Where do you stop?

This was the question posed by Bob Sweet to the participants at a recent Hampton Court Palace Flower Show (HCPFS) briefing meeting.  Planning for this show starts about 6 weeks after the previous show has finished and Joanna Jones had got together RHS shows people, exhibiting Collection Holders (CH), members of the Plant Heritage Show committee, volunteers who mastermind the Seed Shop, labellers, a garden designer, garden builders, and even some CH who might exhibit next year.

From the colour of the hessian to the size of the stands, from the concept of the show feature to the Health and Safety requirements, all these details were aired during the meeting.  But for me, the most fascinating part was the guidelines about the judging process.

The exhibitors in the Plant Heritage marquee are judged according to the Lindley Award scheme which recognises our educational remit and has a section for interpretation.  So an exhibitor could place two identical displays, one in the Floral marquee and one in the PH marquee and score differently in the two locations because telling the story of the plants is so important for the Lindley category.

And this is where the title question is posed.  We all know the phrase ‘Less is more’ and this might be a situation when this is true.  Visitors generally only have a short attention span and will not read reams of small print, so the CH must select the most essential or interesting points to use in their information boards.

A library of Dianthus

Jim Marshalls Malmaison Dianthus display which won a gold medal last year was picked out because the plant material was top-notch, the design was inspirational with a real ‘wow’ factor and the interpretation was appropriate.

Scale of Endeavour is apparently an area which prompts much discussion among the judges – a collection of very rare specimens will rank highly for endeavour – and Tom Hart Dyke’s Eucalyptus display scored highly in this category because of the unusual plants exhibited.

Sandy Worth with her Papaver

If July is not the flowering season for the plants then they can still be displayed and photographs will supplement the stand – something which Sandy Worth does very well with her displays of Papaver.

The exhibitor has a very difficult job in selecting what information to use out of their wealth of knowledge; but what the visitor needs to know is a little about the size of the collection, propagation methods and growing mediums, and pests and diseases.  Plants must be labelled and details of parentage for hybrids or date of introduction add to the picture.

Regulations are few, but include;
No peat for plunging or mulching
No damaged plants, even if it’s the only one you have
If pots are visible, they must be clean and aesthetically pleasing
Handouts, containing more information about the plants, must be available

Ideally all stands are complete by the Sunday evening, the day before Press Day, ready for the five judges who visit and rate the displays.  Two moderators are appointed for the season and independently mark the features to ensure consistency across all of the RHS shows in a year.  Medals are awarded according to a points system, so there is no limit to the number of medals or their category, although there can obviously only be one ‘Best in Show’.