Gardening-wise, it's going from the sublime to the ridiculous, with the Chelsea Flower Show being at the ridiculous end of the scale. I used to love it, especially the huge marquees full of wonderful displays of plants bred by real plantsmen, but now it seems to be about money, coprorate sponsorship, statements, and impossibilities rather than possibilities (Robin Lane-Fox was particularly rude about it in yesterday's FT). It's a world away from what we saw last week in Bourges. Here the city marshlands - les marais - which were drained by the Romans to create market gardens are still being cultivated by the locals who are still bringing their fruit and veg and eggs into town.
It's an amazing watery landscape, a neat pattern of allotments surrounded by channels and streams and canals which are navigated by punts (above, right). It's peaceful, industrious, a wondrously preserved gardening landscape which is still worked and still works, and quite beautiful in a very down-to-earth, organic, inexpensive way.
Some plots have fallen into neglect and/or desuetude and begun a return to nature, something that some Chelsea designers spend a fortune on recreating.
Their show gardens often have mock-up tumble-down sheds and shacks and gates and fences, but in Bourges you can get it all for real.There are lovely examples of time-honoured bricolage,
and much lovely reuse and repainting of different materials - both useful and beautiful, and not there just for show.
Flowers pop up by the paths,
wisteria winds its way around in a natural style that highly-paid designers make huge efforts to emulate and it's only a matter of time before casually parked 2CV vans are de rigueur at Chelsea.
Call me old-fashioned, but I'd rather spend an afternoon full of inspiration and enjoyment wandering round the marais for free, than being jostled and seduced by impossible schemes for £100. £100! I've just looked that up and am gobsmacked. Just think how many seeds you could buy for that. I'm a member of the RHS so it would be cheaper for me, but still. Les marais of Bourges or any set of allotments - here or anywhere - really are worth the detour.
More from France here.
UPDATE: 23 May (first day of Chelsea): I see I wasn't wrong: there's a car in one of the medal-winning gardens (photos here)