Valuable exhibitors walk out of Chelsea

Critics round ono Chelsea after high-profile nurseries withdraw from this year's show

The world’s leading flower show is under fire after a large number of nurseries pulled out of 2005’s event. Growers say Saturday opening has forced more than a dozen high-profile nurseries out of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. At the press preview last week, shows director Stephen Bennett denied the floral marquees were in danger following comments from Horticulture Week and The Sun columnist Peter Seabrook. Seabrook said the RHS’s decision to extend the show to Saturday had resulted in companies pulling out of the floral marquee, with others not planning to return in 2006. Bennett said 14 nurseries “we would like to have stayed” have dropped out. He attacked Seabrook for seeing Chelsea as the “centre of the world”. He emphasised that many drop-outs, including Fir Trees Pelargonium Nursery and Park Green Nurseries, would stand at other RHS shows this year. In response to the suggestion that these were “sad losses”, Bennett said that people who used such phrases were “drama queens”. The additional day has caused concern in the industry as it means staff will be away from the nurseries on the Bank Holiday weekend. Park Green has decided to stop showing after winning seven golds at Chelsea. Joint-owner Richard Ford said: “We decided enough was enough — the extra day tipped us over the edge. The expense and effort is too much bearing in mind we make no money out of it. We have had some nice publicity out of it and we will be at the other RHS shows.” Middlesbrough-based Fir Trees Pelargonium owner Helen Chamberlain said she will miss the show but the extra day would jeopardise her nursery’s participation at Gardening Scotland on 3-5 June, which follows Chelsea on 24-28 May. She said her nursery does little business at Chelsea, a non-selling show, which is a “long haul, with little gain at the end. It’s never a level playing ground — those selling seeds do well but with plants it’s ‘see you at Hampton Court or Gardeners’ World Live’ — people don’t want to order plants by post.” Also debated was whether too much coverage was given to the show gardens. Acknowledging that the gardens benefit from media attention, Bennett asked the press to give more attention to growers. A £3 charge may be imposed on RHS members at London flower shows. The RHS mooted the change at an exhibitors’ meeting last week. Bennett said that charges “may be [brought in] in the future” because only 11,000 of the RHS’s 360,000 members attended the shows once or more annually. This means non-attendees subsidise the rest. “The aim is to do whatever it takes to maintain and develop these shows.” Bennett said members were likely to agree to the change if consulted.

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