Sunday, May 14, 2006

Chelsea Flower Show 2006 - an impression "from the coalface"

The lead up to Chelsea Flower Show involves a huge amount of preparation, and things really start to come into focus when the model is "unveiled" to the media. This year, that happened on 26th April.

This was followed by the shipping of the hard landscaping on Friday 12th May, and commencement of building the stand (buidling the screens and putting together the structure of the stand), on Saturday 13th May, when David Davidson and Raymond Hudson arrived in London. A team of volunteers, both from South Africa and the UK assisted with building the stand and putting together all the components that had been shipped from SA. The aim was to have all the hard landscaping in place by the time the flowers arrived.

The next major milestone was the "send-off" of the flowers, on Wednesday 17th May. Prior to departure the flowers were fumigated and subjected to intense scrutiny in order to qualify for a phytosanitary certificate - their passport of clear health to allow entry the UK. The blooms were shaken out, and any goggas that fell out were examined to ensure they were dead, otherwise that box would be discarded.

After the phytosanitary inspection, the boxes were loaded into a container, which was flown to London, to be delivered to the Showgrounds at the Royal Hospital in London, on the Thames Embankment, about 24 hours later.

Once the flowers were delivered, David and Ray set to with creating the arrangements.

My involvemnt became real for me when I departed for London, together with two colleagues, on Friday night, 19th May, and my Cheslea 2006 experience started to properly become a reality.

After clearing Customs on Saturday morning, we were met by an airport shuttle at Heathrow and taken to our hotel to get changed and leave our luggage in our rooms, before joining the rest of the team at the Showgrounds and start working on the stand.

A first impression of our hotel, taken through the window of the shuttle

A long day was followed by a short night and an early start in order to set to work, as deadlines were looming, and we only had this day to complete building the stand, as Monday would be "judgment day".

We eventually were able to call it a day and departed the Showgrounds close to midnight on Sunday night.

Monday morning again saw us at the Showgrounds for final touches to the stand, labelling the exhibit and making sure the judges would find no fault with our exhibit.

Monday was also Media Preview Day, when exhibitors showed off their handiwork to the press. Many invited celebreties to visit their stand - a useful ploy to attract additional media attention... We were delighted when Emma Thompson accepted the invitation to visit our display, which drew the expected bevy of camera-clicking media. She spent a fair amount of time at our stand, and showed great interest in the theme that was the underlying inspiration for the design of our stand - the fires that had occurred in the Western Cape, dealing a severe blow the the protea cutflower industry, that lost huge tracts of cultivated protea fields to fires that raged out of control, fanned by strong windss for days on end. The destruction of fynbos placed thousands of jobs under threat, until someone was inspired by the stark beauty of the burnt protea heads, to launch the initative of producing "Fire Flowers" - burnt protea heads mounted on a restio stem, using beads and wire.

These "Fire Flowers" attracted a lot of attention.

The other feature that attracted a lot of attention was the "waterwise water feature" - a screen of stones, strung up on steel cables, with water dripping down on them

The Royal visit took place on Monday afternoon, when the Flower Show was closed to the public, and only invited representatives from the displays were allowed to be present. Our Kristenbosch South Africa was visited by the Queen and various other members of the Royal entourage.

Judging took place on Monday, and results were made public on Tuesday morning, so we had a tense night of anticipation - but were jubilant on Tuesday morning, when we received a phone call, confirming we had been awarded a Gold Medal. The other encouraging news was that we were in close consideration for the "Best on Show" - the so called President's Award - and many people who later visited the stand voiced their disappointment (disagreement) with the choice of winner.