The Tatton Flower in Cheshire is held every year and is one of England's premier flower shows. Every year the local Manchester and Cheshire branch of the National Vegetable Society enters the show.I missed last year, but I was determined to lay my full part this year, and I was thoroughly happy with what was a very positive and fulfilling experience.Hard work, indeed, but worth every bit of the effort.But a tornado nearly caused a disaster.
A Flower Show, a gold medal and a mini-tornado
Members day at the Tatton Flower Show was a lovely experience.
This year's show was a success for us, the Manchester and Cheshire branch of the National Vegetable Society. We entered as usual in the plant societies marquee, now known as the plant hub, and we won a gold medal for our display. This was an improvement on last year when we only won a silver gilt.We were collectively ecstatic. for ourselves and for Sandra, the wonderful woman who runs our group and who thoroughly deserves her success.
Every year we choose a theme, and this year, as you can see in the picture below, it was the hungry caterpillar. This was only part of the stall, which extended to the right with a large customer service section where we sold leaflets and books and dispensed advice to the general public, though several of us were present at the display to ensure that the visiting public got the best possible experience. And we were successful, for no one went away with a complaint and we enjoyed lots of praise from the visitors.
The show began on the 17th of July and runs until the 21st. Members day is the 17th, the first day of the show, and is reserved for members of the Royal Horticultural Society, but there is a way round this restriction for non-members: join on the day! The RHS will happily let you do this and appoints volunteers to process membership applications.
To say that the show began then is misleading, as we had all done our part in preparing the exhibits. Sandra, our chairwoman, directed the preparations and implemented her design ideas. This year we did not need to construct the stand, as the RHS built it for us. But some men skilled with their hands brought their tool kits for fastening the educational displays to the wooden casing of the stand [see the picture below.] Others prepared the exhibits. You will see tomatoes and potatoes etc affixed as part of the caterpillar. The affixing is done with cocktail sticks, one end of which goes into the fibreglass while the other is stuck into the vegetable. My role was preparing plants for display, which involved washing potatoes, trimming herbs to eliminate straggling stems and watering the plants ahead of their going onto the stand.
I had grown some potatoes for the show, but they were too large for the bowls and so they have been kept back for selling to the general public on the show's final afternoon to raise much needed funds for the society.
The Heart of the Display
The Hungry Caterplilar
About the Display
The stall stretched from behind the caterpillar's tail where some large onions symbolised eggs. To the side of them there were wall planters stretching up from the table to the top. These were filled with bronze basil,sage and blonde lavender, the term blonde being applicable because of its yellowish flowers.These were herbs that I helped to prepare, though they were grown by a group in Wythenshawe, the Manchester estate where I grew up.The food group sent some people to work with us on preparation days, and I was delighted to team up with one of them, an absolutely delightful woman called Kay Bamford. We worked well as a team.
Below the caterpillar you see some red chillis, placed in a strawberry shaped container to represent the food eaten by the caterpillar.The hole in the potato display is deliberate, to represent the caterpillar's eating. You can also see small onions, peppers, a small squash and a bowl of anya potatoes, which differ in shape from the normal potato.
The centre of the display was the education zone,where posters depicting the life cycle of butterflies and of plants were pinned up. These were the work of a very talented Indian lady, who spent much of her time on Sunday and Monday simply preparing these posters.She simply took advantage of the fact that the small lecture space adjoining ours was unused on preparation days and commandeered the tables. Our own tables were being used for vegetable preparation.
At the other side of the stand there was a small display similar to the one at the other side, but you will notice from the picture that there is a butterfly to represent the life cycle of the caterpillar. This was to meet RHS requirements that there should be one theme for the whole stall, failure to meet which would debar you from gold medal status.We were not the only gold medal winners in the tent, there were a few, but several achieved silver gilt, which is one down from gold. Best in tent went to bonsai society, whose display was very artistic. We are still aiming for this achievement.
One visitor proudly informed us that the butterfly was American, but that we had not linked it to the right caterpillar, but he could not tell us the species. "Thanks very much!" said Sandra, smiling diplomatically. We said silently to ourselves, "Don't phone us, we'll phone you." which is in British usage what you say when you want to be rid of someone. He was the only irritant on what was a lovely day.
Nowadays we put our people up in front of the display to talk to the public, a role in which I revel. It seems that the society recognises that while I am a man of limited talent at the visual arts my strong point is verbal, so they use me as such. I spent much of the day on my feet, which did my bad back not much good, but there were places to sit and the experience was worth the discomfort. If you truly enjoy an activity you are willing to tolerate some pain.
The Education zZone
Experiences on the Day.
On members day celebrities might turn up. For years we have heard rumours that Prince Charles might arrive, but he didn't, he never has and I am not bothered. Royal visits are not particularly useful.But there was one very welcome arrival, , Medwyn Williams, president of the National Vegetable Society and his wife came in the afternoon. Medwyn, who was judging in the competition marquee in the morning, has twelve Chelsea gold medals to his credit and is arguably the country's top vegetable grower. I made use of him. When a woman asked my advice I gave her some and then exclaimed, "Why am I giving you advice when the country's top vegetable grower is sitting over there!" I introduced her to Medwyn, who gave her great advice.This was a customer who got more than she paid for and went away contented.
But the one who moved me was Beryl, brought by two carers from an old people's home. She kept on repeating how beautiful the display was and had a picture of her, me and the display taken. She was going to have it enlarged and put on the walls of her room so that she could talk about the day with her family and friends. I have been waiting nearly seventy years to be a pin up!
Another woman came seeking advice on setting up a community garden.I borrowed two chairs from the cactus and succulent society nearby and we talked.These lovely people also won gold.I ended up by directing her to contact River Cottage, an organisation who have experience in establishing a community garden.
Some children aged about ten came with their teachers. I told them that I was a retired teacher of gardening. On hearing that I don't teach any longer one little girl seemed sad. But there is one exhibit that attracts children every year, the giant leeks. All of them want to know how you get them so big. Adults are keen as well.
But I made a decision that long and enjoyable day. You will have been alerted to the fact that I am having medical problems with my lower back,and they are not improving, though hopefully my impending hospital consultation may begin the healing process. My decision was to get myself a walking stick. I will not use it all the time, but selectively to take the pressure off my back. I have also decided to modify my gardening activities to use more raised beds and containers.
The completion of the life cycle
The Tornado Misses.
But there was nearly a disaster on Saturday, though I was not present. Altrincham , a few miles away, was struck by a phenomenon rare in Britain, a mini-tornado. Small by American standards, it raged through a suburb and was visible from the Tatton Show, where people could see the funnel cloud.For a short time people thought that the tornado was heading for the array of tents and gardens with their precious contents and there was cause for concern.Instead the show got an intense downpour.No one at the show was hurt, unlike Altrincham where there were nineteen people injured.. Disaster averted!
I had a great time at the show. I worked hard, but went home happy.I spent time with good co-workers, friendly people and appreciative visitors.I had the satisfaction of being a member of a gold winning team. Now I am just waiting for the Poynton Show in August.