Britain in Bloom is losing entrants because local authorities are overstretching themselves, competition organiser the RHS has suggested.
The society spoke after a number of councils said they were scaling back budgets and one was quitting the event altogether. Darlington Borough Council's entry into Northumbria and Britain in Bloom fell victim to cuts last week.
Darlington said floral displays were being reduced in the town's South Park and across the borough as it looked to find savings of £20,000.
The council put the cost of entering the competition next year, printing portfolios and officer time at around £700. "In the current economic climate it was decided that this cost was not viable," said a spokeswoman:
Bury Council, meanwhile, said it was scaling back its budget for Britain in Bloom and trying to enlist more support from volunteers. Oxford City Council also said it may pull out, not because of budget cuts but a lack of interest. Fewer than 100 entered this year against more than 600 in 2009.
RHS community horticulture manager Stephanie Enyon said councils running Bloom in the more traditional way by taking it all on themselves were having problems because of vanishing grants and dwindling corporate sponsorship.
"They need to look at engaging volunteers, friends groups or historic societies and becoming enablers and facilitators instead of doing everything," she suggested.
Enyon said while some councils were quitting, others such as Wigan and Crawley were newer entrants and were involving communities far more.
Another approach was being taken in Westminster (HW, 7 October), where contractors were entering on the council's behalf because victory was seen as a "feather in their cap", Enyon said.
Continental Landscapes senior contracts manager Steve Mills said: "We entered Westminster because it didn't have the money. It cost around £500 in paperwork and taking judges around sites and we worked closely with the parks department.
"We did it because we are proud of our work and staff and this is a way of acknowledging them. If we didn't enter last year and next it would be like throwing away all that previous effort."
Who should pay?
Sid Sullivan, parks consultant
"It is becoming commonplace for Green Flag and In Bloom to be specified in grounds maintenance contracts as the contractor's responsibility. It should, however, be a shared responsibility. The easy option is to save the entry cost and spend it on depleted front-line services."