From humble beginnings in the Winter Gardens back in the 1920s, to packing out the Great Yorkshire Showground with around 60,000 visitors, it is no wonder the Harrogate Spring Flower Show has cemented itself as the Chelsea of the north. Nina Swift spoke to show director Nick Smith ahead of this year’s event, which kicks off tomorrow (Thursday, April 21).
The Harrogate Spring Flower Show is the first national gardening show of the year and features a patchwork of inspirational show gardens, vibrant plant displays and floral art among its many horticultural offerings.
This year’s theme is ‘Botanica’, which explores the ever-changing relationship between people, plants and the landscape.
It includes an exhibition of the world-famous Moorcroft Pottery and a showcase of the life and work of Capability Brown, Britain’s most celebrated landscape architect.
Show director Nick Smith said: “The show says welcome to the year - especially after this winter, which has been so wet and damp.“
The North of England Horticultural Society, which organises the show, was formed in Leeds in 1911 and originally held small, regular horticultural events in Leeds, Bradford, Harrogate, Manchester and Newcastle. All activity was suspended during the First World War, and when in 1921 the society decided to start its shows again, the first one was held in Harrogate at the Winter Gardens. The shows have remained in the town ever since, with a break during the Second World War. They have gradually grown in popularity, attracting many specialist growers from across the north of England.
In the 1940s the show moved into the Valley Gardens and were held there until 1997 when the shows eventually outgrew the gardens and moved on to the Great Yorkshire Showground, where both the spring and autumn shows are now held each year.
As a result of the show’s huge popularity, the event continues to attract national attention and provides a major boost for the town’s economy.
Mr Smith said: “From our point of view the show brings big national organisations to Harrogate. Groups like the Association of Professional Landscapers will come and set out these lovely gardens because they want to be part of Harrogate.
“Obviously there’s also the direct benefits, like accommodation in the town gets booked up and people visiting the bars and restaurants. We have over 1,000 exhibitors for each show and the majority of these stay somewhere, which all helps the economy. It’s promotion of our region - half of our visitors are from Yorkshire, which means the other half are national and international.”
This year the show will boast 10 show gardens, with themes ranging from a Japanese tea garden and a sensory garden for disabled children, to a Viking haven and a Grand Day Out with Wallace and Gromit. For the first time there will also be a 5,000 sq m plant pavilion, which will showcase more than 100 of the country’s leading nurseries under the same roof, as well as a Horticulture on Trend attraction, which offers ideas on the very latest in plants, colour schemes and garden features. There is also plenty of hands-on fun for young gardeners.
Mr Smith, who will be directing his fifth show, said: “I think a highlight for me is always the nurseries. This year we will have a dedicated plant pavilion. There’s nothing like it elsewhere and it’s something we’re very proud of.
“From my point of view it’s always nice to see what plants exhibitors are bringing that are different. I love foliage - the leaf shapes and colours and the fact you can benefit from it all year round. It’s always lovely to see such a variety. There are also the beautiful alpine displays which are always absolutely stunning.”