As Chelsea, the first of the major RHS flower shows looms on the horizon, its worth asking if landscapers creating the show gardens are getting good value for their efforts, or whether they’d be better off concentrating on the BALI and APL awards.
Keith Chapman, ( pic below) owner of North Yorkshire based Keith Chapman Landscapes will be building ‘The Arthritis Research U.K. Garden’ for Chris Beardshaw, who he met through an organization and first worked with last year. “In 2012 we did all the RHS shows, Malvern, Chelsea, Hampton (where we built the biggest exhibit, 60 by 30 meters in three weeks, which was quite a nightmare) and Tatton,” he says. “We worked back to back on all the flower shows but it’s worth it and definitely helpful for business. As well as working with designers we do private work for customers and the exposure breeds confidence. We’re on the RHS website, our logo’s on the show garden handout and its all accreditation.” Keith’s favorite show is Hampton Court. “It’s the easiest,” he says, “but for prestige it has to be Chelsea.” The company does not compete for either BALI or APL awards. “I think that they’re only recognized by the industry,” he explains. “The RHS flower shows receive so much more coverage.”
Steve Moody, owner and MD of Frogheath Landscapes, the Kent based company who swept the board at the recent APL awards winning the Overall Design and Build category with a garden that also took the Supreme Winner gong, and the Young Achiever award with their staff member Peter Belton, says that he would like the opportunity to build a show garden, but has never been asked. “We’ve had over 20 years in the business and our problem is that there aren’t the sponsors,” he explains. “People have come to us in the past but they’ve had a limited budget. We were asked to do a water feature on a show garden (which was what we were paid for) and finished up doing the whole lot.” To tackle the problem of sponsorship the RHS are providing funds for four competition winners, (members of the APL) to build their gardens at Hampton Court. “The project is in its second year,” says an APL spokesman. “We wanted to build our relationship with the RHS and get our members out there in front of the public. We’re doing a similar thing at Tatton Park, where the gardens will be judged by the RHS, as before, but the winners sponsored by Bradstone.” Ironically, Frogheath Landscapes entered the RHS/APL competition and had their garden rejected one week before winning the APL awards. “It was all doom and gloom one week and celebration the next,” Steve confirms.
Bartholomew Landscaping are not only building ‘Stoke-on-Trent’s Story of Transformation’ for Stoke-on-Trent City Council, but sponsoring it as well. “We’d considered building show gardens in the past but thought ‘no chance’ because of the time and money involved” says MD Barry Burrows. ( pic right) “But this time, once we’d seen the design which is all about putting Stoke-on-Trent back on the map, and acknowledging the city’s industrial past – the steelworks and the potteries, we changed our minds. We’ve all worked together to develop ideas and Stoke-on-Trent have a very expert and knowledgeable team.” Barry is particularly proud of the fact that over 10,000 schoolchildren from the area are each making a porcelain flower for the garden. “We’ve been a back room company for 20 years with practically no publicity,” he continues. “Two years ago we joined BALI and entered their awards, partly to see how we compared with others and partly to give the people who work for us some recognition. We raised our heads above the parapet and have won 15 BALI awards in two years. This is our first RHS show garden and its got integrity written all over it.”
Fellow BALI member and no stranger to winning awards is Ground Control Ltd. based in Essex who bought the Landscaping and Arboriculture divisions of UPM Tilhill in July last year. “The BALI awards are our Chelsea” says Ground Control’s Technical Director Neil Huck, a past BALI National Training Manager. “I think that for domestic landscapers Chelsea is the best shop window, but as far as we’re concerned, in the commercial sector, the BALI awards are more relevant.” With major clients including local authorities and the utilities, Neil finds that the high number of categories such as ‘ground maintenance,’ and ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ landscaping at a variety of budget levels reflect the nature of the companies involved. “Each category has awards and a principle award,” he explains “and each principle award goes through to compete for the Grand Winner, which is announced on the first Friday in December at the BALI award ceremony, at the Grosvenor Hotel in London. There are always about 600 to 800 people. We definitely find the awards useful and often take clients.” Neil says that as far as Chelsea is concerned Ground Control has been asked to build a show garden in the past but has declined. “We’ve discussed it but, unlike the BALI awards it’s not a priority,” he concludes.
Similar sentiments are echoed at The Landscape Group, one of the major players in the commercial landscape sector. “Chelsea and the other RHS shows are not something we do,” says Marketing Manager Melinda Richardson. “Our customers are local authorities, housing associations, private businesses, schools, hospitals and the construction industry. We don’t do any domestic gardens except with our Dorset division.” Specialists in larger construction projects, with an annual turnover of approximately £50 million The Landscape Group always submits a number of applications to the BALI awards and the company’s success culminated in 2011 when they scooped the Grand BALI Award. “The only time that we’ve been involved with RHS flower shows was last year when one of our teams from the Dorset division helped Bournemouth Council with their Hampton Court garden. As they were clients we donated our team free of charge,” Melinda explains. “The garden has now been re-installed on Bournemouth’s seafront.”
Dan Flynn’s ( pic right) company Garden Link, based in Surrey, has been trading for 12 years and will be building Cloudy Bay Discovery Garden for designers Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam at next month’s Chelsea. “Ninety per cent of our work is either through or for designers,” he says. “Over the last four years we’ve built three gold medal winning gardens and last year one of them took the President’s Award. It was the first show garden to do so.” Dan, who has been in landscaping since 1987 thinks that his customers, the designers take notice of the RHS flower shows. “There’s a lot of networking, they talk to each other and we find that we’re recommended by word of mouth,” he continues. “We don’t go in for BALI or APL Awards. We used to be an APL member but didn’t renew this year. It might be better for us if we joined the Society of Garden Designers.”

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