These range from the small local flower and vegetable show like the Old Gooseberry Show at Egton Bridge in North Yorkshire (here illustrated) up to the grand Chelsea Flower Show, and I have attended both. In my late 20s/early 30s I went to two of the Chelsea shows.

In those days – nearly 40 years ago – the Chelsea Flower Show in particular was rather different from how it appears today.  Now it is much more about how exotic and modern the gardens on display can be made to appear. In fact I rarely have the patience to watch it on television nowadays. I am sure there are still plenty of fine flowers there, but the TV producers must think this makes for rather dull viewing. I think what annoys me most are the inane comments of the presenters. The real stars of the show are the flowers.

In fact it is the ordinary horticultural show (like the Old Gooseberry Show) that I much prefer, as I prefer the ordinary people singing hymns on Songs of Praise to the constant competitions they have now. For heaven’s sake, congregational singing should not be a competitive activity; but flower shows certainly are. They are intensely competitive which is perhaps why, when I have attended plenty as a spectator, I have never entered one as an exhibitor. I would not have the nerve to compete, even as an ‘also ran’. Not only do you have produce the longest runner bean or the heaviest turnip, you have produce it in its state of greatest perfection to coincide with the date of the show. The nearest I have come to entering a flower show was the Bungay Horticultural Show of 1959. For that I entered not a plant but the picture of a plant. My watercolour of a cuckoo pint won first prize in its category! I think it was for children because I was only ten.

Going up to the Chelsea Flower Show was quite a performance. On May 24th 1978, because I had a dog, I could not leave him at home all day, nor could I travel by train (not because dogs were not allowed on trains but because I would have nowhere to leave him while I wandered round the show). So I bundled him into the car and drove up to London. The road was nearly all single carriageway, but these was no congestion charge for driving in the capital either. I found a multi-storey car park near Marble Arch and left Fido while I took the tube to Pimlico and walked along the Embankment to Chelsea.

First prize

First prize


After I had looked round the show it was time to drive home along the A11. In those days it passed through Epping Forest, and this was the ideal place to stop and give my dog a good run; he deserved it after spending all morning in a multi-storey. There were parking places by the roadside in the forest, with height restricting bars that allowed cars through not the taller commercial vehicles. This was right next to the A11 main road. When they built the M11 they renumbered the old road and I have never been able to find this pleasant spot again.

I went to the Chelsea Flower Show twice altogether. The first time the weather was fine but on the second occasion it was rather wet. My abiding memory of this second time was seeing Percy Thrower, now no doubt a forgotten name but then recently the presenter of Gardener’s World on BBC TV. He was standing forlornly in a light coloured Macintosh waiting to answer questions from passers-by – but no one wanted to stop and talk to him in the rain.





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