Jenny Mollison on allotments: 'As with Chelsea, the real enthusiasts have been planning for months'
I was at the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time this year. I knew it was going to be a visual extravanganza but there was so much that just can't be conveyed by TV coverage.
In addition to celebrity show gardens, there are dozens of smaller displays with fruit, vegetables and herbs holding their own alongside brilliant delphiniums, gorgeous clematis and flamboyant exotics.
I scribbled down names of unfamiliar varieties to try out on the allotment. I had fascinating discussions with exhibitors. Other showgoers were both friendly and knowledgeable. Best of all, the sun shone.
I came away feeling that the Chelsea Flower Show is, in many ways, a scaled-up version of summer shows which take place in towns and villages throughout the country, where exhibitors compete for nothing more than a few pounds and a coveted piece of card indicating first, second or third place.
As with Chelsea, the real enthusiasts have been planning their exhibits for months so they reach their peak at the right time. I love taking part in Musselburgh's Flower Show but it's never clear to me until the week before if there'll be anything on my allotment which might be good enough to enter.
One hundred years ago, in George V's coronation year, a newspaper offered a staggering 1000 first prize in a sweet pea show at London's Crystal Palace. I have just re-read the enchanting story (A Bunch of Sweet Peas, by Henry Donald) of why the Rev Denholm Fraser, Minister of Sprouston, near Kelso, decided to enter the show. Funds were needed to repair the church chancel.
He enjoyed gardening and the manse had a walled garden. His elaborate preparations included digging a trench two metres wide and a metre and a half deep which he filled with sackfuls of compost. His supporting poles were five metres high. He even borrowed a cow for a plentiful supply of manure.
He and his wife won first and third prizes with two bunches of flowers which survived being sent 400 miles to London by post, fighting off competition from 38,000 other exhibitors.
This summer, Sprouston village is commemorating the event with a celebratory Sweet Pea Centenary Weekend, including a show on Saturday 13 August.
While the prize money does not match that of 1911, they are hoping for a good turnout. I'm not sure if my allotment sweet peas will come up to scratch, but I certainly intend to be there.
This article was first published in The Scotsman, 25 June, 2011
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