Putting on a show

Flower shows in Britain run the gamut from small local fairs organised by enthusiastic volunteers to larger events like those held by the RHS. Whatever their size, there’s always something to learn and some fun to be had, says Diana Vowles.

Admiring the flowers on display at the Dundee Flower and Food Festival.

Admiring the flowers on display at the Dundee Flower and Food Festival.

Shows and fairs on a gardening theme generally fall into two categories: those that encompass everything to do with horticulture, very often with crafts, food and other subjects on the side, and those focusing on a particular topic or species. At the former, with a choice so wide, any member of a group with an interest in gardening is guaranteed to discover plenty to enjoy: groups attending the latter will tend to have a particular love of, and maybe considerable expertise in, the plants on show and be very focused on what they want to see and do. Either way, a garden show is a great day out.

RHS shows

Groups can expect to find top growers and garden designers at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) shows. The first event of the year is at Cardiff’s Bute Park, in April, where there will be show gardens, a floral marquee, lively competitions and displays of spring daffodils. Groups of 10 plus get a discount.
Next up is the Malvern Spring Gardening Show in May, boasting a floral marquee with more than 100 nurseries offering the chance to buy plants and gain advice on how best to cultivate them. Held at the Malvern Showground, there will be talks and demonstrations from experts too. Groups of 10 or more gain a small discount.
Shortly afterwards comes the Chelsea Flower Show, probably the most prestigious flower show in the world. Taking place at the Royal Hospital, show gardens in 2011 will include the M&G Garden designed by Bunny Guinness, offering a modern approach to a kitchen garden, the Daily Telegraph Garden by Cleve West, exploring timelessness in a sunken garden, and the Homebase Garden, drawing on childhood memories of Cornish holidays. In the pavilions will be the cream of British growers, all in pursuit of the coveted gold medals.

BBC Gardeners’ World Live at The NEC in Birmingham.

BBC Gardeners’ World Live at The NEC in Birmingham.

In association with the RHS, BBC Gardeners’ World Live is pulling out all the stops at The NEC in June to celebrate 20 years of Gardeners’ World magazine. Alan Titchmarsh will be at the show to give demonstrations, talks and book signings; also present will be Monty Don and the Gardeners’ World presenters. In the Gardeners’ World Magazine Theatre, visitors will be able to enjoy live sessions with the experts, where they will be passing on their wealth of experience. There will also be more than 100 nurseries and specialist growers in the RHS Floral Marquee, show gardens that will inspire your own planting plans and, of course, trade stands selling every gadget and garden tool you could possibly wish to buy. For novice vegetable growers, Grow Your Own Garden will offer the chance to see demonstrations on how to put your own produce on your plate. BBC Good Food Show Summer, which will include celebrities from MasterChef and Saturday Kitchen Live, is to be held alongside the event and one ticket will give entry to both; groups get a 20% reduction and up to five free tickets. GTOs will also be able to take a well-earned break, along with a guest, at a dedicated area with tea and coffee.

Enjoying a talk by Monty Don at BBC Gardeners’ World Live.

Enjoying a talk by Monty Don at BBC Gardeners’ World Live.

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, meanwhile, will take place in July. Although the setting is a grand one, the atmosphere here is informal. Again, there will be show gardens and top nurseries, along with trade stands selling a wide variety of goods for the garden; you are likely to find quirkier, smaller makers here than at some of the larger shows. Groups of 10 or more receive a discount and there is one free ticket per group.
Also in July is the Garden Show Tatton Park, in Cheshire, whose 50 acres of surroundings offer its own permanent garden features such as a 100-year-old Japanese garden and recently-restored Walled Kitchen Garden. The show itself will bring visionary gardens from top designers, arts and crafts and, of course, garden gadgets. As at Hampton Court, groups of 10 or more receive a discount and there is one free ticket per group.

To wind down the RHS season, Malvern Autumn Show will present cookery demonstrations, gardening talks, nurseries, a celebration of harvest produce, rural crafts, floral art and a chance to do some early Christmas shopping. Groups of 10 or more receive a discount.
On a smaller scale, but offering another chance to buy plants from specialist growers, are the RHS London shows, held in Vincent Square. These comprise the London Plant and Design Show in February, the London Orchid Show and Botanical Art Show in March, the Great London Plant Fair, also in March, and the London Autumn Harvest Show in October. Prebooked groups of 10 or more receive a discount.

The Garden Show Tatton Park.

The Garden Show Tatton Park.

Around England

Although some shows run by councils have fallen victim to budget cuts, there are still plenty of events to attend around the country, many of them with a long and proud history.
A welcome early event to lighten the gloom of January is the Orchid Weekend at Beetham Nurseries in Cumbria. Burnham Nurseries, Chelsea Gold Medal winners no fewer than 20 times for their orchids, will put on stunning displays and will be holding an orchid clinic and repotting service. Admission is free.
Growing your own food is a hot topic right now and the Edible Garden Show at Stoneleigh Park, near Coventry, in March, will offer a range of exhibitors on all topics connected with home-grown produce, as well as experts to give advice. Whether you have rolling acres or only room for a few pots, you will find plenty of interest at the show, and there are demonstrations on cooking and preserving too. Prebooked groups gain one free ticket for every 10 purchased.
Hampton Court Palace’s Florimania is held over the Mothering Sunday weekend in April, with scented floral arrangements of appropriate grandeur for this grandest of palaces. The arrangements will be created by the Surrey branch of the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies (NAFAS), and volunteers from the Association will be giving flower-arranging demonstrations. Reduced admission fees apply to groups of 15 or more and you can book a cream tea or lunch too.

Harrogate Spring and Autumn Flower Shows, in April and September respectively, are impressive events and, in celebration of the centenary of the North of England Horticultural Society (NEHS) who organise them, visitors can expect some extra pizzazz this year. Held at the Great Yorkshire Showground, there will be show gardens, flower halls, floral arrangements, cookery demonstrations and a garden roadshow; in the autumn, the emphasis will shift to seasonal produce. Advance booking saves £2 per ticket and two free tickets are issued to groups of 20 or more. You can also book a three-course meal to give renewed energy with which to plunge back into the show.

An example of what to expect at the Harrogate Spring and Autumn Flower Shows.

An example of what to expect at the Harrogate Spring and Autumn Flower Shows.

Meanwhile, Loseley Park in Surrey is hosting a Grow Your Own Show over the first weekend in May, offering show gardens, a cookery theatre, demonstrations and advice on everything you might want to know about growing fruit and vegetables in your own patch – or indeed keeping poultry, pigs and bees. Pippa Greenwood will be there to give talks on both days. Prebooked groups get one free ticket for every 10 purchased.
In Lincolnshire, the 30-acre site at Springfields Festival Gardens, in Spalding, offers gardens designed by top names like Chris Beardshaw. Over the May Bank Holiday weekend, these permanent displays will be joined by trade stands, craft stalls, marquees of floral arrangements and classic cars as part of the Spalding Flower Festival and Flower Parade. Coach bookings of 30 plus get a 5% discount on admission to the event.
Also in May, the annual Florabundance Tulip Festival at Chatsworth, in Derbyshire, takes place, transforming the house and garden with a spectacular tulip and spring flower celebration, featuring many flowers grown at Chatsworth itself. For three days of the four-day festival, visitors will be able to attend demonstrations and workshops with the renowned florist Jonathan Moseley. Groups of 15 or more are given a discount.
At the end of the month, Wrest Park Garden Show, held on the Hunting Party Lawns of this English Heritage property, will bring garden exhibits of plants, water features, furniture, tools and anything else you can think of in connection with gardening.
In June, West Woodhay Plant Finders Fair and Garden Show, near Newbury, in Berkshire, will have 80 trade stands, including specialist plant nurseries, show gardens and craft stalls, within the beautiful gardens of West Woodhay House, not normally open to the public. Experts will be on hand to answer questions about the gardens and other horticultural topics. Groups coming by coach must book a time slot for arrival to avoid congestion and a discount is available if numbers are 20 plus, provisionally booked before the end of April.
Taunton Flower Show, at Vivary Park, in Devon, in August, will offer designer gardens that demonstrate just how much you can successfully fit into a small space. Garden designers will compete on site to create a garden in just two hours, using plants from one of the garden centres that sponsors the event. Groups get a reduction on the entrance fee.

The NAFAS National Show.

The NAFAS National Show.

Shrewbury Flower Show, also in August, has marquees of floral displays, horticultural competitions, home and craft items and trade stands. One free ticket is given for every 10.
At Southport Flower Show, held in Victoria Park in August, the Grand Floral Marquee is the star, presenting top-quality exhibits that compete fiercely for a Gold Medal. Outside, designers, gardeners and landscapers will present show gardens that inspire the visitor with ideas to take home to their own patch, and a wide range of trade stands will offer the opportunity to buy everything needed to carry them out. It is advisable to prebook for a discount.

In September, the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies (NAFAS) will be holding its three-day National Show at the Riviera International Conference Centre in Torquay. There will be over 500 exhibits to admire, along with demonstrations, workshops and hands-on opportunities. Pre-booked groups of 25 plus get a discount.

Scotland

In June, Gardening Scotland will take place at the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh, with show gardens, college gardens, a Floral Hall and Living Garden, where the emphasis is on conservation. Group benefits are vast; there is one free ticket for every 10 purchased, a contribution of £25 towards the cost of coach hire for parties of 25 or more, free coach parking and a drop-off point with a dedicated entrance.
Ayr Flower Show, in early August, is held in a specially-constructed showground in the Rozelle Estate. The demonstrations and displays, many from Chelsea winners, draw crowds of about 30,000 over the three days, keen to also enjoy the musical entertainment, speciality food, horticultural masterclasses, and home and garden suppliers. Pre-booked groups get one free ticket for every 10 purchased.
Dundee Flower and Food Festival, held in the city’s Camperdown Park in September, is a popular event offering competitive classes on topics such as cut flowers, floral art, vegetables and fruit. You will also find live entertainment, a craft fair, TV celebrities, a Food Festival Marquee and Floral Marquee. Garden displays, meanwhile, will tempt visitors to purchase the range of plants on sale. Groups of 12 people or more benefit from reduced ticket prices and fasttrack entry.

To view a diary of events please click here.