Birmingham continues to showcase plant skills

Showing at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is a shop window for the horticultural skill of Birmingham's parks department as it tenders for a construction firm to start work on its expanded production nursery.

Birmingham: Chelsea displays treated as shop window - image: HW
Birmingham: Chelsea displays treated as shop window - image: HW

Despite cutting around £600m from its revenue budget since 2010 and needing to find a further £250m by 2020, the city is continuing the tradition of municipal displays in the Royal Pavilion with a 10x10m stand that has won five gold medals in consecutive years from 2012-16.

Darren Share, former head of parks and now assistant director of waste management, has again designed the display and will oversee growing and construction. Birmingham is the now the last local authority to continue to exhibit.

Share told Horticulture Week the show is the best way to keep Birmingham in the public eye in time for building to start on its revamped Cofton Park Nursery. The council agreed to borrow and invest £1.5m on an expansion and modernisation of the nursery in 2013, with the aim of selling bedding plants and displays for other local authorities as well as its own parks, cemeteries and traffic islands.

Named "A Quiet Afternoon in Cloud Cuckoo Valley", Birmingham's 2017 Chelsea display is inspired by Birmingham artist Rowland Emmett, who designed the machines featured in 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Emmett went to art school in the city and then worked there as a cartoonist for Punch magazine, an inventor and builder of fabulous machines.

The display will create floral cogs and gears, and incorporate a water feature and an Emmett-designed train travelling through a whimsical valley full of colourful bedding plants such as marigolds, begonias and dahlias.

A Quiet Afternoon in Cloud Cuckoo Valley is being created in association with the Rowland Emmett Society, which is keen to raise the artist's profile ahead of a national tour of his work.

"We're working on a sponsorship deal at the moment and we've got a couple of companies that are really keen to support us," said Share. "The budget is between £25,000 and £30,000. It's fairly cheap this one because all the artwork is Rowland Emmett so we've got no big pieces. The pressure's off a lot this year because normally we'd be looking at £50,000 or £55,000."

The water feature is one of the aspects of the design that has been recycled from previous years, also saving money.

Lisa Trickett, the city's cabinet member for clean streets, recycling and the environment, who gave evidence at the second oral evidence session of the parks inquiry on 14 November, said: "Chelsea is self-financing in terms of sponsorship and is an excellent window for us to showcase the expertise held within the city's nurseries."

The city's 571 parks - more than 3,500ha of green space - are looked after by an in-house team supported by contracts with Quadron and Glendale that are due to run until 2019.

The Royal Parks is also building its own £5m "super nursery" in Hyde Park that will enable it to grow 98 per cent of its plants in-house, saving £200,000 per year on planting costs.

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