Late April is a great time to remind yourself that spring happens outside of London, and I had the joy of meeting a group of friends in Yorkshire for the Harrogate Flower Show. This is quite a major show, running over 4 days, but it’s not run by the RHS and it has quite different emphases. It does, though, have lots of exhibitors and we enjoyed a full day there, in brilliant sunshine.
First off, we looked at the flower arranging, clearly a major component with several training colleges nearby. There were lots of competition categories, from big set pieces to carefully chosen themes. We admired long-horned cows fashioned from garlands of flowers, and saw a heavy emphasis on arum lilies, which featured on the Best In Show winner, for instance.
By contrast, the show gardens were a very minor element of the event. They were small, commercially-sponsored but not carefully themed, and quite underwhelming. And they had very few people looking at them.
The area for various Societies was dominated by the Daffodil Society Northern Group, where competitors were vying for prizes in nearly 100 categories. The variety of blooms was extraordinary, with a strong emphasis on precision and newly-developed cultivars. Among others, the Yorkshire Bonsai Society was also showing beautiful specimens, as were the National Auricula and Primula Society, the National Dahlia Society, and the West Yorkshire Hardy Plant Society, which won a Premier Gold award for its spectacular display.
Elsewhere there were plenty of specialist nurseries, for sweet peas, salvias, alpines, vegetable seed, herbs, pond plants, and more. And of course there were greenhouse and garden office sellers, and all sorts of makers of decorative objects, tools, and trinkets.
The local tourist board also pointed out that it was only a 2 km walk from Harrogate to RHS Harlow Carr, and we spent the next day exploring the town and the garden. Harrogate’s parks seemed remarkably well kept, and the town has lots of open space. The route to Harlow Carr goes through the lovely Valley Gardens, site of the original spa for the town, and then forest planted by the city, with long views across the rolling hills.
Harlow Carr itself was full of wonderful plantings, and the best was the woodland walk. So many erythroniums! So many trilliums and primulas! The trees were a couple of weeks behind those in London and just leafing up, but there were clearly some really good specimens, and a new orchard planting will extend the woodland. Several other areas had just been redesigned and replanted, perhaps following the lockdown hiatus in visitors. Older features included a formal reflective pool surrounded by scented plants, and banks of white late daffodils. Gardeners were sowing seed in the vegetable section, where a series of raised beds sit on bark paths, surrounded by beautiful woven hazel fencing, with hardly a weed in sight. It put me to shame (must try harder!). And almost best of all, there was an outdoor café run by Betty’s, the famous York tearoom. In all, this trip was a real treat, and I would recommend it to any at CABAHS.