Burncoose Nurseries road to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Regular horticultural show exhibitors Burncoose Nurseries based in West Cornwall shares their insight into the preparations involved for a big show like the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

The decision to exhibit isn't taken lightly, especially with the significant financial and time commitment involved, but with RHS Chelsea still considered the King of horticultural shows, it has become an important landmark in the annual calendar for mail order nurseries like Burncoose. An opportunity to meet new prospects and existing customers, and to celebrate everything that is wonderfully special within the competitive world of horticulture, on a national scale.

Dedication is essential early on when considering exhibition at a show like RHS Chelsea. In the previous July, a space in the Grand Pavilion is applied for via a mountain of associated paperwork and accompanying preliminary plan of the display. One must then wait in anticipation for acceptance and the opportunity to agree a designated space in the pavilion at the show.

We're in!

Only now does attention turn to plants, as specific growing for the show commences. Much patience, tender loving care and nurturing is required over the next six months as show stock is grown on to turn a plan into reality. A show like RHS Chelsea also offers a great opportunity to grow on something new and a bit special that the nursery hasn't previously offered customers. Identifying a suitable new introduction that fits with the display and its theme is an important part of the process and is sure to provide a good talking point and additional wow factor months later on show days.

Still in the year that precedes the show, accomodation / hotel for staff must be booked in the Pimlico area of London, and transport (two lorries) to get the plants to Chelsea and back, arranged. Additionally, staff are selected / chosen / asked to make the trip to the show to set up and man the stand for the show duration.

After Christmas, and now in show year, ongoing maintenance of all plants designated for the show must be maintained, and kept in tip top health. They are the stars of the show and are treated as such. Additional considerations and accessories for the stand are thought about at this stage, such as any turf required, props like arches, bridges, pathways; and the details of the work by individuals/businesses the nursery is collaborating with such as water sculpture artists.

As the show draws nearer, unquestionably more paperwork will be completed and plans made more concrete.

While tempting to plan everything down to the very last detail, inevitably plants will always manage to throw up a few surprises. It therefore always pays to be flexible with a best laid plan, and accept that last minute changes and substitutes may need to be made should any of the anticipated show stock grow at a rate different from that expected. This is where a large selection of existing nursery stock comes into its own in substitute form.

Final stages revolve around making sure everything is ready to load on to two large 7.5 tonne lorries. Foliage from Burncoose Gardens is earmarked to add great aesthetics to the display stand, and the plants are grouped and checked off for transportation.

And it's off to London

After a very long journey from Cornwall, setting up begins, and everything begins to come together under the roof of the great Grand Pavilion at RHS Chelsea. This is no small task as three people take several days to put together a show stopping, award winning display of plants.

At the finishing line

By the time the gates open to visitors, much of the difficult upheaval and hard work is over for the team; it is then time to enjoy talking to visitors of the show, passionate plant lovers, novice and experienced, about plants and the Burncoose offering. On the final day the display is broken down and many of the plants are sold off. The journey home by lorry beckons.

Another year done and planning for next year is to commence shortly.


The Advantages of Local / Regional Horticultural Shows

Certainly for many small nurseries and plant specialists, attendance at the large horticultural flower shows like RHS Chelsea or RHS Hampton Court won't be viable due to the finiancial implications and the time and resources involved. Regional/local horticultural shows offer a great opportunity to connect with people often on a more informal, personal level and with a common grounding regarding area and local knowledge. Growing a loyal local customer base is particularly important for the nursery trying to get numbers through the gate as a priority, assuming the business isn't purely online.

Attendance at any show, whatever size, requires planning and consideration but often the logistics of planning for a smaller or more local show will consume fewer resources and less time where travel time/distance is reduced. For those exhibitors still travelling from afar, it provides the opportunity to tap into a whole new market, in a new geograohical area, but without being restricted to, or being limited by the standards or regulations forced upon exhibitors by industry organisers like the RHS.

With less chance of getting lost in a sea of thousands of other exhibitors and becoming just a stand number, there is a great opportunity to connect with visitors, make some great sales and acquire new customers (as well as meet with the existing ones).

Growing and buying local is a concept more popular than ever, and local/regional horticultural shows embrace and celebrate this better than any other, perhaps explaining why visitor numbers to such shows, like The Herts Garden Show and The Kent Garden Show are on the increase, developing impressive reputations in their own right.