This annual August festival brings back many memories for me. My mother was a determined and expert gardener, still digging up potatoes on her allotment at the age of 82. A member of Friends of the Earth, and passionate about organic gardening, she went to the Shrewsbury Flower Show every year.
I also remember Percy Thrower – TV and radio’s first celebrity gardener. He was appointed Shrewsbury’s Parks Superintendent in 1946, the youngest in the country, and was a key organiser and adviser for the show. He is memorialised with a bust placed in the beautiful Dingle, part of the Quarry Park. In 2005, Shrewsbury Flower show appeared in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest-running flower show in the world.
A truly 21st century event
From its beginnings in 1836, it has now become a truly 21st Century event. Under the supervision of the Shrewsbury Horticultural Society, it’s been held in the large Quarry Park since 1878. The setting is picture perfect – 29 acres of parkland, right on the River Severn but close to the centre of town.
Today, there are celebrity chefs giving demonstrations, TV gardeners, Gardeners’ Question Time, music acts, activities for children and acres of tents selling you the latest food and drink trends, as well as many other retail stalls. The fireworks each evening are spectacular, the music is loud, the crowds (average attendance 60,000) are overwhelming.
I’ve only been once as an adult, and often think that my mum and Percy Thrower must be turning in their graves. My main quibble is how commercial it’s become, and the same stalls can be seen over and over again at other similar events. The Arena showcases lesser-known music acts and a line-up of tribute bands each evening; I’m not a fan. But if you plan your visit carefully, you can see how it all began.
A different world
Around the edges of all the crowds and noise, there are tents showing the fruits of the county’s labours in their gardens and allotments. Once inside, it seems like a different, quieter, more peaceful world. Trees, shrubs, cut flowers, all manner of plants, vegetables and fruit are displayed on tables awaiting judging. There are many trophies to be won, the most prestigious of which is the Severn Marquee Percy Thrower trophy. Mum and Percy are feeling better now.
The threat to the environment and the cost-of-living crisis are not forgotten. There’s an Allotment Society competition to encourage visitors to grow their own food, and a bees and honey farm to bring attention to the importance of bees for horticulture. For pure old-fashioned entertainment in an agricultural county, show jumping, sheepdog displays, and the Shetland pony ‘Grand National’ take place on both days.
There’s so much more to see and do here, for all ages, and if you like military bands, they’re present in spades. I may be showing my age, but forget the Red Arrows fly-past, Liberty X in the Arena and the rock choir. Look around the edges for what the Flower Show once was, and thankfully, still is.
Shrewsbury Flower is on 11 and 12 August 2023 in the Quarry, Shrewsbury.