Growing for gold

This is the time of the year we have the local horticultural society show. If you are a member of your local allotment or horticultural society you will probably have had one recently or are deep in planning and preparation for one coming soon. Yesterday, my own society, Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society ( ) held it’s 282nd flower show. The regular flower shows are a continuous thread running all the way through the 107 year history of the society, linking those first members in the early days to the gardeners of today. 

In June, I took part for the first time at the spring show, and was lucky enough to be awarded a 1st for my irises and a 3rd for my rhubarb. It wasn’t my first ever time showing. When I worked at Capel Manor College I had entered my dahlias into the Autumn show a couple of times, and was lucky enough to get 1st place two years running.  

This weekend I wasn’t as successful as on previous occasions, but I did manage to get a 2nd for my ‘Black Futsu’ squash, and a 3rd for both my runner beans and my potatoes. Nothing to be disappointed about, but I couldn’t help feeling that with a bit better preparation I could have done a lot better than I did.

I’m still a relative novice in the world of showing so it was a real treat when the head judge, Jim Butress (an RHS judge best known from TV program the ‘Big Allotment Challenge’) took some of the exhibitors around to give them tips on what he was looking for in a winning display. 

A lot of societies will require members to notify what classes they will be entering before the event. A quick reconnaissance trip to the allotment and a check around the garden in the week preceding the show is a good idea to see what will be ready in time. It’s hard to predict exactly what the weather will bring, but you can get a fairly good idea of what might be available. I had expected to be able to enter the cactus-type dahlia category, but when all of my best flowers took advantage of the warm weather to open the Tuesday before the show, I was left with a beautiful vase of flowers for the house, but less than perfect flowers for the show.

Study the show schedule carefully. Even with a bit of horticultural experience, I still misinterpreted some of the classes and needed to appeal to be changed into the correct class just minutes before the judging started. After taking part you will start to notice that some classes are less hotly contested than others, and you stand a better chance of a rosette focusing your efforts on ensuring you have an entry in those classes (although there is no obligation for the judges to award a prize if they don’t at least fulfil the expected standards.) 

I would however encourage anyone taking part to not focus on the rosettes too much. Whilst it is fun to be rewarded for your efforts with public acknowledgment the real joy of entering a show like this is for the strong sense of camaraderie they encourage. For everyone taking part, the day will be filled with the nervous excitement of their efforts being judged and all the participants will be only to happy to offer help, support and tips for one another. These events are an opportunity to build bonds within the local community and people who may not talk to one another for much of the year are brought together in a mutual appreciation of gardening and flowers to celebrate the bounty of the harvest together in an all-inclusive and non-religious way. 

Our local show also offers the opportunity to purchase some of the delicious produce of the local master bakers taking part, and usually lots of other entertainment. The Autumn show was filled with the rousing sound of the local brass band, and at the spring show we found ourselves jeering and shouting at Mr Punch as he fought to recover his beloved sausages from the mischievous crocodile in the most quintessentially British way.

Taking part in a local show is a great way to set yourself a goal. You will find you are even more motivated to learn more and put your skills in to practice so you can achieve the best you can. Simply growing the best flowers you can for a specific day is a real skill, and the more you do it the better you will get. I am reminded of a quote from the legendary Ice Hockey player, Wayne Gretzky “You miss 100% of the shots you didn’t take” – you have to have a go, to even have a chance of winning.


Author: jlrobbins

I grow plants

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