The Secret of Display Gardens

Coreen Connell, from Kevock Plants, offers some insights into what it’s really like in this season of high-profile gardening and plant shows…

It takes a lot of planning to prepare for a major show. No two shows are the same, different criteria, different displays and different judges where one cannot be complacent. With over seven years of experience of setting up display gardens, not only at Gardening Scotland, but also at the world famous RHS Chelsea Show, I’ve been part of teams receiving over seven Gold Medals, and numerous Best In Show and other special awards.

It’s always a privilege – and a great learning experience. It’s also constant hard work for a few days of ‘glory’ and glorious exhibitions. As soon as Chelsea – for example – ends, we begin planning for the next year.

Applications to exhibit must be made early and the brief adhered to thereafter. Sizes must be accurate, because they form the basis of the stand. Once the brief is determined, the plants and materials for the display are organised.

A huge number of plants must be grown to ensure enough choice, attempting to have differing flowering times so not to rely on the weather to force the blooms. We don’t use refrigerators to stop the flower and never determine which flowers go into the display until ten days beforehand. Some of these we will sit in a heated poly tunnel and other plants or move them into a shaded tunnel to try and slow down the flowering. For example, we may have grown on 24 pots of one particular Primula in order to get four or five absolute top quality show pots. This process is repeated for over 20 varieties of Primula, and the same for Meconopsis, Saxifrages…and so on.

A lot of time and effort is spent on producing the best show pots, some of which will flower too early or too late, depending on the Scottish weather and therefore, will not be used. The latter may be kept for future shows, as Gardening Scotland is after Chelsea or even Chatsworth, which is later still. Sometimes, they may be split up and divided to make sales plants or re-potted for the following year’s shows.

The best aspect about doing shows, for me, is to see the plants which I have grown from seed and re-potted until finally, they are part of the display. I feel a wonderful sense of achievement in seeing these often rare plants come to fruition and flowering; they’re at their peak for the show.

The next best thing, is the response from the general public, who, without exception, are so appreciative of the hard work and in awe of the spectacular display of flowers – plus having a thirst for knowledge, wondering how to achieve this in their own garden.

Producing a gold medal winning show garden or display Is hard work, stressful and exhausting…And worth every single minute.

Coreen is Head of Propagation at the award-wrinning Kevock Garden Plants in Midlothian.


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