May 29, 2002
Perfect plants turn into Chelsea Gold

By Lorraine Flanigan

A look behind the scenes at Blooms of Bressingham’s quest for placing in the Chelsea Flower Show

What does it mean to win a Gold Medal at the Chelsea Flower Show? To Blooms of Bressingham, it garners prestige, lots of media coverage, good public relations, and a chance to launch new plants to one of the widest audiences of the gardening world.

     According to Tony Fry, Customer Service and Mail Order Manager at Blooms U.K., this year’s show meant lots of television coverage for Blooms, sought-after by BBC television as one of the few growers to introduce a host of new plants. “The plants must be perfect,” to win gold at Chelsea, says Fry. For 2001, the Blooms greenhouses potted up 10,000 plants, only 4,000 of which were hand-picked as worthy of showing at their Chelsea exhibit.

     Planning nine months in advance of each year’s show, a design team of eight submits a rough plan to the Chelsea show committee. Based on what new plants the grower intends to introduce, the team establishes a theme such as this year’s nostalgic look at Blooms’ beginnings, centred around Alan Bloom’s first greenhouse. Once the plan is accepted, the plants are grown on in cold poly tunnels and shade houses, and the struggle with the weather begins. If it’s colder than expected, into the poly tunnels go the perennials. If it’s too hot and sunny, they venture instead to the shade houses.

     It is not until months later, however, when the four-member planting team arrives at the booth, do the final choices emerge. After wheeling in the plants on Dutch trolleys, last minute changes and fine-tuning is the norm, no matter how experienced the crew. Perennials remain in their pots when planted into the garden. Once in place, exhibitors pull together to help each other, and grateful show garden and courtyard garden exhibitors rush to the growers under the Pavilions for last minute fill-ins to their own garden designs.

     After two to three days of laying the hardscaping for the booth and several days of planting, each exhibit must be finished before 8:45 a.m. on Monday. It is then that the judges make their choices. Only one person is chosen to remain at the booth to answer any questions posed by the Queen as she walks past the exhibits Monday afternoon before the show officially opens to Royal Horticulture Society members on the Tuesday morning.

     For five days, the challenge for exhibitors is to keep the plant material looking its best. This year, although sunny, the weather was on the cool side rather than hot, and the plants loved it, keeping their good looks until the massive sell-off on the last day of the show. The grooming regimen at the Blooms exhibit calls for a morning watering followed by thorough deadheading. Then, the plants are watered again in the evening.

     The formula must work. Blooms of Bressingham has won Gold or the second-running Silver-Gilt medal in each of the 21 years they have exhibited at Chelsea.