Road to Chelsea - Part 7 | Living North

Road to Chelsea - Part 7


Dactylorhiza, Harperley Hall Farm Nurseries, Durham, Chelsea Flower Show, Flowers, Gardening
We’ve been following Gary McDermott and the team at Harperley Hall Farm Nurseries in County Durham as they prepared for the Chelsea Flower Show. Find out how they got on in Gary’s final installment

‘Well, we did it again! After weeks, well actually months, of very hard work our exhibit at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show was awarded a Gold Medal, which is our third in three years.

We arrived in London to set up our exhibit just as the weather started to get hot and by Saturday and Sunday temperatures were very high, particularly in the Great Pavilion. Consequently many of the plants suffered, with flowers going over very quickly. There is a chiller unit on-site for use by cut flower exhibitors and I managed to hold some plants there to try to keep them looking fresh but nevertheless it was a challenge. During the build-up process the words ‘never again’ entered my head on numerous occasions. 

Judging takes place on Monday morning and unlike other shows, we are allowed to remain in the Pavilion whilst this takes place (although you must move away so you are not able to hear the deliberations). There were about seven people on the judging panel. They are all experienced plants people and for my category included two members of the Alpine Garden Society. The head of the judging panel was Jim Buttress who you may have seen on the Great British Allotment Challenge on TV recently.

It’s quite nerve-racking to see judges making their decision on the exhibit which has taken so much time and effort to put together, but we had to wait until Tuesday morning for the results.

Monday is also Press Day when photographers and garden writers come to see what’s new and what plants are being used. The Financial Times weekend supplement featured our Meconopsis plants and as a result there was a lot of interest in them. Monday afternoon is for the private view of the Queen and other members of the Royal Family, Princess Michael of Kent visited us and was very interested in our display and many of the plants – she is a keen plants woman and always arrives with a notepad for making notes. On Monday evening the RHS hold a Preview Gala night where guests can be first to view exhibits, enjoy a champagne reception and talk to exhibitors about their displays.

Entering the showground on Tuesday morning is a little nerve-racking, wondering what award we have achieved but it was a great relief to see a gold medal! Feedback from the judges was very positive. They were impressed with the sheer range of plants, many of which were rare or unusual and also with the planting combinations.

We had an amazing week, with lots of interest in our exhibit and the plants we were displaying. As always, the blue Meconopsis Lingholm and Primula Inverewe were the showstoppers. We had displayed these plants together and the colour combination of the blue poppy and orange Primula looked amazing. There was also a lot of interest in Dactylorhiza (marsh orchid) with their huge purple flower spikes.

We met lots of people over the course of the week and gave lots of advice. It’s great when people stop to say ours was their favourite display and many people did. By the end of the show I was starting to think what we could do differently next year, so maybe the ‘never again’ thing of the build-up might not be right after all.’

You can visit or follow @HarperleyHallFa for more. 

Published in: May 2014

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