Preparing for the seventh consecutive display at Chelsea
16th May 2002
Today is crunch time for me as I pull the last of my vegetables that I need to create a vegetable display for the Chelsea Flower show. This will be my seventh consecutive display at Chelsea and the last six displays were considered worthy of a Gold medal every time. The question I get asked from friends and family is why do I do it, they keep telling me that I have nothing further to prove. My outlook however is different, I still get a great buzz from growing vegetables to a very high standard out of season as well as displaying them as perfectly as possible. The look of amazement from visitors to my stand makes it all worth while but I also have this obsession with the fact that vegetables are not given sufficient prominence in the Horticultural world in general.
Growing to Perfection
I have always been convinced that vegetables when grown to perfection and well staged can be as colourful if not more colourful than flowers and together with my wife we both try to paint a picture with the raw material that we have at our disposal. What a lot of people don't realise when the see my stand is that over 95% of what they see on display is dead. In other words as soon as the vegetables, whatever they are, are harvested, from that moment on they are effectively dead and from that moment on my hardest task is to slow down the process of decomposition. Other exhibits rarely have this problem as shrubs, pot plants etc. are living material and will continue to stay fresh right through the show.
It's therefore very important that I pick my produce at the very last minute whilst at the same time being very conscious of the limited time scale that I have left to travel to down to London and stage it all prior to judging. Looking back I can hardly believe that the very first display that I put up was actually staged in one day, a very long day mind you, and I vowed from that time on to allow myself much more leeway to actually enjoy the staging.
Potatoes, Beetroot and Short Carrots
The first vegetables to be harvested will be those that can still appear to be as fresh as possible for days after they have been harvested. Potatoes were lifted on Tuesday after the haulms were cut off a week prior so that the skins on them would set firm making it a great deal easier to wash without fear of the skin being removed. Next will be beetroot, both the long as well as the three other round varieties. Beetroot is probably one of the most robust of vegetables and will usually be nice and firm on the last day of the show. Next will be short carrots, of which I have six different and distinct varieties, I have a yellow carrot called Yellowstone as well as a brand new hybrid purple skinned variety called 'Purple Haze' Another brand new variety from the six will be 'Cortez" which has the promise of making a fantastic new stump variety to replace the consistent Gringo which I shall also be staging.
Later on this afternoon to shall be harvesting my cucumbers and as I need to stage them with the flowers attached they will need to be packed very carefully. I have three distinct and different varieties making a total of thirty plants, ‘Petita' is what I would call a perfect cucumber for the amateur greenhouse. It matures at six inches in length and if I was ever to stop growing vegetables for exhibition, this would be the one that I would grow for the kitchen. The second variety is a new round to lemon shaped yellow variety that produces in abundance beautifully flavoured fruits called ‘Sunsweet'. The regular length cucumber is a brand new all female and powdery resistant variety called ‘Naomi' and according to the breeders should be even superior to Carmen, this will; be featured in my new catalogue for next year.
The very last of the vegetables to be harvested will be those most likely to show signs of collapse once they have had their source of nourishment severed. A good example of this is Celery of which I shall be staging two of my new F1 hybrids called ‘Topstar' and ‘Redstar'. A worst nightmare than celery though is Chard and the variety that I shall be staging is called ‘Bright Lights', as the leaves are fairly large, extremely tender and thin, they can collapse on me within hours unless it is looked after properly. To ensure that I have a good range of colours I sow the Bright lights in 60 multi cells and once they are an inch or so high the clusters within each cell are then thinned down to a single specimen. This takes me time as I look through each cluster carefully trying to identify as many different colours as possible, the differing colours are retained and the remainder cut off with a small scissors at compost level.
This morning will therefore be crunch time as I harvest what is usually the centre of my display, the long roots. Why this is crunch time is simply because I can't see what I have got growing in the pipes and wheely bins. The Parsnips, two varieties including Gladiator and the new hybrid variety ‘Countess' are in pipes whilst the long carrots are in the wheely bins. These were found at the college storage area where they had been used to grow rice during some past experiment and I have to say that the carrots grew wonderfully well in them last year. The only barometer that I have to go by is the stage of the foliage and the diameter of the top of the carrot. Both at the moment are looking even better than they were last year as I added some lime and some calcified seaweed to the F2s mixture that I used in the bore holes.