A Tour of Britain in Bloom – Jim Buttress

13887058890_9564ba1ef2_z-2At our meeting on 16 February the speaker was Jim Buttress. Jim is a former head of the Royal Parks Department, a long-standing judge for the Royal Horticultural Society and known to TV audiences as the presenter of the Allotment Programme.  Jim is remembered for a brilliant talk he gave to the BGA a couple of years ago and he again entertained  and informed us with his very amusing and down-to- earth style. Jim is currently working on  another TV series and his book “ The People’s gardener” will be published in May, the week before the Chelsea flower show …

Jim’s subject for the evening was ‘A Tour of Britain in Bloom’. Britain in Bloom was founded fifty years ago by the garden writer Roy Hay who was inspired by the French tradition of floral displays in towns and villages.  The scheme now covers the whole of the United Kingdom. It is divided into categories of towns, villages and seaside resorts with further subdivisions according to the size of the town or village. It is organised on a regional basis with each area having its own judges.. The winners of each region are put forward for judging as the champion of champions. The national winner goes forward to be judged in Europe in bloom and the European winner, if brave enough, goes on to the world In Bloom being judged against entries from America and Canada.

Britain in Bloom is organised by the Royal Horticultural Society and Jim’s position as an RHS  judge led to him being asked to be  chair which he has been for twenty-five years.  Britain in Bloom was originally run by Tidy Britain  but, after twenty-five years, it ran out of steam with a  superfluity of tired-looking hanging baskets. The RHS rejuvenated the scheme and reduced the competitive element. Instead of selecting a winner for each category  the RHS introduced their scheme of recording a level of achievement with the award of gold, silver- gilt or bronze medals. The judges then confer to select regional winners to be considered for the national award. Twelve judges work in pairs and may cover up to three thousand miles each season ,spending several hours in each location. They follow an itinerary prepared by the local organisers to show off the features which best illustrate they range and quality of the display in their area. Each entrant also submits a portfolio of photos showing the area at different times during the year. Apart from the overall quality the judges may award additional marks for outstanding effort or dedication; as when one group worked all night to restore their entry following a storm. The competition concludes with a national gathering where the results are announced and each finalist is given a constructive  report on their entry.

Jim’s slides illustrated the wide range of floral displays encountered by the judges, from hanging baskets to landscaped parks and gardens. There are displays in private gardens and communal areas and in all sorts of properties; factories, hospitals, hotels and B&Bs, a public lavatory and even a race course. Some are quiet and tasteful, others garish and wildly over the top. They provide an opportunity to celebrate local history and are often very creative and amusing. Nottingham Castle is guarded by the Sheriff on his horse facing the archery of Robin Hood, all made with floral figures.

Some entries depend on the exceptional efforts of an individual. Jim gave the example of Jackie  who bullied all the local organisations to take part and achieved a community take-over of a local municipal garden  when the council withdrew funding. She even became a shareholder in the owners of the local betting shop so she could go to the AGM and force the chairman to get the local branch involved. Sometimes an individual did not help the collective effort, as when one man put up seventy-five painted wooden trees around the village, only to find that seventy-four of them disappeared over night.

Generally though, it was the importance of Britain in Bloom for the local community which Jim brought out. Run-down areas had been regenerated  and vandalism stopped by getting the culprits creatively involved. Many places made huge fund-raising efforts to finance their schemes  and community spirit was fostered by the collective achievements. This was particularly important as local authorities withdrew funding. Apart from the benefits for the people involved, Britain in Bloom brought considerable economic benefit as  the floral interest  generated tourism.

Jeremy Arthern

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