Every single plant must be pristine, and that takes a huge amount of skill, energy, and the growing of 1000’s of plants!
Like many exhibitors, the Chelsea journey begins the year before! So, last summer, we sat back and identified which plants we wanted to enter into the plant of the year awards!
This hotly contested competition can quite brazenly leads to big sales in the event of a win, as we found when Digitalis ‘Illumination Pink’ won back in 2012! As you can imagine, trying to win again is something we would want to put all our energy’s into!
We initially start off with a long list of about 20 plants. Then, as we research growing possibilities for getting them into flower during May, this can mean that some are knocked off the list. It can be quite difficult to get plants like begonias to flower out of season without glasshouses full of heat and lights, and of course to guarantee a lip-smacking display, you might need to grow 100’s!
We also need to make sure the plant is different, distinctive and represents a development in breeding. It can’t just be another new rose in a scarlet-red colour..! Amongst our early hopefuls were new colours of dwarf innovative Buddleja Buzz, plus the sparkling Delosperma Wow series, but would these make the grade?
So, we brought in cuttings from around the world and started off the plants well ahead of time. Plus, with the help of some top UK growers, we put all our efforts into that late May date. As we edged nearer towards the date of display, some casualties included Calendula Winter Wonders, which was uncharacteristically shy to flower. We also discounted a Gaillardia, which we didn’t think was different enough to wow the judges.
Once we had submitted the forms in early May, there was no turning back- these plants HAD to be ready. Part of the journey included taking a HUGE van across the Fens to collect dwarf Raspberry Ruby Beauty, and the towering climbing Fuchsia ‘Pink Fizz.’ Their compost bag cushions paid off and they got back to base safely!
From the initial long list of 20, we entered this small handful of plants, the Raspberry, the Fuchsia and new hardy Begonia ‘Garden Angel’, which I hoped might have a chance, as it is a step forward in breeding. The plants needed to be taken down on the Saturday, ready in their terracotta pots, with saucer. The Raspberry was humongous, and I wondered how the judges might move it! Equally, the Fuchsia was a giant, so hopefully would catch the judge’s eyes!
On the Saturday before the show, the long list of all entrants is reduced down to 20. The Begonia didn’t make it, but when I arrived at the show on the Monday I could see the Fuchsia and the Raspberry had!
The final leg of the competition was to present the plant to a panel of judges, in just 90 seconds! We frantically rehearsed on the day, and came up with a good sell for each. It felt like we were on to a winner, although we were worried about a few rivals, who had equally strong cases!
We spent a nervous 10 minutes waiting outside the judging marquee, and then were called back in…
3rd place was a Salvia, 2nd place was a Streptocarpus, and we waited for the 1st place announcement, I was convinced we must’ve done it…
BUT- we did to win! It was the fine Viburnum ‘Kilimanjaro Sunrise’, from Javadoplant, which was their 3rd win in as many years, well done to them! However, all was good, as I quietly turned to my boss and showed him that we already sold the plant! Good new product selection skills hey!!