Sandringham Flower Show

The traditional attractions of today’s Sandringham Flower Show will be combined with celebrations for a special anniversary, with a visit by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall continuing a royal patronage which has spanned three centuries. SUE SKINNER gives a preview of the historic show, which is again being held in association with the EDP.

It has become a favourite summer date for regulars and newcomers alike. And as the Sandringham Flower Show marks its 125th anniversary today, the popularity of one of Norfolk's most prestigious events shows no sign of waning.

Even the vagaries of the British weather failed to take the shine off the show last year, as the crowds still turned out in force - despite a dreadful forecast of a day-long downpour which could have kept many at home.

Conditions were not as bad as predicted on the day but even when an intermittent drizzle finally turned to heavier rain, visitors just reached for their waterproofs and brollies and made the best of it.

It was a cheering vote of confidence for members of the show committee.

“Most people think that rain on the day is the worst thing that can happen,” said chairman David Reeve. “I wouldn't necessarily say that's wrong but from a personal point of view, the worst thing is a terrible day the day before and a terrible forecast the night before.

“Last year was probably the worst weather build-up to a show we have had in many years and if you can survive that and still have a good attendance, cover your investment and are able to give a little bit to charity, I think that's the finest test of a show.”

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The event's patron, the Prince of Wales, is expected to make his now customary two-hour tour of the showground today, joined by his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall.

The show, which dates back to the 1860s, is held against the backdrop of the Queen's private residence at Sandringham and has always held a special place in the affections of the Royal Family.

Top TV gardening presenter Chris Beardshaw will be appearing at Sandringham for the third year running to judge the show gardens contest with fellow horticultural expert Alan Mason, give a talk and take part in a gardeners' questions session.

The main arena activities will see the return - by popular demand - of the Utterly Butterly Barnstormers, the wing-walking team which scored a big hit at the 2004 show, as well as mediaeval jousting with the Knights of Arkley, the Essex Dog Display Team, a marching display by the Minden Band of the Queen's Division and the annual Sandringham Grand Prix with customised lawnmowers.

Visitors will also be able to browse around exhibits by first-class nurseries, more than 200 trade and horticultural stands, numerous charity stalls and a craft marquee.

Despite the addition of new features to the programme in recent years, the show has remained faithful to its roots and still includes the traditional flower, fruit, vegetable and floral classes for people living on the royal estate, as well as open amateur classes.

This year the EDP is introducing a new trophy for the best display by a local gardening club or society in the Royal Marquee and a special exhibition of memorabilia in the Amateur Marquee will look back at the history of the show.

Although the record attendances of the recent past bear witness to an influx of new show-goers, there remains a hard core of followers for whom Sandringham has become a don't-miss date in the calendar.

“It's really evident when I'm walking around with the Prince of Wales that generations of families have been at the show,” said Mr Reeve.

“You're speaking to people who first came with their parents.”

For all the many and various attractions at the show over the years, it is the enduring support of the Royal Family which remains at the heart of its success.

The late Queen Mother gave the event her enthusiastic backing for half a century and the Queen is the other current patron.

“It's one of those things in life that one can't put a value on - it's just totally immeasurable,” said Mr Reeve. “It can't be over-stated how important it is to the show.

“It is still - and always will be - the major ingredient, and on that score we are just so fortunate.

“The royals are associated with some very large events in the country and around the world, and possibly have been for the same period of time. But to have retained that patronage for a show that's still very much like the village fete for 125 years must be pretty unique and it's important that you never under-estimate that.

“You have to make sure that while you have that incredible support each year, you honour it by putting 100pc effort into making sure their valuable time isn't wasted, and that they have a good show.”

FLOWER SHOW DETAILS

The flower show is held in Sandringham Park from 9am to 5pm, with the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall expected to arrive at 11am and spend about two hours touring the showground.

The annual cricket match between Sandringham and the Royal Warrant Holders, which takes place on the pitch beside the showground, starts at midday and the Springwood High School Band from King's Lynn will begin performing for show visitors at 12.30pm.

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.

Admission costs £6 for adults and £1.50 for children; parking for coaches and cars is free. Refreshments and toilet facilities will be available on the showground.

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.

Proceeds from the show will go to local charities.

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