The Village Horticultural Show

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Getting braver and winning

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Some regular readers will recall that back in May I plucked up the courage to enter some plants into the Malvern Spring Show Open Garden competition and I won a second prize.  The experience gave me some much needed confidence and so it didn’t take much to persuade me to have a go at entering an Alpine Garden Society show today.

I had been dithering as usual and the Erodium I was thinking of entering started to lose its flowers so there was no point entering it.  However, an email exchange with the show secretary and time spent scanning the show schedule got me fired up and I found myself wandering the garden to see what I could find to enter.  Whilst I have lots of succulents the majority are Echiveria and Aeoniums which are not hardy and therefore no eligible to enter so it was the Sempervivums or Jovibarba.  I remembered some Allium sikkimense which I had bought from Cotswold Garden Flowers last year and which were flowering very well in the border.  They have the most wonderful bright blue flowers.

In the end I rounded up plants for 5 classes:  3 distinct rock plants (Athryium, an alpine geranium and a sempervivium); a rock plant in flower (another sempervivium); a bulbous plant (the allium); one pan Crassulaceae (a Jovibarba) and 1 pan for foliage effect (a chiastophyllum).  I had planned to enter a conifer but the nice people at the Scottish Rock Garden Club Forum advised that it wouldn’t be considered an appropriate entry so I left that one behind. My round-up of likely suspects are above.

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I staged my plants early which was good as it has been ridiculously hot today.  Just like the Malvern Spring show I was welcomed, shown how to stage plants and encouraged. My entries were in the Novice section (not the plants in the photo above they are in the Open, or shall we say advanced section).  Mine didn’t have many flowers on them and flowers, when appropriate, equal points so I didn’t have very high hopes.

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When you get to the advance classes you are very clever and can grow impressive immaculate cushion plants like those above.  I don’t really like them but I do know how hard they are to grow so I admire the dedication and skill involved.  I prefer the more floriferous entries like the Campanula in the second photograph.  However, I would love to be able to grow the plant below which is another Campanula and also a cushion plant – Campanula asperuloides.

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I returned in the afternoon to see how my plants had fared and I was amazed and thrilled to discover that my Allium had been awarded a first, my group of three a second, which was very good considering the lack of fl2013_07130027owers, and my Sempervivum a third.

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I was very surprised as I really hadn’t made  much effort and my range of plants to choose from was quite limited.  A chat with another Novice, Pauline, who had a few more shows under her belt led me to go and buy a range of plants from one of the nurseries at the show.  I bought a range of plants with the hope that in a year’s time they will have bulked up and some will be in flower and give me more choice when selecting my entries.

Yes, I do plan to enter again.  My next goal is to go up to Intermediate class.  This will take 10 firsts, so 9 more but there are shows all over the country I can enter including the AGS show at the Malvern Spring show and also one in Solihull which isn’t too far.  I realised talking to exhibitors that I have so much to learn; not just all the new plants many of which I have never heard of, but also all about cultivation and showing but  then again that is why I am loving entering the world of showing.

My First Show Entry

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I have been wooed through the garden clubs I attend to enter the world of competitive plant shows.  My curiosity was raised last summer when I visited my first AGS show and this Easter I made the decision to compete in my AGS group’s show next Easter and ordered some miniature bulbs in readiness.  It was during a conversation at that show that I learnt about the ‘open garden’ competition at the Malvern Spring show.  I was assured it was open to anyone and it was worth entering particularly because if you entered 5 classes you received a free pass to the show for all four days (equivalent to £95 worth of tickets).

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Feeling inspired I requested a show schedule and spent an evening pouring over the classes to see what I could enter.  Despite having been to the show every year, bar one, for the last 10 years I had never really noticed this competition and so wasn’t sure what the competition would be like and what some classes really meant.  I decided to play safe and enter succulents as I knew they would be looking good on the day whereas categories such as narcissus, flowering shrubs, rhododendrons etc were much less predictable especially this year.  You have to put in your entry form a week in advance so you need to be able to judge what will be peaking when and this was to be quite frank all a bit beyond me.  I decided to enter: 3 succulents in 6″ pots, an echeveria, a succulent in a 10″ pot and two photography classes.

You have all day Wednesday until 6:45am Thursday to stage your plants at the show so Ben, my eldest, and I went down on Wednesday evening after dinner.  I have to admit to being quite intimidated about the competition that was there.  My 3 succulents in 6″ pots definitely didn’t stand a chance as I had gone for all Sempervivum and other entries were a mixture of far more interesting succulents – but I know for the future.  My photos whilst OK are taken with a bridge camera and cannot compete with images taken with SLRs and I think photographs are very subjective to judge but it meant I had my 5 entries.  I concluded that I had an outside chance with my two large succulents; an Echeveria Elegans and an Aeonium tabuliforme.

This morning I arrived at the show around 9 and after having a look at the show gardens before the forecast rain I plucked up the courage to see how I had done.  Unsurprisingly the photographs didn’t get ranked; the competition was stiff with at least 20 in each category.  My three succulents in small pots also as expected didn’t rank.  My Echeveria missed out and one which looked almost identical and wasnt in flower, like mine, came second – I suspect its foliage was in better shape but it was so hard to tell.

However, as I approached the last entry I could see a blue card in close proximity, my heart missed a beat.  Surely not, surely I couldn’t have won a prize on my first outing especially as the entries are judged to RHS standards.  But no there is was in glorious bright blue  – a 2nd place for my Areonium tabuliforme.  I was so incredibly excited but resisted the overwhelming urge to jump up and down and shout “I won a prize” – there would have been disdainful looks!!  Sons were texted with the news and dutifully responded with congratulations.

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I spent the rest of today with a big grin on my face and a spring in my step.  I  also  spent a lot of money on some fabulous plants, garnered useful cultivation  information from lovely nurseryman, spent one and half hours moving plants on the plant creche, met up with Victoria and Michelle and helped Victoria in her hosta dilemma which got quite saucy but we shan’t go there.

Before I left with my haul I went back to the competition and went through the classes I thought I might be able to enter in the future and look photographs of the winners and how they were presented so I can see what I need to strive for next year. Oh and I won £3 for my second prize which was the same as I paid to enter the five classes so I have broken even and got free tickets – what more can a mad gardener ask for!!

Stunning alpines

Dionysia 'Tess'
Dionysia ‘Tess’

On Easter Monday I popped along to the local Alpine Garden Society’s plant show.  This was an annual show organised by the group I go to and not part of the national circuit but the standard of entries were still very high and I think many are entered into the national shows.  Above is Dionysia ‘Tess’, this is a plant I have only discovered since I joined the Alpine Garden Society and apparently it is very hard to grow to the standard above.  It needs to be grown in an alpine house and the growers that exhibit turn them every 4 hours, or so I am told, in order to get such a uniform flowering across the plant.  I did like this Dionysia but generally the cushion plants, as they are called, don’t appeal to me; they are too perfect, too neat – I prefer my plants to look more natural!

An entry of 3 pans of Dioynsia
An entry of 3 pans of Dioynsia
Ipheion dialystemon
Ipheion dialystemon

My attention was taken more with the bulbs which given the time of year were much in evidence.  I particularly liked the crocus I showed in my wordless Wednesday post but found the markings on this Ipheoin quite striking.

Asplenium fontanum
Asplenium fontanum

I have learnt two major things since I joined the Alpine Garden Society last year.  Firstly, that there are masses of plants out there that I have never heard of and secondly, and more importantly, alpine plants are not all the cushion plants shown above.  Ferns are alpines, as are Peonies, Lupins, Delphinium, Aquilegia, Azaleas, Rhododendrons – in fact anything which grows in mountainous conditions but that doesn’t have to be dry mountainous  conditions and it includes lots of the woodland plants I love.  So my new interest in ferns and my continuing and growing passion for Primula are well fed.

Primula marginata 'Dwarf Form'
Primula marginata ‘Dwarf Form’

Being the end of March there were certainly lots of Primulas on show.  I was annoyed with myself for not having more courage and entering my Primula marginata into the novice section as the one I have is rather good although not as large as the one above.  In fact the entries in the Novice section, whilst good have made me think that I could have a go.  So I have set myself a goal of having something to enter into the show in a year’s time.  I am covering my bets and have ordered a range of miniature bulbs which I will grow on in pots in the hope of being able to enter them as well as my primulas.  I have also decided to start of with specialising in Primula marginatas; there are so many different Primulas that I needed some sort of focus. This meant that I came home with another two in my bag.

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Who knows in 20 years time I might be able to achieve prize-winning Primula allionii like the ones above.