Seabrook On ... Too restrictive show regulations

Petty-fogging rules and regulations drive me to distraction and the shows department of our Royal Horticultural Society is a past master at writing them.

Take, for example, the Chelsea Plant of the Year Award, introduced last year and already a very useful marketing tool for Dibleys Nurseries, which won it with Streptocarpus 'Harlequin Blue'.

To qualify for the award, the plant has to be a new introduction launched at the show or introduced since the previous June, which is fair enough. Last year exhibitors could submit five novelties and this year it has been reduced to three. Why reduce the number? Indeed, why have any restrictions? Surely the more novelties on the rostrum for the public to see, the more dynamic this international show becomes.

Novelties already launched at a public show in the British Isles cannot be put forward for the award. Why have this limitation? It just means previous shows will be denuded of good novelties and besides, some plant introductions need to be seen in other seasons.

Supervising the introduction of more than 20 new plants on three exhibits in the Great Pavilion, I have to decide which novelties to prioritise. How do you explain to breeders that their pride and joy will not go before the selection panel? Is a completely new colour break in petunia - yes, black as it happens - better than a completely new flower form of gerbera? Is the first ever fragrant, trailing begonia to be given preference over a unique colour break in Verbascum?

Vegetalis is introducing a range of edibles for containers, but why give a free-flowering basil priority over a large-flowering chive? Even more difficult, should the first pendula hot pepper, which is ornamental as well as edible, be entered ahead of a compact-growing courgette and pendula, stripefruited, high-quality tomato?

It is not just the Chelsea Flower Show that is affected. The National Bedding Plant Competition is the backbone of the Tatton show and this year the RHS has dictated that local authorities must use permanent plants in two thirds of their displays. Why not let the exhibitor decide what to put in a bedding display?


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