Birmingham parks team honoured by President's Award and royal interest at Chelsea

Winning the President's Award and giving a guided tour of their exhibit to The Queen has been "an honour" for Birmingham's parks team even if the poppies nearly did not show.

Whistle water feature at Birmingham's President's Award-winning display. Pic: Jas Sansi
Whistle water feature at Birmingham's President's Award-winning display. Pic: Jas Sansi

Those involved in distilling the contribution made by Birmingham residents to World War One, which started 100 years ago this year, into a display have been inundated with positive comments, tweets and even people from other parts of the West Midlands declaring themselves  honorary Brummies when they visit the stand.

The man responsible for growing and planting the plant material, nursery contracts manager Chris Jones spent a nerve-racking week watching the buds begin to open ahead of his arrival on site on Monday.

"Stuff was a little bit behind but last week it caught up. We were struggling with the poppies a bit, they normally come out in last June or July, but we put them under intensive light for five or six days."

At the same time they had to ensure the cineraria stayed in the shade to slow them down as they normally bloom from January through to the end of April.

Jones added: "It’s fantastic, we won lots of gold medals but we never won the President’s Award it’s really exciting to think the president of the RHS picked us out of the whole show."

Council show gardens and displays are about civic pride but the cities are also advertising their wares. Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Positively Stoke show garden, designed and built by Bartholomew Landscaping, wants to showcase its geothermal energy production – the metal water feature arches represent renewable energy - and its aim to become "a leading contemporary city, self-sufficient in energy". In the garden nestle floral ceramic spheres made by Moorcroft Pottery, one of 21 garden sponsors.

For Birmingham the marketing is more direct. Last year the council decided to invest £1.5 million in refurbishing Cofton Park Nursery, this is in the face of £102 million of budget cuts in the current financial year. Once it is done, by the end of the year, Jones will grow his production space by a third and be responsible for growing contract numbers as well as plants. It already supplies Wyre Forest District Council and Walsall Council    

The display’s designer and Birmingham head of parks Darren Share gave the royal tour yesterday through the trench in the middle.

"It was quite an enclosed space so it was quite surreal to be next to The Queen in quite an enclosed space," he said. "She was with us for a long time."

Her Majesty asked lots of questions about the trench itself and the display’s water feature whistle, a scaled up replica of whistles produced in Birmingham by display sponsor Hudsons (now called Acme Whistles) and used during the war to signal soldiers over the top. "She found it quite fascinating, she wanted to know about them and I told her all the history" he said.

He added: "She liked the little touches like the old newspaper and the food tins that we’ve got.

"It’s a great honour to be part of a great team who were dedicated enough to put a lot of their own time into making it a show that people will be proud off."

This is the latest in a series of gold medals for the city. Last year its display Enlightenment, celebrating its new £188m library and inspired by three writers with connections to Birmingham won a gold medal at Chelsea and Best Exhibit in the RHS Floral Marquee awards at RHS Birmingham.

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