Village shows highlight best of rural England

Village show

Village show - Credit: Archant

IT never occurred to me that everyone wouldn’t know about village shows. Village shows have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember - I’m not talking about the really large horticultural and agricultural shows, like the Hertfordshire County Show, but instead, the small village shows which take place up and down the country in village halls, and parish halls.

Our local village hall has had many associations for me - growing up, it was not only the location for the doctor’s surgery, and playgroup, and birthday parties, and Brownies... but it’s also the venue for the village show - held in both the summer, and winter.

The summer show which was held a couple of weeks ago, being a firm fixture in the diary of many villagers. This year, after having not exhibited for at least a decade and a half, I decided that I might like to get back involved with the showing tradition.

I have been growing some vegetables this year, in a little allotment, and my potatoes - a red variety which have grown far better than I expected, had produced an enormous potato, which I decided could be entered into the section for “heaviest potato”.

I also decided to enter a vase of sweetpeas. I knew that my entries wouldn’t be a patch on those of many of the more experienced entrants, but I’m a strong believer that if everybody decides not to enter for that reason, then there will never be any entries, and nobody will learn anything. It also gets boring if the same people are entering, and winning every year!

The day of the show dawned... and I was heading into the office to work, so my parents kindly offered to take my entries along with their own to the village hall.

I had decided to enter three different categories - six stems of sweet peas (which in my first year of growing them properly, I thought was quite brave!), the “heaviest” potato, and five potatoes.

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Throughout the day, I found my mind wandering to the show, and whether I had been successful or not in the judging. As soon as I finished in the office I dashed over to the village to see how I had got on - I’d already been prewarned by my dad that there was some tough competition, and that I didn’t look like I’d be in medal position for the heaviest potato!

Nevertheless, I always enjoy looking at the other entries, and it’s great fun to see how pleased everyone is with how they have done. I got to the hall, and I had won a prize: third prize for my selection of five potatoes!

I had chosen to go with a red variety, so they looked quite different to most of the other entries, but I had chosen ones which looked most like each other, and were most similar in size. It might not have been a first, but I was delighted anyhow.

Sadly, I had been pipped to the post in the heaviest potato category, and my sweetpeas didn’t place either, but there were lots of old friends at the hall, and it was lovely to catch up with them, and to be able to congratulate them on their successes.

The wonderful thing about village shows, is that they are an opportunity for people to display their achievements from their gardens.

It is not for professionals, but for people who just love their gardens, and who love to grow things. The hall was filled with homegrown vegetables, and homemade jams and cakes.

There is nothing in my mind better than rural England showing the best that she has to offer.

Looking around at the people who have contributed to the show - a real mixture of people - from wily old men who you’d expect to be showing vegetables, but who have in fact been preening their dahlias, and putting the finishing touches to their floral displays, and younger exhibitors, who have moved to the village from London, or other cities, and who are entering into the spirit of village life, with the first vegetables they’ve ever grown - proud of their achievements, and already thinking forward to what they might enter next year; having been inspired by seeing the other entries.

I don’t know whether village shows happen in other countries, and would be really interested to hear whether they do, and how they are the same, or different from the ones which go on here.

I love the tradition of them. I would be surprised if the show schedule has changed much in the decades that it has been going on in the village where I entered.

I suppose if it’s a formula that works, there’s no real reason to change it. With a raffle at the end, and an auction where some of the entries are raffled off (my personal favourite part of the day), the show always ends in a really jolly way - villagers bidding against each other for HUGE bouquets of dahlias, or gladioli which generally sell for £1.25, and raise funds for the local produce association. It’s a fabulous way to end the day!

Everything about the day is very rural and very old fashioned, and I love every second of it.

Focus on... bulb orders

THIS month I have been putting the finishing touches to my bulb order for the autumn. Although I know that there is barely any room in my garden for the bulbs that I have ordered, I find it hard to resist ordering more bulbs for the spring.

This year, rather than ordering the standard bulbs that I would normally order - hundreds of mixed daffodils and narcissi, tulips etc. I have ordered things that are a little different, or more specialised, in the hopes of adding some interest to my garden.

In the years since moving into my cottage, I have planted some normal tulips and daffodils each year, and last year I planted some crocuses under my lawn to try something new. There is very little space left for bulbs, and each year I find that when I go to plant something, there is already a bulb in the hole...

But I am determined to fit more in - there are always gaps when the flowers come up in the spring. I have ordered some new varieties, which I will be interested to see how they do, and I have also ordered 100 English bluebell bulbs in the hopes of getting them to spread in my garden.

There are various ways to choose which bulbs you want to plant in the autumn. You can buy them from nurseries or garden centres in the coming months, or you can order them by mail order/online.

I have chosen to order mine from a catalogue - by going together with several other people in the village, we have placed an order through a bulb wholesaler. This is an easier and cheaper way for me to order a large volume of bulbs, and I find it to be a good way to choose all of the different types of bulb in one go - by being able to look at the photos, and by having all of the varieties in one place - it’s a more methodical way - by looking through daffodils, tulips, crocuses etc - the only problem being strict with myself about how many I can buy!

Things to do in the garden this month

* Start to tidy up after the summer - plenty of things in the garden will need cutting back, and starting to tidy up borders in preparation for the autumn planting season which I will be looking at in more detail next month.

* Order or buy your spring bulbs.