A day at the Harrogate Flower Show

by frankbeswick

The Harrogate Flower Show is one of Northern England's premier floral attractions.

I have had to wait a while to use my Christmas present from my wife, until April in fact. Two tickets for us to visit the Harrogate Flower show. Harrogate is a lovely town in North Yorkshire, where Harlow Carr, one of the Royal Horticultural Society's [RHS] great gardens, is sited. One of my regrets is that when I applied for a job in Harrogate several years ago, not at the garden I must add, my application was unsuccessful, but you cannot win everything.

Image shows a living wall which was part of a premier gold winning garden.

All images from Frank Beswick

First Impressions

One thing that you learn from visiting a flower show is that every show is different. While Tatton is spacious and Chatsworth set in the grandeur of a stately home, Harrogate is compact, for there is much set into a small space there. Moreover, the time of the year determines the character of the festival. There are Spring and Autumn Harrogate shows, and the Spring one reflects the dominance of flowers over vegetables in the English Spring. As befits an English Spring with its unreliable weather, the show protects the exhibits by holding much display in its ample exhibition halls .But the compact layout of the show has much to commend it, as you can easily walk from one place to another and it is easy to find your way around.

The floral displays are magnificent. This show is an early opportunity for  nurseries to display their wares, and the ones that you see are mainly flowers, there being but few vegetables. The vegetables present include herbs,some of which are wonderful specimens of the herb grower's craft. The judging of the displays ranges from gold to bronze, but there is a level known as silver gilt between silver and gold, and above gold there is premier gold,  the very best. Sometimes you get an award of best in show, and that is quite an achievement.  In the pictures below you see examples of  displays that earned premium gold.

What impresses me about the floral displays is that not only are they beautiful, but the precision and skill that has gone into making them as perfect as possible is outstanding. Their makers, in this case all nurseries intent on displaying their skills, work for days to eliminate even the slightest blemish. Blooms are chosen in some cases to all be exactly the same size and laid out with exactly the same number of flowers per pot. It reminds me that it is easier to write about gardens than it is to make a perfect one. But the floral displays inspire the rest of us to achieve higher standards.

You can run into kindred spirits  there. In the floral hall  Maureen and I met the mayoress and deputy mayoress of Trafford, our local area, there, as these two close friends were taking a well-earned day off from public duties to visit the show. The deputy mayoress is chair of Urmston Allotment and Garden Society, while I am vice chair, so  we know each other well.  A little later we visited an arboricultural  stall  and found that one of its staff was an impressive young scientist who had co-authored the article on biochar that I cited in my article on it that some of you recently read on Wizzley, a young lady called Emma Schaffert. We had a chat about, you've guessed it, biochar.Later on I had a good conversation with a lady who was involved in Hemsley Walled Garden in the North-East of England, and we finished up by agreeing that some time in the future I would visit that lovely restoration site. Expect an article,but not for a while yet.  

A premier gold winning exhibit
A premier gold winning exhibit
Frank Beswick

A premium gold winning display

Another premium gold winning display
Another premium gold winning display
Frank Beswick

Show Gardens

There are not as many show gardens at this show as there are at Chelsea [Britain's premier show] and Tatton, at which I and a team to which I belonged exhibited a few years ago.  This is to be expected, as April is a bit early for exhibits and it is not easy to get plants growing. Those displays that we saw tended to emphasize craft and garden design skills rather than cultivation, but there were  some interesting features.

Below you see a garden that recreates a rural scene. You notice the blend of planting, natural features such as water and  human features, such as a shed. Exhibits like this take some time to erect, and the public do not see the work that goes into erecting them before the show begins, When I exhibited at Tatton we  spent several days building our exhibit, and I was only a minor member of a much larger team, and certainly not  the leader. If it is your own exhibit then you have to work-hard and long.

Note the Viking Ship Garden, which was produced by a group of students. It earned  a prize, but not gold. But I could see the problem, it was mainly a craft garden, there was much  sculpture there, but the plants available at this time of the year were not abundant, and so the planting did not come up to gold standard. Sad, because the young people who made the garden have much to offer.

Show Gardens

Show Gardens
Show Gardens

Show Garden

A Viking Ship Garden
A Viking Ship Garden
Frank Beswick

Show Gardens

An Urban Landscape Garden
An Urban Landscape Garden
Frank Beswick

Craft Stalls and Displays

There was a fascinating variety of craft stalls, which we both like to inspect. On entering the hall where the small craft stalls are situated our agreed procedure was initiated. We split up so that she can inspect stalls that she wants to without the burdens of a bored male who she knows is uninterested in looking at fabrics, while I set off on a pre-planned search for the stalls that interest me, pies and cheese. We meet up again at a  pre-arranged point. I like to return from a show with a few pies [especially venison, game and wild boar] and specialist cheeses. I usually buy three pies. This  time I bought two, but one was a large one. Only one cheese took my fancy this time, one seasoned with cracked black pepper. The woman on the pie stall advised  me how long to keep the pies, but I replied that they would be gone in a day or two. I spotted a craft cider stall,run by a heavily bearded chap who looked like an escapee from the Lord of the Rings,  but though I am a cider enthusiast and I know that the product is quality stuff, it is too costly for anything other than a special present. Anyway,lugging a flagon back to Manchester would be hard work without a car.

Maureen made a beeline for  the craft basket shop,which sells handcrafted willow baskets of a wide range of designs. I must admit that I find willow crafts fascinating as well. I stopped to discuss plant protection with a stall holder and took his catalogue for cloches. I had a good talk with a stall holder selling greenhouses, but I had to tell her that at £15000 her product was beyond my reach. But it was a magnificent construction.

Yet there are artistic displays demonstrating the florist's art. We saw some magnificent ones inspired by Rio de Janeiro's carnival, which you can see  below. These were made by college students  as part of a project and they are really inspiring. Just to think of the level of skill shown by these young people is so impressive. As one who is lacking in visual creativity I could not but be awestruck by their craft skills. There was also a display of bonzai, which we both admired.

Craft Displays

Floral display based on carnival
Floral display based on carnival
Frank Beswick

Carnival Display

Carnival inspired display
Carnival inspired display
Frank Beswick


Harrowgate is sited in the lovely Vale of York,a train ride of an hour and half from where I live in Greater Manchester. I had never been to the town before, but I will go again. I was impressed  with the show,  it was so well organized. In particular the tea rooms and restaurants were well spaced out and easy to find. We enjoyed tea, Earl Grey for me of course,  and cakes in one, and the cake was beautifully made.

Access to the site is easy. Though the garden is two miles from Harrogate there is a  regular shuttle bus that runs from near the train station every twenty minutes during opening hours.We chose to come by train rather than by car, as the train is a comfortable way to travel that allows you to rest on the way.  There are, however, spacious car parks.

 We returned to Manchester well  pleased with the trip,  and I bought us a meal at one of our favourite restaurants before we strolled the last two miles home.

Harrogate Show

Photo Jigsaw Puzzle of Two Elderly ladies at Harrogate Flower Show

PHOTO JIGSAW PUZZLE. Photo Puzzle (252 Pieces). Artwork depicting Two Elderly ladies at Harrogate Flower Show. Two Elderly ladies in their Sunday best take a breather on a grass...

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Updated: 04/23/2016, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 05/04/2016

I took the photographs.

Veronica on 05/04/2016

Frank these photos are really good and I assuming your lovely wife took them.

It looks like you both had a lovely day. The urban landscape and Vking ship exhibits are stunning.

blackspanielgallery on 05/03/2016

The images here are excellent, and ne can but imagine how much better it would be in person.

frankbeswick on 04/23/2016

I am delighted that you liked my article. I work on the philosophy that all good experiences should be shared with others.

candy47 on 04/23/2016

Thank you for taking me on a lovely garden tour.

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