This weekend I was initiated into the world of the Village Horticultural Show. I’ve never really lived in a village, well apart from 3 years when I was a child, and in fact I still don’t. However, I am a member of the Wyche and Colwall Horticultural Society which is just over the Malvern Hills from me and always has a good selection of speakers each year. Back at the beginning of the year I was asked by Helen Picton, the Show Secretary, if I would help her with the show organisation. I have to admit I was hesitant in my agreement but I am glad I did as it has given me a fascinating insight into these events.
This is the 70th Anniversary of the show. The show was originally set up as part of the Holidays at Home event established during World War II to improve moral. It was such a success that the Wyche and Colwall Horticultural Society was established to run the show. The Annual Show remains a key part of the Society’s annual programme and funds raised go towards the Society’s contribution to the Percy Picton Memorial Fund to assist horticultural students.
Apart from a little help with the poster and sourcing the baking judge my involvement didn’t start until last Wednesday. I don’t think people really think about the work that goes into organising such a show. All the entry forms have to be processed, entry fees checked and entry cards written for each category the individual is entering. Four of us spent a good three and half hours doing this on Wednesday evening. Then on Friday afternoon an army of volunteers turned up at the village hall to set out tables etc. You quickly realise this is not an event to be staged in a small space even though it is a small local show. The main village hall was dedicated to floral entries, a total of 28 classes were available for people to enter with everything from a bunch of annual flowers through tender perennials, flowering shrubs to the more specialist alpine; oh and four classes for floral art. Then in the adjacent Scout Hut tables were set up for the vegetable and produce entries with 25 classes in the vegetable/fruit section and 20 produce classes. There were also classes for handicrafts, photography and junior classes.
Show day dawned and I was up at the crack of dawn finishing preparing my entries, grabbing breakfast and driving very slowly over the hills in order not to damage any of my entries or splash too much water around. Getting there at 8am I had plenty of time to stage my exhibits before the majority of entries arrived. I had been appointed steward to the floral judge which meant I was responsible for making sure entries were staged appropriately as well as escorting the judge and making a note of his comments and awards.
Personally I had entered 8 floral classes and a handicraft one. Those who have read this blog for a while will know I started entering shows earlier in the year but to date all my entries have been plants in pots – this time I was faced with cut flowers. My flower arranging abilities are non-existent, I can’t even manage one of those hand tied posies that Sarah Raven makes look so easy. I had three entries of single stems so I found some Kilner Sauce bottles in the local shop for those. Two other entries were in pots but this left 3 classes where a bit of plant arranging was required – nightmare.
The atmosphere before the show was great. People arrived at a steady pace although there was a late flurry with some only just managing to stage their exhibits in time. The range and quality of the entries was impressive and seeing how seasoned participants staged their plants was enlightening. There was much use of oasis, something alien to me, careful tweaking of leaves and petals to show the plant to its best and the removal of the odd spent flower or leaf.
Judging time arrived and I have to admit to feeling awkward as I had entries in the first two classes so had to keep quiet and not respond to the judge’s comments. We moved on to the dahlias and I found myself asking questions about why this stem was better than that stem. I have to admit to struggling to see some of the damage on the petals referred to but my eyes aren’t as honed to these things. The judge moved along, in some classes the winner was obvious and it was often the case that the fight for second and third place was tougher – this ones petals were a little faded, this one’s stem wasn’t quite straight. I think there were times when the judge was really struggling to make a choice. In some classes the judge felt a little out of his depth as he wasn’t an expert in that plant group but informed decisions were made. I learnt about the importance of the flower being fully open, the quality of the leaves being as important as the flower, the need to ensure you show the exhibit to its best potential but most importantly the importance of reading the show schedule carefully – a number were disqualified for just this reason.
Judging complete I put out the first, second and third stickers and it was soon time for competitors to return to see how they had fared. It is fun watching them enter the hall, peering over towards their entry to see if there was a colour sticker to denote a prize and if so was it red – first prize. Happy faces, surprised faces, some disappointment but many I spoke to just liked to enter and have a fun day out.
Scores were added up, prize money put into little envelopes and then the important cups allocated for the various categories. Time for afternoon tea, a wander around the vegetable and produce classes, an ice cream and possibly a plant purchase. The day ended with cups being awarded, the winners were sometimes embarrassed at being the centre of attention but all were pleased and proud.
I came away not only with 1 first, 4 seconds and a third (one second was in the handicraft section) but also a feeling of being part of a community, albeit for a day. I enjoyed the camaraderie – the sharing of struggling with the weather and pests to have something to enter. I was also a little saddened that again this year the number of people entering had fallen and it makes you wonder what the future of the show, and others like it, will be if year on year numbers fall. This is obviously partly due to the tendency for older people to enter these shows but I wonder if it is also a symptom of a decreasing sense of community in our society.
I will end this post by encouraging any one who grows flowers or edibles to have a go at entering a show. It’s not a cliché to say it is the taking part that matters not the winning, its true. You discover new friends and a shared interest and if you are lucky enough to win a prize as well then that’s a bonus and then you will definitely have the bug.
Note: the photographs are of entries in various categories that took my eye, they aren’t my entries and they aren’t necessarily the winning entries.