All roads lead to Sandringham today, as much-loved flower show gets under way

Thousands will be flocking to the Sandringham Flower Show, held on the Queen's Norfolk estate today.

Sometimes called the biggest church fete in the world, the 130-year-old Sandringham Flower Show still embraces all the traditions it was founded upon, when members of the royal family wished to encourage people living on the state to show off their gardening skills.

But alongside the produce displays, you'll find a wealth of displays and gardens worthy of the likes of Chelsea.

TV gardener Chris Beardshaw, who judges the show gardens and runs a lively programme of talks and question and answer sessions, said the event had become 'an annual pilgrimage'.

'There are always the familiar activities and events which each year get better and better,' he said.

'But there is also always something new or a twist on the old, which gently brings the show forwards while still managing to retain that often talked-about family atmosphere of a traditional show from a bygone age.'

One such tradition is the visit of Prince Charles, who tours the showground with the Duchess of Cornwall in a horse-drawn carriage, before inspecting the various marquees.

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Their first stop is the aptly-named Royal Marquee, where they'll find a familiar face waiting for them.

John Shone – rural craftsman and garden designer – has designed the marquee's centrepiece garden, which comes complete with a vintage Mini.

The display has been built by Farm and Garden Ltd, with sponsorship from the EDP, Brett Landscaping, Posh Plants, Agbagg Ltd and Norfolk Bamboos.

Called Ripples Echo To The Shore, the name spells RettS, for Rett Syndrome – the name of a rare neurological disorder affecting young girls.

Mr Shone, whose granddaughter suffers from RettS, said: 'RettS was first recognised in 1966, so the garden starts in 1966 and reflects the planting of different TV gardeners over the years.

'There are fuchsias at the back for Percy Thrower and it goes into a drought garden, because global warming is going to be the future.'

Willow Helixes represent DNA.

Two have a missing strand, representing a missing chromosome; while the final one is intact – representing a future cure for RettS.

After leaving the marquee, the royal couple go on an extended walkabout, greeting show-goers and browsing some of the many stalls and stands laid out across the park.

It's debateable who enjoys this part of the day more – Prince Charles and the Duchess, or the visitors who line the route.

Across the showground, show gardeners will be nervously awaiting the judges' verdict on their creations.

Designer Tamara Bridge is about to complete a work placement on the Sandringham Estate under the Historical and Botantical Gardens Bursary Scheme.

Entitled Through the Gate, her garden is designed to capture the mystery of a private garden glimpsed through a gateway.

'It's a garden that represents what I've learned and seen in my work placement at Sandringham,' she said.

'I've only got a month to go now. I've loved it, it's been great.

'All the plants have been grown by me – apart from the hedges, which are from Living Walls in Hampshire.'

Thistlefield Plants and Design – founded by Paul and Honor Welford – built the winning small garden at last year's show.

This year's larger creation is called The Living Room and is built from natural timbers.

'It's about natural products and about showing the beauty of natural products,' said Mr Welford.

'It's all sustainable and environmentally-friendly as a living room.'

Fork Handles could best be described as impulse gardening. Shane and Debbie Cosstick, from Mundford, and mother and daughter Nina and Emily Smith, decided to take part in the competition just last weekend.

'We arrived here on Saturday with no design, no plan and no resources,' said Mrs Smith. 'Someone gave us a pallet of stone and that started us off.'

By yesterday, it wasn't looking too bas as starts go – Nina, a 19-year-old horticultural student, did win a silver in last year's small gardens competition.

This year's small gardens include Pass It On – a peat-free exhibit by Cathy Mellor; Elements, by Shadow's Gardens; Opposites Attract, by Lesley Anne Clarke; and Ripple, by Guy Ormes.

Main ring events include a dog and duck display, sheep display, stunt bike and parachute displays and the Queen's Division Minden Band.

Florist Nicholas Godfrey-Cole – owner of Scent with Love, at Hunstanton – will be demonstrating his skills in the Horticultural Talks marquee at 10 and 11.15am.

Afterwards, there will be talks by Terry Walton (noon), Chris Beardshaw and Alan Mason (12.45pm), Martyn Davey (1.45pm), Chris Beardsham and Alan Mason (2.15pm) and Gardener's Question Time (3pm).

All show profits go to charity.

Since 1977, the event has donated more than �470,000 to good causes in Norfolk and further afield.