On the morning of May 23, the first public day at the Chelsea Flower Show, I arrived at the Showground at 8am. I didn’t need to be there until 10am, when I was helping on the stand, but I was eager to find out how we’d done.
I met Jan Vaughan just as I got inside; she’d had the same idea. We went straight to the stand to find John and Linda already there, and thrilled to discover that we’d been awarded a Silver-Gilt medal. This was a fitting culmination to all the work that had been done before.
I’d already spent the previous Saturday and Sunday helping with the set-up. The stand had already been built when I got there, so I was involved in placing plants, stuffing the gaps with paper, and disguising pots with bark. Then it was making sure that every single plant was labelled correctly, with its QR code for visitors to link directly to the plant list on the website. The stand had to be perfect and pristine by Sunday evening, as you are not permitted to change anything on the judging day. Fortunately everything went smoothly – a few hiccups but no real disasters, thanks to the meticulous planning that had gone before.
The next two days were pretty busy. The Chelsea regulations allow only six complimentary tickets each day for exhibitors, so it was planned to have two people each doing two two-hour shifts through the day. It soon became apparent that this wasn’t enough, and most of us spent far more than our four hours on duty. This was no problem for me: I loved being on the stand, talking to people, telling them about the stand and the HPS, and hopefully signing up new members.
Interest in the stand was huge, even before the TV coverage: a couple of people suggested we should have seating so that they could sit and watch the plants rotate, and one or two decided it would be ideal for the patio! All agreed that it was much easier to stand and see the plants come to them, rather than the frequent scenario of having to push through the crowd to get a view.
Being on the other side of the fence, so to speak, was fascinating. At the weekend, the site was full of cars and trucks, and the sound of sawing and hammering, with huge trolleys of plants being wheeled around. I was amused to see a couple of trolleys of roses from the David Austin stand opposite us, labelled “rejects”. I think the maximum we had of any one variety was eight and we used almost all of them! We knew how much work had gone into our small stand, so it helps you appreciate the effort needed for some of the big nurseries.
By the end of the four days, I was pretty tired, but when I had to go home on the Thursday morning I was really disappointed that I wasn’t heading back to Chelsea for another busy day on the stand.
We're expecting the BBC to film again this week. John will be interviewed by James Wong, most likely for a Thursday or Friday evening slot, to be shown with earlier filming at the nursery.
See the plants we used in this list
Just days now before the start of Chelsea Flower Show 2017 – and detailed preparations are in hand to make sure our stand is the best it can be.
Designer Linda Marsh and a team of volunteers form our group have been busy in recent weeks, repotting the plants, tending and cleaning them up – and dead-heading many of them to delay flowering until they appear at Chelsea.
A mock-up of the plants layout was created last week and worked very well indeed. The plants were looking in excellent condition. Some planned varieties will not be used because they are too far advanced this year but, thanks to the generosity and advice of staff at Cotswold Garden Flowers, we’ve now hit our 60 different plant varieties target to help celebrate the 60th anniversary of the national society this year.
BBC cameras have filmed a group of our members at the Offenham nursery where the plants have been housed – and we’re told that a five-minute film will be shown of our back story on the BBC hour-long daily highlights show during Chelsea Week. Currently, it’s hoped it will be shown the Thursday evening programme but we’ll email Worcestershire members if that changes. Arrangements have also been made to let HPS members know across the country.
Getting to Chelsea will mean two trips in large vans – the first on the Tuesday before the show opens, when the dismantled stand will be transported to the showground, where strict security arrangements are in place. Our freelance engineer, Caleb Whitcombe, will be on board and will build the stand in the following 24 hours.
Then, two days later, it’s the turn of the plants, around 500 of them. They’ll be packed safely with the help of staff at the Offenham nursery to make sure they arrive at Chelsea in a good state. Once at Chelsea Linda and her team of helpers will dress the stand and get it to its final, fantastic state by Sunday afternoon.
Monday is press day when lots of celebrities and public figures are the stars of the show. Tuesday is the first public day when the gold, silver gilt, silver and bronze awards are distributed. We’re crossing our fingers!
Our new dark green Hardy Plant Society aprons will be worn by all the people on our stand during the six days – and there are a couple of dozen people who’ll be on the stand at different times throughout the show, not just from Worcestershire but around the country. We’ve been shadowed during our preparations in recent months by Heather and Graham Farquhar from the HPS group in Lincolnshire.
We’ve been taking photos of things that have been happening for the last year or so. Our plan is to show the best to tell the ups and downs of our big Chelsea adventure to our members at the July 9 Worcestershire meeting, before hearing from our speaker that month, Marina Christopher from Phoenix Perennials.
Things have really moved up a gear in recent weeks. John McGhee’s been exceptionally busy with some of the rigorous admin arrangements for our stand at Chelsea Flower Show this year – including health and safety issues for the show, electrical certification for the event and booking us in for the build-up and break-down process. John – along with our freelance engineer Caleb Whitcombe - have finished building and testing the 3m diameter revolving stand, which has now been moved to a polytunnel at the Offenham nursery of Cotswold Garden Flowers.
John is also making arrangements for a smaller stand to mark our presence at Malvern Spring Festival this year. On the plant side, some of the 300 plants we have growing at the nursery have been repotted and watered – with more lined up for the same treatment in coming days. We’ve had more good publicity for our Chelsea adventure – most recently in the March edition of Cotswold Life, which features an interview with our stand designer, Linda Marsh, and details of our group.
We also have a two-page feature and pictures in the next issue of The Hardy Plant, due out in the coming weeks. We’re planning a new round of publicity in the early part of May and have received advice from a former editor about the best ways to get coverage in some of the national garden magazines. The brochure that we will use on the stand at Chelsea has been designed and is awaiting final approvals - and on March 29, we’re meeting a BBC Chelsea Flower Show representative to discuss our stand and whether they can assist us in telling the world about it. Wish us good luck that day.
Finally, we’re allowed to announce officially that Worcestershire Group of the Hardy Plant Society has been chosen to fly the flag for the national society at next year’s Chelsea Flower Show, which takes place from May 23 to May 27.
We’ve been trying to keep you informed during our meetings about how things are going but now we can confirm that our bid to represent the society has been accepted, the RHS has approved the design of the stand - which will rotate throughout the six days of the show - and now it’s all systems go.
It’s kind of a double whammy for us because next year is also the 60th anniversary of the society nationally, an important landmark in the society’s history. In case you missed it, the theme of our stand will be 60 plants for 60 years - with the emphasis on strong colours. The anniversary even featured in the official RHS press release - you can see it here in the Grand Pavilion section - Royal Horticultural Society - RHS Reveals Initial Garden and Floral Line-up for RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 and catch up on the latest news of the event itself.
Mick Dunstan, who’s looking after the publicity for us, was interviewed for BBC Radio in Hereford and Worcester about our involvement. “Country Gardener” magazine says they will cover the announcement in their coming winter edition and the “Malvern Observer” has been in touch for information they say they’ll use in their next edition. Fingers crossed for good coverage.
So far, we have 300 plants being grown for the event and those numbers will swell in coming months as we add to the colourful mix. We’ll keep you up to date with developments.
Here’s the press release that Mick - helped by Jayne Savage - sent out to local print and broadcast media in recent days, with a few details of the high-tech innovations we want to feature on the stand. Watch this space….
The ‘core team’ have met again a couple of times and the concept for the size and layout of the stand are well underway although must remain under wraps for the moment. We are pleased to have Nicola Content working with us - many of you will have met Nicola at the Malvern Show over the last few years.
We are delighted that Hazel Bartlett has agreed to act as our plant coordinator to oversee the plants we are growing on at Cotswold Garden Flowers. These are the plants potted on from plugs in October, as well as some that arrived to late for potting this year and will now stay as plugs until spring.
John and Linda will be attending an induction day for new exhibitors at Chelsea next May and several other members will be going down to look at the specialist society stands. We want to make our 2017 stand as distinctive as we can as the main aim is to gain publicity for the HPS and to recruit new members.
Remember that we would love to know your ideas on how we should represent the 60th anniversary of the HPS.
The Worcestershire Group, under the leadership of John McGhee, has put forward a bid to represent the HPS at Chelsea in 2017 when the Hardy Plant Society will be celebrating 60 years since its formation. Your committee support the steering group that has been formed to take on the task and believe that this is a unique opportunity for the group to publicise the HPS and assist in recruiting new members. Linda Marsh will be leading on the design for the stand, and said a few words at the meeting about her background and experience of designing show gardens. But, of course, it is vital that we are all a part of this and there will be opportunities over the next 20 months for everyone to be involved in some way. We will share the journey with you at meetings, in the newsletters and on the website.
You may be wondering about how we will produce the plants we will need. We are delighted to have the support of Bob and Ed Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers who have offered us space and facilities in one of their tunnels at the nursery.
During the summer we have visited the nursery on several occasions to re-pot and tidy the plants and everything is coming on well.
Question to HPS members?
Can you think of a way of representing the RHS at 60? The RHS have to approve all signage on the stands and this means that we are likely to be able to use up to 4 x A3 name boards. If you have any ideas please speak to one of the team.