Sandringham: a blooming good show

SUE SKINNER Months of hard work and preparation will come to fruition today at the 124th Sandringham Flower Show, again being held in association with the EDP. Sue Skinner takes a look at the delights in store.

SUE SKINNER

With royal patronage, attractions traditional and modern and the beautiful backdrop of the Queen's Norfolk home, it is one of the most popular events in Norfolk.

The Sandringham Flower Show celebrated a record attendance last year, as well as the highest total raised for a host of local charities - £23,500.

And if the build-up to this year's event is anything to go by, visitor numbers could be set to reach another new peak today.


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Last year's show saw the introduction of show gardens built by leading designers and an appearance by TV gardening presenter Chris Beardshaw, plus the return of arena events to the programme.

Set alongside the long-established classes and displays, trade stands, craft marquee and charity stalls, and with a two-hour visit by the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles as the icing on the cake, it proved to be a highly successful combination.

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Today, the expected first visit by the royal couple to the show as husband and wife is expected to be a major draw, as is the return visit by Mr Beardshaw and the second running of the show gardens competition.

The number of trade stands taking part has risen this year and advance ticket sales are up by nearly 30pc.

“Following last year's show we had nothing but lots of compliments, and they are now starting to be repeated,” said show chairman David Reeve.

“I've met people in Norwich who are coming to the show because they came last year and thought it was tremendous.

“It was a huge success and I think this year those who came will come again - and there's no doubt that they have introduced others.”

Prince Charles has been attending the event with the former Mrs Parker Bowles since the death of his grandmother, the Queen Mother, in 2002, but today will be the first time she visits as the Duchess of Cornwall.

“She had a huge welcome from day one and that's building all the time,” said Mr Reeve.

“We have been very fortunate to have the Prince as patron and it's really nice that she's joining him.

“The one huge factor we have always had throughout the history of the show is the attendance of the Royal Family. We have enjoyed that patronage - and it's active patronage, not just on paper, and nobody can put a value on that.

“It's one of the longest walkabouts that members of the Royal Family do and it's a very informal setting. They are in their garden, their grounds, and there are many people that they know and a huge percentage of people that they employ.”

As well as judging the show gardens, Mr Beardshaw will give a talk and take part in a gardeners' questions session with fellow green-fingered experts Alan Mason and Martyn Davey.

Mr Beardshaw, who will also be launching a new rose on behalf of the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind, enjoyed himself so much last year that he immediately promised to come back.

“Over the past year or so he has become immensely popular on television so to have him in person was great, and everyone who met him found him to be a really nice person,” said Mr Reeve.

The number of show gardens entered this year has risen from six to eight as the concept continues to capture the public's imagination.

“I think they are popular because of the publicity the Chelsea Flower Show has had over the years.

“Also, more and more ordinary homeowners have smaller plots of land, so garden design, maximising space and seeing what can be achieved in a small area is of interest to everyone,” said Mr Reeve.

“Everybody who sees these show gardens is looking at what potentially could be their garden.”

A new addition to the programme will see a team from Easton College, near Norwich, create a large display plot on the main approach to the showground on behalf of the EDP.

Throughout the day, visitors will be able to watch the garden take shape and quiz experts on a range of techniques, such as construction, design, paving, putting up a pergola and planting.

Del's Nursery, of Sculthorpe, near Fakenham, has played a key role in the venture and has supplied most of the plants.

Today's arena events include the Royal Signals motorcycle display team, the White Helmets, the Land of the Prince Bishops Falconry demonstration, the Tricky Tykes Terrier Racing Team and the second running of the Sandringham Grand Prix with customised lawnmowers - another big hit last year.

Radio Norfolk's Roy Waller will be broadcasting from the showground during the morning and music will be provided by the Band of the Dragoon Guards and the Springwood High School Band from King's Lynn.

The layout of the site is the same as last year, with the Royal Marquees filled with their usual array of first-class fruit, vegetables and flowers.

“I think that side of the show is hugely important as well,” said Mr Reeve.

“It's the balance of tradition and modern. We would never modernise to the detriment of tradition.

“There's always one intention of the show; that people who come have a lovely day and feel that not only did they have a lovely day, but it was value for money and that they just thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Then anything we can give to charity is an additional bonus.

“It is a very simple philosophy but, I like to think, a nice one.”

t The Sandringham Flower Show is open from 9am to 5pm, with the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall expected to arrive at 11am.

t The annual cricket match between Sandringham and the Royal Warrant Holders, which takes place on the pitch beside the showground, starts at noon, and the Springwood High School band from King's Lynn will perform on the showground at 1pm.

t The show, organised by the Sandringham Estate Cottage Horticultural Society Trust, is clearly signed on the approaches to Sandringham, which is off the A149 north of Lynn.

t Admission costs £5 for adults and £1 for children; parking for coaches and cars is free. Refreshments will be available. Proceeds from the show will go to local charities.

t The church of St Mary Magdalene at Sandringham, the grounds of Sandringham House and the museum will be open today, inclusive in the show admission price, but the house itself will not be open to the public.

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