British Country Shows

by frankbeswick

Britain has a rich assortment of country shows, be they flower shows, agricultural shows or game shows.

So far I have written about a limited range of shows, mainly those at which I have been a participant, but this time I am spreading my net a bit wider to cover a variety of events. I am not able to cover every show, but I will try to mention some that I have heeded but little. There are flower shows which focus on horticultural products, agricultural shows, which are farm related and which form an important part of the agricultural scene, and there are game shows, less common than the others, but which serve a role in the hunting and shooting industry.

Photo of phlox, courtesy of Steinchen, of Pixabay

Beginning in the West

I have been putting my editor's diploma to good use recently, sub editing (copy editing) for a gardening society magazine. Every edition carries a feature listing various shows, and there are so many. Where do I start? I know, I will begin at Malvern, at the Malvern Show under the steep slopes of the Malvern Hills, from whose ancient pre-cambrian rocks issue springs of the purest water. The Three Counties Showground is the site of the Spring and Autumn shows and a small number of smaller ones. The Three Counties, Hereford, Worcester and Gloucestershire, are the three English counties of the Welsh borders. Wales has its own Royal Welsh Show at Builth Wells, but English and Welsh participate in both shows without discrimination. My son worked  at a fruit tree nursery in Worcestershire, which used to sell fruit saplings at the Autumn show. They were not ready for the Spring one. It was always a vital occasion, brimming with life  and lively with stalls selling goods  of a variety of kinds. It was a place to meet. Once he was at his stall when a couple approached. " Are you Frank Beswick's son?" they asked. How did anyone round there know my  name, he wondered. Does the old boy get everywhere? It  transpired that they knew me from a now  defunct country living website. 

The Royal Welsh Show is a vibrant occasion, both horticultural and agricultural. Wales is a land where sheep and cattle farming is the mainstay of the  agricultural economy and displays showing these beasts are popular. This show is an occasion when farmers attempt to win prizes for bulls and rams in their herds and flocks, knowing that a successful, ribbon earning display will bring rich rewards when the successful beast comes for sale as breeding stock at the farmers' markets later in the year. Farmers and  their families spend time and effort sprucing up their display animals ahead of the show. The effort is worth it.  Welsh mountain ponies can also be seen at the show, along with other breeds such as Welsh cob. Chickens also have their place at the show and are popular, along with other foul.

Yet Horticulture has its place, for the Royal Welsh Show was a stepping stone to success for Medwyn Williams, arguably Britain's top vegetable grower., whom I am privileged to have met. He cut  his gardening teeth  at shows in his native Anglesey before moving to  accept an invitation to try the Royal Welsh, which show lead to invitations to the  Chelsea Show and a succession of gold medals, along with a  thriving horticultural business. This was a successful journey from his gardening beginnings as an eight year old with a square yard of space in his father's vegetable garden to being honoured by the Royal Horticultural Society.



North and East of the area we have been discussing is Tatton itself.I have written much about this show which has given me happy memories. Tatton is a show for horticulture so there are no cattle, sheep or other livestock.But what Tatton misses in terms of animals it more than makes up in its plant life. It has a glorious abundance of a wide range of ornamental flowers and vegetables and the market of high quality goods is superb.

I did like the Chatsworth Show, set in the hills of the Peak District in the family estate of the Dukes of Devonshire.  Chatsworth is a good experience. Maureen had won a voucher for a night's stay in a hotel, which we gladly accepted, so we drove across the Pennine Hills, crossing the stark beauty of Tideswelĺ Moor, to reach the renowned spa town of Buxton, where we were to stay. But the Chatsworth Show is more than just a flower show. When we went there were talks about a variety of subjects. There was a display of military parachuting and one of WW2 military vehicles .It was a vain try, but I looked for my father's old armoured car, whose name I know, Hunter, but to no avail. It went for scrap metal, I suppose, and Dad was glad to see the back of it. What impressed me was that the Duke himself came out of the mansion, along with the Duchess, and greeted the assembled visitors. He need not have done that. 

Shows with a warm welcome are not restricted to Chatsworth with its friendly duke. The Southport flower show, while not considered one of Britain's most important shows, impressed me with the diligent way in which the show chair went round the stalls before the show welcoming stallholders. We were two in number, Horticultural advisors sent by the Chartered Institute of Horticulture  to give guidance on gardening matters to the general public. There were no medals available for us that day, but the atmosphere at Southport was warm and friendly. I was delighted by a group of women who gave a display of spinning and hand knitting. The knitting reminded me of my mother, a fine knitter.

Southport is set in a narrow park which extends along the sea front adjoining the Lancashire town's expansive beach. It is a pleasant place where many elderly folk seek retirement properties, and the show is a cultural attraction in a town that is a very civilised place.

Poynton is a pleasant little show set in late August and lasting for one day only. I attended as a volunteer on a display stall run by my local district association of the National Vegetable Society. It is a Cheshire village and as a small district it is too small to concentrate exclusively on flowers and vegetables, so it has displays of the crafts in which there is local expertise. These include wine making and keeping poultry and small animals. I enjoyed sampling the wine, but for legal reasons purchasing wine from an unlicensed vendor is illegal in Britain. There is a display of local cattle and a competition for the best presented cow. I remember once standing outside the horticulture tent when a woman ran up and asked was I a judge. I told her that I was not and that I was a horticultural consultant. She was late for the cattle show and needed to be in the ring. Farmer's wife in a hurry. I directed her to then show ring and she sped off to seek her agricultural destiny.

Hampton Court and Chelsea

These are Britain's elite flower shows, they are run by the Royal Horticultural  Society, and they are exclusively horticultural.Moreover, you cannot normally apply for a place at these two. You must wait for an invitation, which will only come if you have proved yourself in horticulture, either by being  a successful horticulturalist or maybe having won a significant number of gold medals at highly esteemed shows. We saw how Medwyn Williams was invited after winning a significant number of gold medals at the Royal Welsh Show. But Medwyn did not get a free pass, he had to pass a probationary period by submitting an entry to Hampton Court. The standard required is to earn at least one gold. Medwyn earned four, including best newcomer. So he reached Chelsea.

We all have our horticultural strong and weak points. One of my strong ones is horticultural education, but my weakness is that I am weak at design. I am lousy at visuals, so I am in awe of the wonderful garden designers who make it to Chelsea; and Chelsea is a show for the best garden designers. The show gardens are magnificent. You must be commissioned for a show garden, and it must have a theme, which is chosen by the sponsor who commissioned the garden. On television before last year's show the nation eagerly followed the efforts of expert plant propagator Carole Klein as she strove to design and construct a wildlife garden, being an expert gardener a gold medal was inevitable. The gardens are dismantled after the show, some go the sponsor, but other to charity. To do this the plants are not rooted in earth but in concealed containers.

The show is in the grounds of  Chelsea Hospital, which is the military institution that hosts selected war veterans, who mingle in the crowds wearing their distinctive red uniforms.

This is a feast of beautiful blooms and many new varieties were presented to the general public at Chelsea.

Every show has its characters, and none rival Mr Ishihara. As a young garden designer in Nagasaki, he heard of the show and fell in love with the dream of Chelsea. He contacted the  Royal Horticultural Society, who waived the requirement to be invited  and took a punt on this young Japanese gardener. What a success! He threw himself into the show and started to win medals, gold of course. He is now regarded with great affection by show staff and the public alike. Now sixty five he has made a wonderful success of his association with the show. He possibly has years of active garden design and Chelsea left in him.


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Updated: 10/15/2023, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 10/25/2023

The saplings were not ready for planting in Spring.

DerdriuMarriner on 10/25/2023

Thank you!

That same paragraph also indicates that your son's fruit saplings had not been ready for the spring show.

Might your son have had saplings that were ready for the spring-show sales? If so, what kind were they?

frankbeswick on 10/25/2023

The saplings were about a year old, which is the normal age for friuit saplings. The fruits included a wide range of Apple trees, some pears, small numbers of quinces, plums and damsons

DerdriuMarriner on 10/24/2023

The first paragraph in the first subheading, Beginning in the west, describes the son of the famous country-living website author, Frank Beswick -- ;-D -- as selling fruit saplings.

What age and what kind of fruit saplings endear themselves to autumn show-goers in the three Wales-bordering British-Isles counties?

frankbeswick on 10/23/2023

We cannot know the intricacy of stately homes. What passages are found there. The owner's of these mansions give away few secrets

DerdriuMarriner on 10/23/2023

Your second paragraph under the subheading Northwards caused me to consider something.

A visiting Finnish professor explained to my political science seminar that Sweden has a network of walking trails that come quite close to money- and power-holding homeowners. He furnished no explanation for what the latter do should they need to leave and trail walkers are in the area. Might they greet but go on, greet and stop or have underground routes to get them out? (That option might have come up in a Daniel Craig Bond movie!)

You note in your wizzley that "What impressed me was that the Duke [of Devonshire] himself came out of the mansion, along with the Duchess, and greeted the assembled visitors. He need not have done that."

What occurs if cabin fever or necessity or prior scheduling requires their leaving and they prefer not to acknowledge -- apart perhaps distantly head-nodding or waving -- people not part of their family and friends on their property?

Would they perhaps have an underground tunnel from an underground parking?

DerdriuMarriner on 10/23/2023

Thank you!

In particular, I like the possibility of plum tea. I never would have thought of it -- not that I dislike it -- on my own!

frankbeswick on 10/22/2023

I like Apple and plum, but in general like a lot of teas

DerdriuMarriner on 10/21/2023

These questions are somewhat related, because of country wines perhaps prompting thoughts of country teas, and somewhat unrelated, because about teas (absent from this wizzley ;-D).

Ragnar Jónasson authored his most recent book, with the current Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir.

Reykjavík: A Crime Story temporally is set variously in 1956, 1966, 1976 and 1986. The two co-authors mention 1986 as the year in which fruit teas and toast became popular for breakfasting, brunching, snacking Icelanders.

All things tea, in my mind because of my English/Irish/Scots ancestors (apart my belovedest, coffee-drinking, English, paternal Grandmother Rose ;-D), suggest the British Isles.

Celestial Seasonings suggest peach and raspberry as favorite tea flavors.

What would you suggest as scrumptiousest fruit teas according to British-Isles markets and from your experience and preference?

DerdriuMarriner on 10/19/2023

Metal containers can be quite attractive.

Is there a certain kind that's favored for these shows? What metal would you suggest for home containers such as I'm contemplating?

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