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The Hayling Island Horticultural Society Main Summer Show
The Hayling Island Horticultural Society Main Summer Show

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Works of art come in many forms – paintings, sculptures, jewellery. 

Imagine walking into a living, breathing piece of art that's vibrant, colourful, perfumed and even edible.

That is what happens when you walk into a horticultural show.

Thanks to the hard work of exhibitors, community centres and village halls are transformed into celebrations of nature. 

As spring blossoms horticultural shows are starting to get into full  swing.

With dozens of horticultural societies across the area, you could turn up at almost any village hall on any weekend and stumble upon a show.

It's an opportunity to  enjoy the fruits and vegetables of other people’s labour in the hotly-contested competitions.  

Ray Harding organises the shows for Lee Horticultural Society.

Their spring show was held at Lee-on-the-Solent Community Centre earlier this month. 

It's no easy task, and attention to detail is an absolute must for Ray if he wants to keep the exhibitors – who pour their heart and souls in marrows and freesias – happy. 

He says: ‘The society itself has been going for 71 years, so I think it is fair to say that it has become a cornerstone of the community here in Lee-on-the-Solent.

‘We hold three shows a year, which take place in the spring, summer and autumn.

'With the changes in seasons there’s a big difference in the things you see at each show, which spices things up a bit.

‘At this year’s spring show we had 155 exhibitors, so we were pleased about that.

'But instead of there being an overall winner, there are different classes and categories.

'For instance, you can’t have a tulip arrangement going up against tomatoes .

‘But certainly, the fresh flowers are the main event at the spring show. You get a lot of daffodils entered at this time of year. In fact, the first 11 classes were all for daffodil entries.’

But while anyone can enter a horticultural show, there are a few more intricacies to it than simply growing a flower and putting it in a pot.

‘There’s a lot more to it than just growing some roses', says Ray. 'You have to think about how you will present your exhibit, the uniformity of your entry and so on.

‘When we judge a competition like this we go by the Royal Horticultural Society handbook – as does every other competition, so there is a high standard upheld for all exhibitors.

‘To submit a good entry for a horticultural show I think it is reasonable to say that you need to be an enthusiastic gardener, but you also need to know how to play the game; that’s something that comes with practice, I think.

‘For example, there is one class where you need to produce three of one type of  plant in one bowl. While some may choose to plant three at once and hedge their bets, it is a better idea to grow a large batch and pick the three that look the most similar at the end, and submit that instead.

‘It is the little things like that, and talking to other keen gardeners about what they have done to create their final entry, that not only makes the horticultural shows interesting but also creates a knowledgeable and tight-knit community of gardeners in the area.’

The presentation of the entry is probably the most important part of the competition, says Ray – but also the easiest thing to mess up. 

He says: 'If you stick a flower in a vase and leave it at that, you probably won't get many points from the judges. The presentation is one of the most important parts of these competitions, and it is what transforms the exhibits into true works of art.

'One thing I tend to do with my exhibits is put newspaper into the vase before pouring water in; then I put the flowers in and it locks them into place, so I have complete freedom over how I want to place them.

'Even things such as the health of the plants comes under the presentation. If one of the plants is withering away then you are certainly going to get marked down for that.'

With horticultural shows taking place throughout  the year, Ray believes that these events are a perfect opportunity for people to reconnect with one another, bringing the community closer together.

He says: 'The Lee Horticultural Society is connected with 480 households in the area, so there is a strong sense of community.

'At the end of the day it is a community event.

'One thing we say about our horticultural shows is that they are very similar in atmosphere to the old village shows of years gone by.

'Not everyone is involved with every show, but people will enter different shows during the year depending on what they enjoy growing.

'At our annual autumn shows we get a lot of vegetables entered like carrots and potatoes, because gardeners are making the most of the harvest.

'By contrast, in the spring show the room is filled with daffodils, which really is quite beautiful.

'We are also now seeing a greater number of young people getting involved, so that is very encouraging.

'The youngsters have their own categories – this year they were tasked with making chocolate Easter nests.'

If you're inspired to start entering the fruits of your green-fingered labours why not make a start now by enjoying the shows as spring is blooming. 

With 16 different horticultural societies across the Portsmouth area alone, experts and novices alike are spoilt for choice when it comes to sharing stories and advice.

According to the Hampshire Federation of Horticultural Societies, there are more than 150 societies throughout Hampshire. Hayling Island Horticultural Society is the biggest in the county with nearly 1,000 households signed up as members.  Ray Harding, from Lee Horticultural Society, says: 'Being part of a society means you can learn so much about gardening. 'I feel as though the more you know, the more you enjoy it because you are more aware of what you're doing and why.'

For more information about horticultural societies in Hampshire, go to hantsfedhortsoc.org.uk