‘Well, something must be done for May,
The time is drawing nigh –
To figure in the Catalogue,
And woo the public eye.’ (Thomas Hood)
When we exhibited at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) shows we would have to have decided by September of the previous year which we wanted to attend. Application forms would have been completed which included plans showing the overall design and dimensions of our stand and the deposit paid according to the size and space we required. I suppose this is a bit like the fashion industry whose buyers for the retail trade make their choices for the coming season twelve months in advance, but for small specialised producers like ourselves when we started out it seems very far into the future…..
To be invited to Chelsea, their most prestigious Spring Flower Show in London, we needed to show that we had already exhibited at other RHS venues. Importantly we could request our stand to be on a specific site on the ground, for example at the Hampton Court Show we were positioned opposite the Country Living marquee; an excellent place as the footfall was consistently high, not to mention the exhibitors’ food marquee being just across the way. A selection committee makes the final decision on each applicant’s suitability to attend.
We started exhibiting our garden swing chairs with the National Garden Scheme attending local open gardens not far from home. This was a delightful, low key experience; once the owners of the gardens had agreed us being there we simply turned up with our swing seats. Showing off garden furniture in private gardens is the very best of places; people can image so much more easily what a purchase would look like at home rather than at a show. Beds are stacked full of interesting shrubs and flowers all beautifully planted out, mature trees provide shade and background and the lawns are immaculate, what better theatre could there be for loungers and hammocks. This type of exhibiting requires no forms or detailed arrangements, what a relief! And as for visitors, they can wander around at leisure and have plenty of time to enjoy a chat whilst tucking into the most delicious homemade cakes, buns and biscuits with a reviving cup of tea.
However, our confidence grew very quickly and the time came for us to apply to the larger shows all of whom were affiliated in some way by the Royal Horticultural Society. As visitor numbers here are in the tens of thousands organisation has to be very slick: the form filling in was endless as were the demands of suitability and where the stand would be sited which had to be agreed by all parties. Having all three sizes of swing seat, the 2, 3 and 4 seaters meant the stand would have to be a minimum of 6 metres by 4 metres. Within that space we would need to have not only the seats but also a large storage trunk and somewhere for customers to sit down when discussing their purchases, delivery dates and any other information they might require. The back panel across stand had to be part of the design and the stand itself had to be on a platform about 3 inches off the ground.
The organisation and the transporting of all that was needed to various show grounds was an exercise in logistics. The old horse box was brought into use and solidly packed, check lists were compiled plus check lists to check lists. It was critical that the packing up be done as tightly as possible without causing damage to anything. The swing seats were travelled as 3 A frames with the legs pushed together as much as possible and wrapped in central heating pipe lagging. The swing seat seats backs and seats were propped up against the large, wooden yew tree planters on the opposite side of the trailer and the cushions and upholstery were laid on the top of it all, we would stand back congratulating ourselves on the efficiency of the packing only to realise the large Yorkshire Swing Seat swinging sign had been left out as had the tool box and plants needed to decorate the stand!
The back of the car was by now full to bursting as suitcases, extra plants, food and all sorts of ‘must haves’ for the week were jammed in against each other. At the last minute someone would ask where the much needed paperwork was which included the map and directions. Where else but at the bottom having been packed first so as not to forget them!
Patience and exasperation do not always run together in harmony and the fear of leaving entry forms needed to enter the show grounds was ever present, so again we checked and rechecked the lists just in case until it was time to drive away praying we had been as efficient as we had hoped we were.
Larger shows allow the exhibitors to erect their stands about a week before the date of opening and this is a blessing. Not only does it take some hours to put up all the swing seats and decorate the stand but by the time it is done, we were all flopping about longing for our beds and a few days of respite. But the grinding work had been done, we were in the show catalogue and all that was needed now was a week of wall to wall sunshine with not a glimpse of rain or high winds let alone chilly temperatures.