RHS Chatsworth Show 2018
Phew, what a show! The reward for which is on the front cover. I ‘ummed and ‘ahhed as to what to put on the front page, and finally went for the medal as it was a picture that I could easily trim to fit. There are a lot of other pictures throughout this month’s newsletter to cover the event, although it doesn’t really capture the effort that went into the display.
The first RHS show at Chatsworth was in June 2017 and was plagued by really bad weather and mud on site. Despite this, plans were soon in place for another show in 2018, and amongst other themes orchids were to be a feature with the obvious reference to the historic collection originally housed in the great pavilion stove house created by Paxton. The RHS planned to do homage to this by a round blown up pavilion full of mainly Phals. This would be supplemented by other orchid displays and trade. That will be nice and handy for our members thought the committee, up to the point where we were told that as the local Society it should fall on us to co-ordinate/stage the display. Gulp!!!
Obviously, we agreed once we understood just what would be required, and the level of support that we would get – both financial and plants from other Societies. The exhibit was to be ‘sponsored’ by the RHS who provided some finance and even a large format television screen. Charles Ford offered to be our co-ordinator and spent several winter months doing the substantial volume of paperwork required, and then deciding on which category we would enter into for judging – in this case either just a floral exhibit or an educational exhibit. The latter was chosen as we could utilise more space with notes on orchids – their origins, uses, and family groups. This could be essential depending on the plants that we might be able to borrow from other Societies or even buy in. In the end we had more notice boards than space available, which was OK as it is mainly the colourful plants that we wanted to promote.
We fairly quickly had offers of a number of plants – 10 here, half a dozen there, but we wouldn’t know what they would be until nearer the date. These were to be supplied by EMOS, NEEOS, Darlington OS and Harrogate OS as well as our own home grown ones.
Vacherot & Lecouffle
Time started to move on, we had our last SDOS meeting, and many things were still up in the air. The RHS kept changing things, and we wanted more access passes as well as for vehicles. Our requirements weren’t like other commercial exhibits that rely on 2 or 3 staff and a van/wagon/car. We wanted to be able to offer stewarding and show access to our members as well as other Society’s members who had put themselves out on our behalf, and that was well over the base figures.
The week prior to the show arrived and was accompanied by a flurry of emails to ensure that everyone knew what was about to happen, including arrangements for things that didn’t actually happen, but we had to try and plan for most eventualities. A number of basic orchids had been ordered and bought from the wholesale market in Sheffield. This was for a twofold purpose – firstly we weren’t going to get any Phals from the Double H nursery as was planned, and secondly it wasn’t really the time of year for the ‘Odonts’ that we wanted for genus variety.
Sunday was the final day prior to our official set up on the Monday, and much was planned. A van had been hired to get plants, foliage, props and sundries to the show. Once this was completed Charles & John Garner set off over to Tatton Park in Cheshire which is where the NEOS annual show was taking place. This was to collect several Vandas from Burnhams, as well as several display plants from EMOS and Harrogate OS so that we could avoid the anticipated set up traffic chaos on Monday. Obviously, this had to await the end of that show, so it was 17.00 when we left, and got back to Chatsworth for 18.00. It is perhaps worth mentioning (for dramatic effect if nothing else) that the van’s brakes left a lot to be desired, with any emergency stop needing closed eyes. Thankfully Charles went quite safely and we didn’t crash and die! The situation wasn’t helped by constant brake oil warning lights, even though the oil reservoir was over the minimum level. Plants etc were dropped off at an almost empty tent, and we were away by 19.00 after taking a look at the display in the ‘bouncy castle’ (orchid pavilion) where literally dozens of flower arrangers (incl. Sheffield college) were still hard at work on their towering display.
Monday. 9am. Set up time. No staging in place! Any hope that this would have taken place overnight was misplaced. The Chatsworth staging had been done, as had the 2 orchid traders. An ‘exchange of words’ was held with the RHS office – ‘did you order staging?’ was met with email evidence. Large wooden boxes, wide boards, black cloth and a TV soon arrived with some chaps to assemble it all. By midday it was ready for our staging – not quite as planned, but good enough for our requirements. Our final plant deliveries from members and more northern colleagues were on site before 14.00, so we soon had an idea of how we would do the layout in conjunction with the educational boards.
Orchid tower in t’bouncy castle
It is worth noting at this point that we have no experience in putting on an RHS quality display, so didn’t fully appreciate just how fussy the judges could be. We might put a large cane into a plant that will require a taller support at a later point in the flower spike’s development; however, none of these should be higher than the flower. All black pots should be clean, and round. We had allowed for this with a large supply of new pots, and with the bought in plants being in white or clear pots these were dropped into larger new pots and covered with moss to hide the ‘evidence’. Then, ideally if you moss up some plants, you should do them all for consistency. This isn’t possible once plants were in place and would of course be best done prior to the event (usually on the nursery) – which with numerous amateur growers is out of the question. We were helped along with advice from Chris & Jean Barker who have some experience here, and later on by John Gay who is part of the official judging team at the event. It is all good advice which helped us no end, although there were things that we can’t make changes to.
Vandas were draped around the back of the display, and the right-hand end was the designated slipper orchid portion. A large number of tall Lycaste and Idas from Dick Hartley were placed at the rear with miscellaneous society plants in the centre. The front of the display held other Society’s name plaques as well as the majority of educational literature and to the left were a large number of bought in Phals, Odonts and Dendrobiums.
Above; 9.00 Monday
Below; 19.00 Monday
Above; vacherot & Lecouffle
Below; Orchideengarten Karge
Above & Below – Orchid tower in t’bouncy castle
Finally, a couple of very large heavy clay trays of Bletillas had to go onto the lower level at the end. Society information sheets and BOC yearbooks were held on a separate table at the end. In the end there was nowhere left for any foliage – which isn’t an issue. An interesting day ended about 18.30.
Tuesday is classed as judging and press day but set up continues up to lunch time. Some exhibitors only arrived during the morning, and fairly quickly put on their plants which clearly are a practiced art for them! For us, some bits of tidying up took place, but we just didn’t see any of the press or TV as they were busy concentrating on the show gardens. It all seemed a bit of a pointless morning, especially getting dressed up for the occasion. In the afternoon we were advised to leave the tent for judging and can only return after 17.00. With many of the retail stores closed and other exhibitors being removed there was nothing to buy, and little to view. Unfortunately, we couldn’t leave the show as the TV had a continuous film running as part of the exhibit, and it isn’t advisable to leave a laptop running on site.
Wednesday is the first day of the show, and a reveal of our award. Silver Gilt is a very high RHS award, and after the previous day’s advice geared towards winning gold we were perhaps expecting better, but for our first time it is more than acceptable and reward for the time and effort spent. To win Gold takes more knowledge and experience. It felt a bit galling that the late arrivals the previous day had won Gold – best represented by a similar sized display of just 11 large bonsai trees. Clearly, they understand the formulae, and don’t need to spend more time on site than necessary. They probably just move their display plants from one RHS show to another collecting gold as they go along. This isn’t supposed to sound like sour grapes, just a part of our exhibiting education.
Later we had some feedback from an RHS moderator and council member. This included the ‘score card’ based on 4 criteria, which can score from 1-4 for each section. We scored 13 out of 16, quickly noting that 14 would have won Gold. So close, and yet so far! Whilst going for an educational exhibit we had way too many words on our boards – which people don’t stop and read. This combined with a ‘cluttered’ front with our partner Societies name plaques was the main detraction from the perfect award. These were the things that we had previously planned and were part of the essential design. A thought process followed on the lines that had we gone for a floral exhibit rather than an educational one then we may well have lost fewer marks. This is all water under the bridge now, but useful should we ever do it again!!!
Wednesday afternoon soon passed as we watched the BBC film the Chatsworth exhibit several times from different angles, culminating in an interview with Faye that was screened on the Thursday evening. The couple of minutes shown took about 3 hours to film. Congratulations to Faye and her team for the few minutes of fame.
Once the public came into the show out stewards were kept busy at various points and we had enquiries from people wanting to move on from Phals, so we were essentially doing a sales job for the trade. One of the most discussed plants was the large Dact. fuchsii with deep purple flowers. Some are aware of its natural UK habitat, but most are surprisingly unaware.
Elsewhere and close to us were a couple of the orchid trade. They were Vacherot & Lecouffle and Orchideengarten Karge. To me it was a great shame that there wasn’t any of the UK trade there – if the continentals can make it worthwhile then why not? The 2 traders weren’t helped in the first couple of days by Jonathan Moseley having a sales area between them selling cut price phals for £6.50 and having a queue. These were surplus plants from his marquee display in the ‘bouncy castle’. I also understand that a complaint came from the non-orchid trade that it was just a sales booth with no exhibit and was dumbing down the rest of the floral marquee quality. This trade was then stopped with the useful consequence of better sales for the trade who both said they had a decent time at the show. Phillipe Lecouffle had a very good display around wrought iron displays that we have seen before. His quality was very high and displayed great attention to detail. He was rewarded with a gold medal. Karge had a floor-based display with some very large and heavy plants of cymbidiums and dendrobiums. It wasn’t quite as well presented, and only won a Silver Gilt (they won Gold at Chelsea). Helen Millner was the final member of the serious orchid quintet. She had a high-quality display of posters on raising plants from seed with best practice. She won Gold for her efforts.
The final (less serious) orchid display was the 7,000 flowering plants in the grand marquee. This is modelled on the design of the original Paxton stove house in name only and was made of plastic tubes constantly inflated with air to keep it up (hence bouncy castle). This was an RHS feature display using plants supplied by Double H nurseries and designed and built by Jonathan Moseley. Although I have never heard of him before, he is a high quality floral arranger. His design was to have a tower of orchids, with others hanging down from the roof. Lots of other plants were laid out in gardens with other foliage. All very clever and well put together. It looked superb on first viewing having that wow factor, but after a while when you looked more closely it was made op of fairly straightforward and almost boring Phals of plain white or pink. There were some more colourful ones interwoven into the displays. Many plants simply had their flowers cut off and the plants went into the skip. A small number were rescued, but in reality, what could we do with hundreds of them? At the end of the show many of the still intact phals were sold off at £5 or 3 for £10, and they were going like hot cakes.
Eventually of course all good things must come to an end. Sunday at 16.00 is the start of sell off time, and we managed to dispose of all the plants that we had bought in. Some were taken by members as a reward for their efforts, and others were sold off at cost price. 17.00 marks the end of the show and the public slowly head home. At most orchid shows we normally pack up the cars and are away within the hour. Malvern we know takes longer as you can’t get vehicles onto the ground until 18.00. The RHS it seems take things to extremes, and doesn’t start to allow access until 18.30, and then in a specific rota on a colour code. Drivers however have to be in their vehicles ready to go after 17.00 so they have the most boring of times. Organised chaos doesn’t really tell the tale, and the idea is to have a steady flow of traffic with no serious blockages. It was strange therefore to see that a water pumping wagon was amongst the first on site to empty the water themed displays, and block traffic for long periods of time. Some of the cars were allowed on site ahead of vans and wagons, so we were able to get some of our supporting colleagues away in reasonable time. We had decided that we would get all of the SDOS member’s plants out in our van, and then redistribute them to the members at the Cavendish hall. Charles got the van on site after 19.00 and we were loaded and tidied up for 20.00 so headed offsite. Helen Millner was still awaiting husband Dave to be allowed onsite with their car, and she wasn’t the only one. As we made our way to the exhibitor’s car park there were still at least 2 lines of frustrated van drivers waiting to get on site. They will have been sat in their vans for at least 3 hours at this point where as far as I can see there was plenty of room on the grass for them. It doesn’t encourage you to want to return as exhibitors.
There is an enormous list of thanks to give out from this epic occasion. Firstly to Charles Ford for undertaking the major roles of paperwork, co-ordination, design and build of the exbibit, van hirer and driver – not to mention hours on the phone to the RHS and others. John Garner acted as assistant with some paperwork and ‘advisor’. Many SDOS members shared in the journey and freely gave their time as stewards as well as contributing plants. Special thanks to our colleagues from relatively local Societies. Some lent their plants whilst others drove the miles to participate especially Chris & Jean Barker, Mel & Hil Stephen, Steve & Kim Pask, Ivor & Lorna Pawson, George & Lesley Garthwaite, and Mick Smith. If there’s anyone who I’ve forgotten then please forgive me. …and finally, Warburton Signs who printed our boards at a cheap price.
It is difficult to know at this point whether we should class the event as a success. It was great to see a number of societies working well together. We all need new and younger blood, and hopefully this will have kindled some interest and hopefully new members.
Will we be there again in 2019?