I spent a wonderful time recently exhibiting at the Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show. The Abingdon Horticultural Society is a friendly club for gardeners, cooking enthusiasts and handicraft lovers. It holds two shows a year where flowers, fruit and vegetables, preserves, baking and handicrafts are all exhibited and judged. Exhibiting brought back so many memories. In the 1980’s Mum and I used to enter the Harnham Flower Show in Wiltshire. I even won the Children’s Cup twice!
It really is my cup of tea – baking, jam making and growing flowers, fruit and vegetables! I was keen to enter the floral arrangement class as I was a proven winner even in the 1980s!
Harnham Flower Show 1982
Abingdon Horticultural Society Spring Show 2016
The Spring Show celebrates the arrival of Spring with flowers and Easter Cakes in abundance.
In Section A – Flowers and Plants there are 25 classes to enter and 10 of them are for Narcissus including trumpet daffodils, miniature narcissi and double narcissi. There is a strict clause that for the trumpet daffodils the trumpet must be longer than the outer petals. I was keen to enter the blooms from my garden this year. However I discovered there is quite a skill in getting your daffodils in peak condition for show day. I knew I would have some in flower, but hadn’t got a clue as to whether my daffs would have big enough trumpets and whether they would be more than 7.5cm across. I just knew they always look cheerful! I can see that this is serious stuff. How do you get your trumpet to grow bigger I ask myself?! I entered a class for multi-bloom narcissi naively thinking this was just a vase of 5 stems of one or more varieties. At the last minute I realised it actually meant narcissi with more than one bloom to a stem. I swiftly changed my entry and entered 1 stem more than 7.5cm across.
The trumpet must be longer than the outer petals.
5 stems – one or more varieties
5 stems – one or more varieties with flowers less than 5cm across
I loved the frilly Rip Van Winkle Narcissi. The judge gave first prize to the Tete a Tete miniature daffs.
5 stems- any one bi-coloured variety with flowers more than 5.5cm across
5 stems – one or more varieties
I have some beautiful multi-bloom narcissi planted in my garden called Bridal Crown and Winston Churchill. However they are slightly later blooming and failed to make an appearance in time for the show.
9. Narcissus 1 stem – flower more than 7.5cm across
I entered one Narcissus bloom in Class 9. However I agreed that my dainty Pheasant’s Eye variety didn’t really meet the grade compared to the others. I did pick up a nifty tip though. If you put moss round the stem you can support the bloom so it stands up and can be more easily seen by the judge. I was a bit forceful and ended up with moss floating in the water and not supporting the bloom! I’ll know for next time.
There were only 2 classes for tulips. One being a single tulip and the other being a vase of 3 tulips of one or more varieties. This surprised me at first. A couple of years ago there was a fabulous display of tulips at the Spring Show. However in early April tulips are only just starting to bloom so it’s always a bit of a gamble.
Abingdon Spring Show tulips 2014
I didn’t have much choice in the garden. There were a few small pink tulips, but some had been nibbled by garden predators. My best tulips were rather nondescript white varieties. However the size was more of a competitive standard I felt. I learnt that the hall where the show takes place gets quite warm on show day. It’s best to choose a well formed, but in tight bud bloom. My tulips started out in bud and were wide open within an hour of setting up. You can be in danger of dropping the petals before the judging!
I received a Third Prize for my pink tulip. Janet Moreton I felt deserved the First Prize with her red and gold tulip.
3 stems – one or more varieties
I was awarded a second prize for my white tulips which I was chuffed with. Particularly as I thought they were a bit boring and had wanted to exhibit more flamboyant, frilly blooms. The red tulips won the First Class Award. I find it interesting that red tulips seem to do well. In 2014 my favourite tulip was the deep pinky, purple tulip in a matching stone grey pink vase. However the judges favoured the yellow and red tulips giving the first prize to them. I guess it all comes down to personal taste if the blooms are perfect. However I might grow more red tulips next year as a tactical move.
12. Vase of Hellebores
My Narcissi had let me down as I only had a few blooms in the garden. However I had plenty of Hellebore flowers to choose from. Hellebores can be tricky to arrange in water as they flop easily. There are a few handy tricks.
Cut the flowers directly into a bucket of water. Take them inside to condition them. Strip the leaves from below the likely water line. Sear the hellebores as soon as you can by lowering the stem ends (about 2cms) into boiling water for 30 seconds. The flowers should then be placed in clean, cold water.
I was pleased that having followed this procedure my flowers still looked perky in the afternoon of the Show. Flowers which have set seed are also easier to use and less likely to flop. I decided to try to exhibit blooms at several stages of development.
I received a Third Prize for my efforts.
Other floral exhibits included wallflowers, auriculas and primulas.
Blossom or shrub flowers
I must admit I was disappointed to find I had no shrubs in flower in the garden and have now rectified this for next year! I do think some of the exhibits were lacking in flowers though.
One or more varieties not included elsewhere in the Schedule (no shrub flowers)
I exhibited the Snakeshead Fritillary and pink Ranunculus. My Fritillary flowers were awarded a Third Prize, however my Ranunculus failed to win any prizes. I thought they were rather marvellous! However maybe the judges thought they were bought for the event. They weren’t! They have been giving me much joy in pots in front of our front door for weeks. There was a lovely selection and I rather liked the cowslips in a turquoise vase.
There were also categories for various pottted flowering plants and vases of Spring flowers not included elsewhere in the Schedule.
18. Container of Hyacinths
19. Hippeastrum (Amaryllis)
23. 1 pot, cactus or succulent
24. 1 pot for the patio
25. Spring flower arrangement in a vase.
May include purchased flowers or foliage. NO ACCESSORIES.To be staged in a niche 60cm wide and 76cm high.
This was the one class I really enjoyed entering and went to town on the Spring theme. I wasn’t quite sure how big to go and how to construct my entry. I was therefore found with a car boot full of flowers and foliage in the car park constructing and arranging my flower arrangement to great amusement from other entrants.
I was awarded a Third Prize. There was no indication as to what the judge was looking for and why the First and Second Prizes were awarded. I am sure that I was marked down for the size of my exhibit as my pussy willow was escaping from the designated niche! I had a good look at the others and saw that they had been constructed in advance with floral foam. One of them had placed the floral foam in a dish on top of the vase. Strictly speaking I feel that this was against the criteria as it was stated that the flower arrangement was to be in a vase. Not that I’m a sore loser! I can see that the other arrangements fulfilled sound design principles and mine was much wilder and ecologically friendly with the use of water and no foam.
I enjoyed the challenge and have loved having the house full of Spring flowers. I was amazed at the yellow tulips I purchased from Fabulous Flowers. They lasted a whole week and became more beautiful as they opened out.
Section D was the Photography Section.
A Photograph on a Spring theme (Taken in 2016) mounted on white card.
I had so many photographs to choose from I didn’t know where to start! In the end I selected a couple of images of Spring garden flowers which I felt were the most technically proficient. I did have some cheery daffodil images I could have used, but felt my focus wasn’t pin sharp. I opted for primroses and Anemone blanda. I was disappointed not to be recognised with any award as I really did feel my images were well photographed and it was a photography competition! Personally I felt some of the other images were over exposed and out of focus. However in this case maybe the judge was looking for an image which conveyed `a sense of Spring’, rather than technical expertise. This was in contrast to the judging for the Spring Flower Arrangement where the judge seemed to favour technical proficiency rather than my arrangement which was designed to convey a sense of exuberant Spring.
Section B was the Cooking Section with a wonderful display of preserves, decorated Easter Cakes, Hot Cross Buns and tea bread made to a given recipe.
The Spring Cakes were judged purely for creative decoration and not on the taste of the cake. The Fruit and Marzipan Teabread was made to a specific given recipe.
33. Fruit and Marzipan Teabread
It proved quite a challenge to make. I made three attempts. One sunk in the middle, one didn’t rise much and the other was rather stodgy! I settled for the slightly sunken one as it looked the right colour and hadn’t got any cracks. Although the Judge felt my teabread had `a good texture’ I didn’t win any prizes for my efforts. Maureen Cook was awarded a well deserved First Prize as her teabread looked appetizing and hadn’t sunk in the middle.
I had done better as a child as my rockcakes were `just the right size and shape’ and came First in 1982.
32. Spiced Fruit Buns
I was pleased to see that it wasn’t just women who won prizes in the Domestic Classes. David Bingley was awarded a First for his spiced fruit buns made with a yeast recipe.
There was a fine display of marmalades, lemon curd and chutney.
In the schedule there was a useful instruction for exhibiting preserves. `Use either wax disks and cellophane tops, or new screw lids without wax disks. Labels on preservatives must include the day, month and year they were made.’
30. Lemon Curd. Home Made 2016. One 8 – 16 oz jar.
I entered a jar of Lemon Curd which won no awards, but was noted to be a `good flavour’ by the judge. We enjoyed a dollop with yoghurt and fruit for dessert.
Harnham Flower Show 1980
I regularly exhibited at the Harnham Flower Show Spring and Summer Shows during the 1980s, together with my mum. The Summer Show was a grand affair held on the fields near The Old Mill with big marquees to show the exhibits. The event was officially opened by the Mayor and the Wilton British Legion Band was there to entertain everyone. I remember these Shows as real community events with tombolas and games in addition to the actual judged exhibits. Home-Made Teas were organised by the Women’s Institute.
1980 was a good year for me as I won the Children’s Silver Cup and even got my picture in the paper! I won 1st Prize for my `Animal Made out of Vegetables’ which was the Loch Ness Monster with a cucumber body and a jaunty tartan hat.
I chose to use a crab shell for the Flower Arrangement in a Shell. Some of the flowers I had grown myself in my little patch in the garden.
We always had a photo of our Prize Winning Entries when we got home.
I failed to keep the Children’s Cup in 1981, hence the frown on my face! However it looks like a good effort was made. Mum made a quiche, red wine, biscuits, cakes and marmalade. I remember cycling off to Britford Lock for the afternoon and her painting the picture of the Lock in watercolour.
I got 3rd Prize for my rock cakes, 2nd Prize for my Minature Garden, a 1st for 6 Fancy Cakes and a 1st for Mr Rubbish which I am holding up for the camera.
Harnham Flower Show 1982
Ah back on form and won the Children’s Cup again! I got my picture in the paper with my Flower Arrangement in a Basket. The judge commented that I should have made the handle visible so the basket could be picked up. I remembered this when I constructed my Posy of the Month recently!
The judge noted that my four Rock Cakes were just the right size and shape and awarded me a 1st Prize. An improvement on the year before when I only got a 3rd Prize! Mum had a very good year winning 1st Prize for both her sweet white wine and her dry red wine. She also won 1st for a Machine-Made garment, which was a pair of green knickerbockers made for me. I HATED them! I really had my eye on a new pair of pedal pushers in Dorothy Perkins and these were not the same. I had to wear them to a birthday party and felt very self-conscious. In the picture I am modelling a new Rah-rah skirt which I loved!
The Dorset County Show
The Dorset County Show is run on similar lines to the Harnham and Abingdon Shows, but on a much grander scale with animals. I regularly enjoyed a day out at the Dorset Show with my Uncle as a birthday treat. As this is a large County Show farmers also exhibit their Prize animals and there are sheep shearing competitions and rural crafts.
I love Flower Shows and Village Fetes. They have been going on for generations and connect us to our heritage. I found some interesting articles showing my ancestors competed in very similar events. William Jackson, my 3rd Great Grandfather, farmed 31 acres in Throrpe Salvin, Yorkshire. Farming was a way of life for him as he came from a long line of farmers. In 1881 William entered the Kiveton Park Flower Show Agricultural Produce Section. He won 1st prize for his potatoes, red wheat and barley. I’ve got a lot to live up to with my potatoes then!
I also found another interesting article. My 5th Great Grandfather Robert Hills was awarded a prize at the Northallerton Cattle Show in 1844 for `the Labourer in Husbandry who brought up the greatest number of children without seeking parochial relief.’ Well done Robert!
Robert Hills, Northallerton Cattle Show 1844
I hope you have enjoyed my jottings about Flower Shows and Village Fetes. I loved the moment in Downton Abbey where Mr Molesley’s roses finally were awarded Best in Show on merit rather than the Dowager Countess’s blooms.
In keeping with family tradition my entries were duly photographed for posterity when we got home after a wonderful day at the Show.