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Showing how it's done

Every year, up and down the country, keen gardeners compete to produce the biggest, best, heaviest or longest from spring through until the autumn. Never mind the design-based spectacle that is the Chelsea Flower Show, these are the shows where you need to go to see the growing skills of really keen gardeners, whether it's Begonias the size of your head, floriferous Fuchsias, onions like footballs or metre-long carrots.

Growing for showing takes practice and dedication. You have to start off with the right seed for the vegetables, especially if you want to grow anything extra-heavy or extremely long. Single seeds of giant pumpkins can change hands for hundreds of pounds, but as long as the resulting plant is given the right care and attention, it might just become a record-breaker. Carrots and parsnips have to be grown in drain pipes to make sure they produce a single long root, but everything can come to nought if the root is damaged or (worst of all!) snapped during the cleaning process or transportation.
Of all the growers of vegetables, possibly the best is Medwyn Williams of Anglesey, North Wales, who won 11 Gold Medals at Chelsea with his superb displays during his long career. While he is now “retired” he still competes and sells seed to the next generation of growers as well as running Masterclasses in how to grow the very best displays.

Keeping flowers perfect means carefully placing a bag over the flower to protect it from the weather before cutting, even if it's been growing inside a greenhouse. The last thing you need is sun scorch or water damage on the petals. Then the flowers need packing with cotton wool and tissue so they can be unwrapped in pristine condition for placing in the display vase. Last minute primping is done with cotton buds to make sure no damage is done to delicate petals. Roses, Dahlias (below), Begonias, chrysanths, sweet peas, Gladioli and both carnations and pinks are all popular for showing.

Small, local shows can be good fun, where everyone picks whatever is looking good in their garden on the day and enters it into whichever Class seems most appropriate. Inevitably, someone will still disagree with the Judge, but that's all part of the day. Regional shows tend to attract more serious competitors, who often travel long distances to where the prize and (most importantly) the kudos is greater. These shows often have prestigious silver trophies, cups and shields to be won that detail the names and achievements of previous winners. This is part of our rich horticultural history, dating back throughout the last century, and commemorates keen growers and sponsors now long gone, but remembered at least once a year as their trophy is awarded.

It's always a shame when the weather is such that there are less entries in the shows. Rain, sun and heat all play their part and if they come in great quantities or in the wrong order everything can be thrown off, resulting in flowers that have gone over before they could be shown and vegetables that rot or bolt.

For the novice, these shows offer inspiration of what can be achieved as well as awe at how good the displays look. The growers may not impart all their tips, but they will usually chat about the plants they grow and help guide you in the right direction. Even they had to start somewhere!

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This story was published on: 19/08/2017

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