Dear gardening friends, may I ask you a question? What do you think - are garden/flower shows really worth visiting? Our expectations before we spend hours travelling, queuing at car parks and at ticket gates are perhaps just too great for the new and experienced gardeners amongst us. Yet, we make these trips again and again – sometimes coming home disappointed but many times inspired.
A Flower Show visit to celebrate a ‘special’ birthday for my Mum covered a fair few miles from Scotland as our organised bus trip picked up passengers en route. So, was the long trip worth it? Yes, without a question of doubt. We were both well impressed with our visit to the Autumn 2013 Harrogate Flower Show. Would I recommend it to others? Truthfully – absolutely!
Organised by the North of England Horticultural Society and sited at the Great Yorkshire Showground I’d go as far to say our Harrogate Flower Show visit was the best show organisation I have seen*. I’d like to make particular mention of the rows of seating available outside marquees and halls which was very much appreciated by my Mum and many other visitors - of all ages.
So, dear gardening friends, you arrive at your chosen garden/flower show wearing your show-comfy shoes and a spring in your step. To keep that spring in your step for the duration of your visit, you need firm footed and wide pathways for your show-comfy shoes. A simple and clear layout of pathways to navigate halls and exhibits would make your visit less tiring too.
Harrogate Flower Show’s location was a winner here for both, with an established network of paths which included road surfaces. The paths were in straight lines direct to the halls with straight spurs off for the show gardens, other exhibits, plant & garden sundries sales and refreshments. I suspect, even rainy days would be a comfortable walk at the Harrogate Show. We had a warm, sunny day for our visit :-)
The centrally placed Bandstand made for a great meeting point and entertaining break during the day. The brass band playing added to the bright airy mood of the show. We particularly enjoyed the large Gardeners Rest Café nearby where we could hear the music as we ate lunch and had a coffee at the end of our day. A variety of refreshments were available and well placed around the show – and of course there were the food halls where samples could be had!
Praise must go to the Gardeners Rest Café. Chandeliers hanging from warm, pale yellow, pleated fabric swathes in this refreshments Marquee gave it a wedding reception style feel. It was light and airy - very pleasant to sit it. The smartly dressed attentive waiting staff clearing tables and at the buffet style island tables (a great selection of local and fresh foods) was very much appreciated and added to the atmosphere. We were definitely refreshed after we ate.
Ah... all that being said, the best decoration in this marquee was to be seen on the grass floor. Resting there were show visitor's prized, plant ans sundries purchases peeking out of bags and boxes. You knew you were dining with like-minded folk :-)
Dinner chat back at the hotel later, with fellow Harrogate visitors, showed the diversity of interests in people that attend flower shows. Yes, some people were there to see those prized flowers and as many to see the giant veggies (the bonus of an Autumn show). Not surprisingly, there were others like me interested in the plants, planting combinations and the opportunity to purchase plants direct from nursery suppliers!
Yes, as you might expect, veterans of visiting both the Harrogate Spring and Autumn Flower Shows were also in attendance but I loved hearing of the few that had just been at their very first flower show - good choice there then!
So, dear gardening friends, you ‘think’ you know what you are going to enjoy most when you get to this flower show that has been marked on the calendar for some months now. Ah… but then you get caught up with different interests from your show companion and find yourself looking more closely at exhibits that you would have normally walked on by if you were show visiting solo. Does that sound familiar?
As my visit was a trip for my Mum, our first destination when we arrived was to head to the Hall that housed the floral art displays and exhibits. This was what interested her most and she was very keen to see what Harrogate had to offer - she was well impressed and so was I. Our bus got us to the show sharp for it opening so this hall was fairly quiet for browsing - a bonus for photos too.
Floral Art wasn’t really my thing, but… I found myself taking many photos which can be seen in my Harrogate Autumn Flower Show compilation video at the end of this post. You'll also see many dahlias too - blooms that I've never really looked at in detail before.
Yes, dear gardening friends, you might join me in appreciating the fun, the use of colour and creativity in the floral art displays. However, on closer inspection many of these floral displays do have flower and foliage combinations that could be magical in a garden setting – albeit a tropical one perhaps.
I found myself just swooning over the ‘planting’ in the cocoon floral display above - especially the orchid/viola combination. I loved the use of Lichen with ivy too. In truth, I had difficulty walking away from this one and nearly lost my Mum... boo hoo ;-)
Many gardeners, I know a few, give the garden and flower shows a complete miss. Perhaps, the hype of fanciful Show Gardens so far away from what the average gardener will do/can afford/have space for in their own gardens just isn’t appealing. Granted, plantings can include unrealistic combinations too, for example, full size alpines flowering in season next to a very young shrub out of season. This is not always the case but I accept this artistic licence can be misleading at times.
Granted again, on the other side of the garden gate, I’ve come away from Show Gardens wishing the exhibitors had spent more money or imagination to get that extra garden wow factor. Being truthful again, I would have loved to have seen more larger show gardens at Harrogate - but then again I said the same of my Chelsea visit many years ago. On the practical side, if you look at the small details in show gardens they can work in our real gardens too.
Dear non- garden show gardeners, I’d like to convert you - let’s take another view on garden shows. You find yourself planning a meal for a special occasion - you may head to the specialist food shops as well as the supermarkets. As gardeners with different tastes looking to make that new border or revamp that tired unloved garden corner, heading to a garden or flower show can be exactly the same.
The garden/flower show ‘supermarket’ has an abundance of aisles with different garden related products – just make sure don’t miss the ‘chocolate’ aisles that are the specialist plant nurseries! Actually, food also has a strong place in garden and flower shows with many local producers exhibiting. For visitors travelling a distance this is a huge bonus to be able to sample their produce.
Where the supermarket may have a samples table to tempt you to taste a new product line, the garden/flower show always have a variety of Plant Societies to tempt you to their species/plant group. We were well impressed by Harrogate’s displays showing the practical side of taking cuttings and propagating like the British Streptocarpus Society table above.
The Societies all had photo display stands as well as specimens at their tables – they were actually judged too which was news to me. The chat and enthusiasm of the group members at the tables was wonderful to hear as you walked by. Everyone was so friendly and approachable which was great. I have never considered growing Streptocarpus but found myself chatting about its propagation – then again, I am a propagation fan :-)
Oops… my chat and enthusiasm may be running out for you now. You may have comfy shoes/slippers on and are sitting on a comfy seat but I do want to leave you enough time to watch the video below before you go. I’ll come back with more chat another time as there was a product that caught my eye.
Oh yes… before you click on the play button… I’d also like to say a huge thank-you to everyone behind the scenes at the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show – you did a great job! It’s a pleasure to recommend a visit. Perhaps I’ll see you for the 2014 Harrogate Spring Flower Show. Although... next time I think I’ll give the bus ride a miss and find another mode of transport ;-)
Wishing you all a great weekend in your gardens. Have you plans? Weather being fair, looks doubtful, I hope to finish more Autumnal garden jobs. I've been busy - more on that once the weather breaks. Best of all, I've enjoyed reconnecting with my garden. Autumnal Garden Shows can kick you into garden planning again! We really did enjoy our visit to Harrogate :-)
For those who gave answers to my last post – the bird was a Hooded crow at the small harbour at Portree on the Isle of Skye. The holiday destination was Skye (a small island on the North west coast of Scotland) and I’ll be back with tales from there next time :-)
Let's end now with the question from the beginning of this blog... What do you think - are garden/flower shows really worth visiting?
*I’ve visited a few Garden Shows over the years including RHS Chelsea (pre new marquees), RHS Tatton Park (its 2nd year) and yearly visits to Gardening Scotland (where, being truthful, I have come home disappointed some years).
This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in October 2013.