The flower show season is now in full swing, with Cardiff, the first, in mid-April and the prestigious Chelsea only a week away. This weekend was the turn of Malvern. Not too far from my home, the showground is set below the stunning Malvern Hills, which run like a spine through the Worcestershire countryside. It had been a while since our first visit, long before we had a garden of our own, so we thought it was about time we returned and on Saturday morning, under cloudless skies we set off. After a detour to buy some sun-cream. I know, would you believe it?
Flower shows are big events on a grand scale, with huge marquees where plant nurseries display their wares, creating stands to show off their plants to their best and competing for a RHS medal and the ultimate ‘Best in Show’ award. Outside the marquees you’ll find row upon row of trade stands selling everything horticultural and more besides. At Malvern there was a botanical art exhibition; talks from allotment guru Terry Walton and TV presenters Carol Klein and Joe Swift and a multitude of independent food producers with tasty treats to sample and buy. You could see stunning floral art designs and artisan craft producers from jewellers to furniture makers. For the uninitiated shows like this can seem a little daunting with so much to see and buy, it can all be a bit overwhelming, so here are a few tips on how survive a flower show.
Firstly, get there early to beat the crowds. Shows seem to get very busy by lunchtime. If you can get there as the gates open you won’t have to queue to get into the car park and queue to get your ticket and if you want to take photos it’s your chance to get some images without people walking into shot.
If you’ve followed my first tip then make the most popular attractions your first port of call. The show gardens and floral marquees can be hard to see once the crowds have built up. Don’t worry about the plant stands running out of stock. The nurseries come well prepared.
There are plenty of places to get some food and drink but if you want to save your money for shopping and a few extra plants it might be worth bringing some of your own sustenance. Don’t however eat your lunch whilst wandering around the plant exhibits. It’s rather off-putting to discover someone chomping on their potent smelling sandwich right near your ear, whilst you’re deciding whether or not purchase a delicate little Saxifrage. I apologise to the nursery owner for the lost purchase but I couldn’t linger. It was the equivalent of being trapped on a bus next to a Big Mac eater!!
Bring some cash and a cheque book (yes they still have a use) as not all the exhibitors have access to card machines. Don’t worry if you run out of ready money though and you just can’t say no to the 8ft tall wooden giraffe, there are on site cash machines.
You can rack up quite a bit of mileage wandering around the showground so wear comfy shoes. This is not the place to worry about fashion. The celebs who will attend Chelsea next week may turn up in the latest wedges or towering heels but I bet they won’t walk much further than the Pimms tent. Wellies maybe necessary if it has been wet as thousands of feet on muddy ground can very quickly turn it into a quagmire. Heeled cowboy boots are not recommended if the limping lady walking past us, as we were leaving, was anything to go by.
And finally, remember to enjoy the experience. Use it as a day to be inspired and to acquire some goodies. The sites are large and it takes some stamina and leg work to see everything. Pace yourself and sit and watch the world go by, and a surprising amount of extendable mops (it really is amazing what you can buy at these places). Treating it as a military campaign may not make for the most satisfying day out, certainly not for the partner of the lady who marched past me shouting to her trailing companion that the plants she wanted were over there, pulling her already laden trolley behind her. He dutifully followed with a weary look on his face and the show had only been open an hour. If you have got an extensive list of must-buys make use of the on-site porter and plant creche services.
With Chelsea, Gardeners’ World Live, Hampton Court and Tatton all still to come there are plenty of opportunities to visit a flower show this year. For more information on the RHS show programme.