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1990 May 21 Mo
Margaret Thatcher

Speech at Chelsea Flower Show

Document type:public statement
Document kind:Speech
Venue:Chelsea, West London
Source:Thatcher Archive: transcript
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:Between 1240 and 1530.
Importance ranking:Minor
Word count:1233
Themes:Autobiographical comments, Conservative Party (history), Trade, Environment, Labour Party and Socialism

Mr. President, your Excellencies, my lords, ladies and gentlemen. If I might respond briefly.

First, I came here not so much as a Prime Minister in office, but because I wanted once again to come and see Chelsea as a gardener. We used to live not far away in Flood Street, so we came every year and we gladly endured all the traffic jams for the joy of having this marvellous show so near us and for the joy that we could come every year to see it.

We were keen gardeners, not so much in Chelsea—there wasn't exactly much scope—but in Farnborough, kent, and also in Lamberhurst. We have always gardened in acid gardens so we've always had a lot of rhododendrons, azalias, heathers, acers and all the beautiful things that go into acid gardens.

It wasn't until we became Prime Minister and went to live in No. 10 Downing Street, where we also have rhododendrons and azalias, but we also went to Chequers where it is so limey that no rhododendron or azalia dare lift its head. And we had to clean out two great big beds and put them, fill them with peat. What some of the conservationists would say to us for using peat today I don't know, but I don't know what a gardener can do without peat. I intend to go on using it on the azalia and heather beds in Chequers.

We also, I hope, have done one or two other things. I felt that in our international conferences we really should have, when we[fo 1] invite people over here, we might show off some of the most marvellous beautiful national gardens that we have. And some of the lovely gardens that are in the possession of the National Trust. The National Trust is a marvellous organisation. Very few people have it. We were privileged to live at Scotney for a time so we know it. But I was very happy to report that we had quite the most successful, bilateral conference between President Mitterrand and myself when we held it at Waddesdon in the beautiful building and even more breathtaking gardens. So gardens have their use even in diplomacy.

You refer, Mr. President, to red roses. Well, I love red roses. They are the colour of St. George and I am always given red roses on St. George's Day and I don't intend to have them hijacked by any political party!

You refer to previous Prime Ministers who might or might not have had an interest in agriculture and horticulture. From the agricultural side, of course, Sir Robert Peel had a very definite interest in agriculture and indeed he did of course the biggest U-turn of all time with the repeal of the Corn Laws.

I have a great interest in agriculture but none whatsoever in U-turns. It's not unusual for Prime Ministers to be interested in this subject and may I point out that Thatchers were a very good agricultural occupation and they keep houses dry from wind and weather. That also is a very good thing to do.[fo 2]

We used to enjoy tremendously your marvellous exhibits here, especially the exhibits we will see again today and also the wonderful exhibits of the local authorities and the parks and the marvellous gardens. But also the tremendous characteristic of Chelsea and indeed of our country, of a people who find their own small niche in this great market, either at very particular plants or very particular produce and I feel we shall go and see those things today.

But there were two particular things I wanted to say to you as I have the opportunity. And the first one is this: as we have one of the greatest storehouses of plants in the world in the United Kingdom, some of the marvellous research establishments such as at Kew in addition to its beauty and its glory. As we have also led the way I think with garden festivals and showing how we could make flowers bloom where there was desolation and have given people new hope in those areas. And we also have a nation, inherently a nation of gardeners. As we also note with a higher standard of living people put more money into their gardens, put more money into flowers in their offices. The supermarkets buy more and more flowers to sell. Ladies and gentlemen, as we have this terrific heritage, this terrific talent, this terrific market, what a pity so much of it has to be satisfied by imports!

I've got a problem and you must help me with it. It's a problem at a time of greatest prosperity we have ever known. We have a[fo 3] balance of trade deficit and quite a bit of that balance of trade deficit is made up by imported things which we could just as well grow here. Of course we can't grow the tropical things here, of course we once used to have vines growing in this country but the climate was a little bit different and again it will be different. We can't grow the tropical things. But so much of what we import comes from countries which have a similar or even worse climate than ours as far as heat is concerned. And even that is changing. So I hope that as 1992 comes and we have to have fair competition without any subsidies, that we shall find among our exhibitors and those who come, a great joy in coming to Chelsea, so many people in industry, so many people in the banking world. So that we shall find people will be prepared to put in the investment in the latest equipment and technology, the training in the latest techniques and the best marketing so that we can make use of this colossal market in the United Kingdom, which is growing and will continue to grow, to turn the balance of payments deficit into a balance of payments surplus. It's so like us to give the rest of the world market profits and not take them ourselves and I hope that the enterprise we are coming to have now will enable us to provide for it ourselves.

The second thing I was wanting to say to you is this: you will wonder as much as I do how much the climate is changing and you will be a little bit concerned that we do now need a little bit more rain. I am being very brave this week. On the day that the report on the International Panel of Climate Change is coming out,[fo 4] it happens to be during the Chelsea Flower Show, and it will be a report of all the world's scientists and it will take into account what has happened in the past from the natural changes of the sun and the earth but it will also tell us of what man is doing. On that very self same day, I have undertaken to open, at Bracknell, a new centre for predicting climate change.

Now I think that is very bold of me, very brave, but what we are trying to get internationally is to take all the work of the scientists the world over and embark on a good deal more research because we know, and it stands to common sense, that for millions of years we have, no more hundreds of thousands of years, we had fewer than a billion people on this earth. Now we have something like six billion, all the change that has meant in farming, in medicine, in technology, in chemicals. The greenhouse effect, without which we wouldn't be here, is in danger of getting so hot that there might be fundamental changes unless we alter our way of life.

The agricultural and forestry industry has a very great deal to help with keeping the greenhouse effect under control and we shall have to look at those reports very carefully indeed, because we simply must follow the advice of the scientists if we are to conserve this most precious heritage in the United Kingdom, both in our gardens and our way of life. And also to help others through our research to conserve that too. Plant life and animal life are very precious to most of us and I hope that with your[fo 5] great show this week and that, we shall be able together to do so much to conserve the heritage of which we are so very proud.

May I thank you very much for this invitation. I had no idea I was the first Prime Minister to come. I am so very happy to be here and hope you will have more frequent visits in the future. Thank you.