The Flower show at Shrewsbury
Some notable exhibits
The Manchester Guardian 24 August 1906
The remark which one overhears most often at a flower show is that it is “a perfect picture”. As a matter of fact it is even more difficult for a flower show to be a beautiful thing than for an exhibition of pictures, and that is saying a good deal. One comes away feeling that one has seen an infinite number of beautiful compositions, but the huddled crowd of plants obliterates form and the colours are too man and too unharmonised to give an but a confused kaleidoscopic impression.
One may learn a great deal from a good show like the Shrewsbury show, and one may enjoy it immensely from a horticultural point of view, but it is not really a beautiful whole. Far too much is crowded into the space, and where a large number of varieties of one flower are shown (as, for instance, the herbaceous phloxes of Messrs. Gunn and Sons, which were magnificent) the colours quarrel in proportion to their brilliance. The flowers which tolerate this sort of mixing best are sweet peas, and there were great quantities of these which were not only very finely grown specimens but which made a very pretty, airy show.
It is next to impossible in such intense heat to show cut flowers in a free and natural manner. `one hates to see carnations with their heads served up on cardboard plates and pansies set out like butterflies in a case, and dahlias with paper collars on, yet one can see the advantage of these ways when the heat is such as to cause long-stemmed flowers to hang their heads and droop their petals till they are unrecognisable. Wild flowers, perhaps, suffer most, but roses are destroyed in a few hours, and so are the flowers of may herbaceous plants.
The pot culture of specimen plants has been carried to great lengths, and shows great patience and skill. Nothing could be more beautiful than the fruiting trees, vines, peaches, plums, in pots, and that noted grower Thomas Rivers sent some perfect specimens. But there is something that should be contrary to a gardener’s instinct in forcing plants with such very different habits as the hard-wooded ericas, which are stiff shrubs, the graceful, scandent Bougainvillea, and the opulent Allemande all into the same rigid balloon shape. This form is a convenient one to show in, but one hopes that none but trade gardeners may waste beauty in this way. The characteristic habit of a plant should be used to draw with.
Colour should be just as carefully studied as form. Gardeners do not half enough realise the importance of a background, and many people think they dislike certain plants because they have always seen them used in crude and violent combination, such as the too-familiar lobelia-calceolaria combination; but there are few plants which have not their place in some well-planned colour scheme; the wonderful broken pinks and reds of caladiums might be put to far better use than they ever are, and even crotons have a barbaric splendour which one may admire though it is hard to love them.
Gardeners persuade plants to do strange things there was a fiery orange carnation in Shrewsbury and another with the precise combination of soft mode and bright pink which one sees in the young red cabbage. The cabbage is really the more beautiful but there are also many less curious and lovelier development of border carnations and picotees as well as tree carnations Malmaisons for the carnation and its relations are decidedly in fashion and one is glad of it. A yellow arum lily was well shown; it is rather small, but a true self yellow ,much deeper than the so-called yellow sweet pea. Sweet Sultans have been coaxed into beautiful new shades of lilac and yellow while the sweet pea named after the great hybridiser the late Henry Eckford is of a most curious colour that may perhaps be described as “flamingo.” Wonders are done too in shape as well as colour. Begonias are made like camellias, there is a rugosa rose which is fringed like a pink while other roses are like ranunculuses and anemones.
In the vegetable tents carrots are said to have been of record quality. This tent was not so crowded as some of the others but it was delightful to see the enthusiasm of those who were there. One man was lovingly rearranging the French beans in a dish “so as they might look their best; another was gazing at the Spanish onions of a more successful on arrival and sighing as he said “How does he get him without a spec on the skin?” Leeks was a shining or whiteness and the polish on the potato was enhanced by an application of milk followed by a rub with a leather. There is in fact a great deal of art shown in good staging. In this great show there are many items worth noting down, but the things that you find you remember without any notes at all, the things that were really effective, were either cunningly isolated or showed some well-planned design.
One regulation enforced at Shrewsbury one would be glad to see copied at all shows – no smoking is permitted in the tents. In Manchester the scent of the Roses is completely extinguished by the smell of tobacco in various degrees of nastiness.