Seabrook on ... Simpler rules for exhibitors

Timpson, the high street shoe repairer and key cutting retailer, has three rules - two for shop staff, first to look the part and second to put the money in the till, and the third for everyone else in the company to "do all you can to help colleagues who serve customers".

Would that exhibiting at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show had just three such rules rather than the 130-page exhibitor manual, more than 40 of them on health and safety matters, plus many pages of forms to complete. Experience tells me those 40 pages in Timpson speak could be replaced by the words "be careful".

Last week, Chris Day quite sensibly asked for an HTA/Garden Centre Association (GCA) presence at Chelsea, a suggestion so obvious it is a wonder we do not have it already. The National Garden Gift Vouchers scheme is a natural for garden sponsorship.

Each of the HTA groups could take a section of the garden - a conifer display, rose bed, bedding plant area, lawn and so on - with the landscape people putting it all in place. It is not as though we haven't had something of the sort before. In the past the GCA hanging basket competition proved a successful and popular exhibit. Here, each participating centre could get local publicity as its single basket entry went off to the show, while the overall winners, chosen by the public, attracted national publicity for both them and the association.

Why did the RHS dilute this initiative into baskets and window boxes, then move it to Hampton Court and lose it altogether? Cooperative exhibits are not difficult to set up - ask Penny Riley, who has done unbelievably useful work for UK horticulture over the years. They are, however, very hard work, as I found to my cost this year working with 100 primary schools nationwide and the Morrisons "Let's Grow to Chelsea" feature.

We had very good support from the Chelsea show managers and their press office for this exercise, but there were occasions when the simplicity of the Timpson philosophy could have helped.

- Peter Seabrook is a gardening writer and broadcaster.

Comment at www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk.


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