crotch – I presume that he is probably having an interesting dream.

Home by lunchtime.

I am listening to Weary Blues by Madeleine Peyroux.

The picture is of a Moscow sunset.

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