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BBC Gardener’s World Live 2014


At the end of April 2014 we were approached by Liz Walker, Destination Development Manager from Visit Isle of Wight Ltd, who each year as part of their exhibitions programme to promote the Isle of Wight take stand space at a range of exhibitions in the UK and abroad.  One of the most high profile is the BBC Good Food and Gardner’s World at the NEC in June (240,000 visitors approximately). The last couple of years the stand has been designed to promote the island off the back of the Island’s great local produce and farmers market fare.  Last year they also had Oliver Stephens from the Priory Bay Hotel cooking up foraged items live on the Kitchen Garden stage, very successfully drawing attention to the stand. However this year they had space booked in the Gardner’s Lifestyle section and in front of the ‘Gardner’s Inspiration’ area, and wanted our help in putting together a garden at the show.  This looked like a good opportunity to take up, and so we met Liz, and soon agreed to go ahead despite a few problems that immediately sprung to mind.

The first difficulty was the show was taking place over the same weekend as the Isle of Wight Festival, so transport across the Solent was going to be tricky.  We were also putting in a design already agreed with plants from Osborne House and The Garlic Farm, each of whom had very firm ideas of how their wares should be exhibited.  Finally the show is in Birmingham and not London, so initial schemes of quite how to manage the whole plant delivery and collection to and from the capital which involved pulling in favours across the board.

With a complicated schedule ahead of us Jason and I collated the plants from around the Island and put the garden together in kit form in the back of a hired lorry.  Liz bore with us as the little surprises that punctuate, irritate and bemuse such adventures revealed themselves. We were soon on our way in order to ensure we were at the NEC at 7am the following morning, as per the show schedule, a document more involved, precise and complex than Operation Overlord ever was fifty years previously. So, at 7am the next day with hangovers the size of small European principalities we arrived at an almost empty NEC and tried to locate our space in a cavernous building.  It took about an hour to find anyone who knew anything about anything, by which time Jason had managed to decode the mysterious map we’d been sent with enough confidence to deduce the space marked with a yellow line was our spot.

Quickly we began setting up the garden, hauling the plants from the lorry on Danish trolleys over acres of green carpet.  We soon discovered the Astroturf which had been purchased was too small by half….and so the hunt was on to acquire some more.  We tried fair means and foul, bribes were offered, and theft was given serious consideration and even getting Liz to flutter her eyelashes at the stand next door that had hectares of the stuff but wouldn’t let us have any.  Finally Jason came up with a roll of something similar from somewhere and our new grass was laid.

With the garden finished except for the delivery of the backdrop photographs that Julian Winslow had graciously and hurriedly taken, we bid a strategic exit and headed back to the Island. Over the course of the weekend the stand was greeted by thousands of visitors and attracted a Four Star Award from the RHS for our trouble, we also sold some of the plants on breakdown day.  The following day when I collected the plants again the halls were as empty as before, our garden alone in a sea of green carpet.

Would we do it again?  Well, immediately afterwards, tired and grubby we all agreed no.  But, should the chance arise…this could be the first step towards Chelsea gold?