Up to the beating heart of royal London today, for a rare opportunity to visit the historic gardens at Clarence House, Lancaster House and Marlborough House, and experience the "Garden Party to Make a Difference", a unique festival devoted to ways of living more sustainably, as part of the Start campaign fronted by the Prince of Wales.
P & I had fun - we spent the morning helping with Garden Organic's contribution to the show, then were free to tour the whole site. We were giving away rocket and chard plants to people who made the One Pot Pledge, thus supporting GO's campaign to encourage more of us to start growing our own food.
GO have a very good deal on offer at the show - if you become a member (minimum £28 or £2.50 per month by direct debit) you get to choose three free packets of Duchy Original Seeds and take home a £5 Thompson and Morgan voucher - plus £5 off Heritage Seed Library membership, which entitles you to seeds of old or rare varieties to grow on your plot, save the next generation, and share with others.
As gardeners, our favourite exhibit was the Future City Garden, in a series of raised beds along the wall of Clarence House, which gave us some great ideas for recycling and saving space while growing veg. For instance, there was an attractive display of lettuces, flourishing in large yoghurt pots, set into an old door which could be leaned against a wall, shed or fence. We also liked the giant tepee-style tripods set in large buckets, supporting a good crop of golden yellow and red tomatoes. We could imagine being able to cover them with plastic sheeting early in the season to protect from rain and the dreaded blight and encourage sooner cropping.
The show has an eclectic mix of exhibitors, including independent (plant) nurseries and food and drink producers. Some of these were lined up opposite the Asda marquee, with slogans on the side about buying local that seemed somewhat... insensitive? untrue? Perhaps I've missed something about Asda's buying policies.
In any case, M&S appeared to have won the supermarkets' visual PR battle at the event. Everyone - even me - was carrying one of their striking "Twiggy" organic cotton bags. Now I know they are following Plan A (because there is no plan B in relation to climate change) but it is hard to find any organic food in their Colliers Wood or Sutton branches.
We were surprised to see how busy the Red Cross stand was - loads of people, mainly women, taking part in sewing. Brought back memories of knitting squares for charity blankets when I was young, so I'm afraid I rushed past that one. (Maybe that's why I haven't joined the great contemporary craft revival which seems so popular and much blogged about by others).
It was a shame that although we could have purchased a well known (bog standard, national brand, bottled) lager to drink for £3.50 from the onsite caterers, the independent Hogs Back Brewery was only allowed to give away small samples of their delicious real ale.
There were also entertainments (comedy and music) and talks on offer, and we especially liked the Commonwealth exhibit, a beautiful tie-dyed canopy with musical and visual presentations from around the world of people working together for a sustainable future. This was the only focus for the importance of community that we noticed at the festival; I would have liked also to see something about how communities, such as the Transition Towns movement, come together in this country, to support one another living greener lives. Doing things individually can feel demoralising sometimes.
My other disappointment, in an overall stimulating, imaginative and enjoyable event, was the lack of anything about complementary healthcare. Perhaps this was due to the closure earlier this year of the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health? Given the growing problems of capitalism and of Western conventional medicine (eg antibiotic resistance and iatrogenic disease) - we all need to be looking after ourselves and each other with the support of traditional human knowledge, skills and methods such as herbal medicine and homeopathy, osteopathy and massage. I hope this important element of living sustainably can be included in any future event. It has always been an enjoyable part of our local Environmental Fair, organised annually by EcoLocal in Carshalton Park.