A Day at the Tatton Flower Show

by frankbeswick

I was privileged to enjoy a day as a helper at the Tatton Show, 2016

The Tatton Flower Show is the premier flower show of Northern England. Held by the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society, it is considered second only to the Chelsea Show. The event is held in the wide, green expanses of historic Tatton Park and to it come exhibitors and tradesfolk from across the UK and beyond. Working on the National Vegetable Society Stall, I met people from Finland and Germany, and from right across Britain and Ireland, many older folk enjoying a lovely day with the flowers and young people eager to learn about plants.

The picture above shows a hydroponic unit on display at the show.

Gettting on the Show

I had done Tatton before, but previously not with the National Vegetable Society, and had been part of a medal winning team. Then we gave it a miss for the a year or so, and I thought that the opportunity had slipped me by. But this year, 2016, I had a late call, the NVS Manchester and Cheshire Branch wanted extra volunteers, specifically to man the stall, and I was recommended. It was too late for me to grow anything for the stand, though I grew for my previous entry, but what the society wanted was someone who could talk to the public; so I got a recommendation, which I eagerly accepted. 

To be invited as a very minor member of a prize winning team was quite appealing to me. The man in charge,John, is over 80 and has won sixteen gold medals on the run. His first medal was silver, but he said never again! So ever afterwards he has driven for gold and succeeded.

Working on a horticultural show is a team  effort. John now  directs operations, but is still game enough to get up to the top of the stand to effect repairs: not bad for a man in his eighties.But we also  have  a very competent lady who organizes and plans the display She is John's assistant, but if you look at the picture below you can see the work that she has done in making the display perfect enough for us to win our sixteenth gold medal.Sadly, she was not present when I worked on the stall, as she needed a day off. But there is a large team of us, each of whom plays a part. There is a team of growers selected for the quality of the plants that they grow, and they come from across Greater Manchester and Cheshire

As I said, I was brought in to speak the public, because, to use an old English phrase,I can  talk the hind leg off a donkey. But I wanted to do more than that, so I came along for one of the build up days. Readers must realize that much preparation goes into building a display. Firstly the stand has to be constructed, and then the plants collected from the growers and brought together. They also need to be arranged. But to win gold you have to get the display perfect. I just do as I am told when that is happening, as I know that my visual aesthetic skills are not as good as those of others, so I did  general  work on construction, which consisted of acting as an assistant as other  got the aesthetics right, ensuring that all unsightly wood was covered and that the equipment was clean. I was not  chosen for break down  days, which come next week.


The NVS Stand

The Author at the Show
The Author at the Show
Frank Beswick

Show Day

The Show opens at ten in the morning and runs until six thirty in the evening, but team members had to be present for nine, but we arrived at 8.30. I had a lift from a friend, along with two others. You cannot see all of the stand in the picture above, for it was divided into two, with one bit for the vegetables and the other for the catalogues and books, which we sell or give away according to whether they came free from sellers or not.There were four on that side of the stall and two of us on the vegetable display, I went for the display and left the catalogue and book selling to others.

But to be fair, that was not all their work.There were expert growers among those four and together we answered questions raised by the visitors. Some questions I could answer by myself, but at times I had to seek help from these experts. Gardening is like that, I am a qualified gardener, but I am still learning. The visitors loved the display, gushing about how beautiful it was. Being a Friday, a working day, many were retired, but there were others who had taken a day off.I met people who had come up from Devon, three hundred miles to the south of us,to attend the show. Another couple had arrived for the show from Finland, and yet another from Germany. I had a great talk with the German couple. 

Yet there were children as well. Some came from a primary school not far from where I live, and they were a very well behaved group of ten year olds being taken around by two of their teachers. They quickly took an interest in the giant leeks and long carrots, and I explained to them how to get their leeks and carrots long, so they set off back to school with a project in mind: big leeks and carrots in their school vegetable garden.

What moved me was the old people being taken around in wheelchairs. They were very appreciative of  the beauty of the stand. I was impressed by the families, who were pushing their elderly relatives over grassy ground,for while the show has temporary roads, the display tents are laid on grass. The dedication of these families was being expressed in hard work. Great people!  

It is not all easy.

"You were enjoying yourself" my friend said, and I concurred, but he also urged me to sit down for a little. There were so many visitors for me to deal with that I spent several hours on my feet. The result was calf muscles  that stiffened when I sat in the car on the way home and a sore back. Next year I am bringing a folding chair. Lesson learned!

But the other problem is the humidity. We have not had a good Summer in the UK, but as the weather has become drier the air has stayed humid. I had to take a water bottle with me and take regular drinks while I was on duty.We were indoors in a large tent,so we were not afflicted by the punishing sun, but it was still hot, but being British  water is not enough, I just had to go at times for cups of tea.

But Murphy's  Law says that what can go wrong, will go wrong, and something did. Nearly six o'clock in the late afternoon with thirty five minutes to go before shutdown  we noticed that some peppers had fallen from the display.If you look at the picture you can see them next to the Royal Mail tribute. There was another set of peppers on the other side. Jeff, a good friend of mine, went up to restore them, but the vibrations of the feet on the boards caused the display that you cannot see on the other side of the Royal Mail sign to crash down, sending peppers cascading to the ground and smashing some. We have spares, but it meant that Jeff and I had to both be up on the display unit, he at the top, and I passing the restored parts to him. We  were moving as delicately as possible, and I was carefully shifting my balance. I was thinking that I used to rock climb, but at 66 my youthful subtlety of movement is a thing of the past.  Fortunately we managed to restore the display to the state that it had previously been.But we finished about 6.30 pm, just as the show was closing.

But we learned some lessons and for next year we are going to improve the ways in which the displays are affixed to the unit. There will be a meeting at which we discuss lessons to be learned. We won gold, but it is from the failures and weaknesses that you learn.    

The team had earmarked two more  shows for me, but one is on the day that my second son gets married,so that's out, but I have another local show in late August, not as prestigious as Tatton, but interesting all the same. As one whose school sporting achievements were very limited [unused  reserve for the junior school cricket team once] I have an unfulfilled hunger for some competitive success. I can see the possibility of this in horticultural shows.





Updated: 07/25/2016, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 04/27/2017

I don't know, but the show is 19-23 July. I don't think I will get the first day, for that is for the RHS members,such as I, who don't need much advice. As my job is to deal with the public I imagine my days will be any one or more of the other four. I will not be on all of them, as others team members have a right to a share of the limited tickets.

Veronica on 04/27/2017

What date are you going there ? Can I come and heckle ?

frankbeswick on 04/27/2017

Some good news. I have been invited to do the Tatton Show again, with exactly the same job, speaking to the general public about our display and horticulture in general. Expect an article on this later in the year.

katiem2 on 09/06/2016

WOW I love how cool this experience was for you and YES it is an amazing experience. I adore plants and this is a very informative article.

Mira on 07/26/2016

Very interesting, and nice, too. Thank you, Frank!

frankbeswick on 07/26/2016

The gold medal is a paper image of a medal, and this is so with all flower shows, as the value lies not in the gold of the medal, but the achievement. It does not give any special access to other fairs. The medal system is not a ranking, though there is the rank of Best in Show. The medal classification is awarded on how far the standard is met, so there can be several gold medals per show. The medal classification in descending order is: gold, silver gilt, silver, bronze. Some events use an alternative system of commended, highly commended. Last time when I competed [as part of a very large team] my part of the team won a highly commended, and the overall entry from Trafford and Manchester Allotments, to which we belonged, won Best in Show.

All team members will get a copy of the gold medal, but that is up to the team to arrange.

Mira on 07/26/2016

Is the gold medal also a monetary prize, or does it involve access to other fairs, for instance?

frankbeswick on 07/26/2016

Just over three years

Veronica on 07/26/2016

Aged 62 ? That must have been a long, long time ago Frank.

frankbeswick on 07/25/2016

I also have forgotten the decline in agility too often. Aged sixty two, I tried to see if I was still capable of vaulting a metal fence. I wasn't, I got hurt, and I had a very annoyed wife and daughter who demanded that I acknowledge the limitations of my age.

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