Around 10,000 people are expected to descend on the rolling Boconnoc estate this weekend for Cornwall Garden Society’s annual spring flower show. Simon Parker spoke to some of the 100-plus volunteers who make it possible.
Fiona and Ann are sorting signs, Peter is fixing a ramp, Sarah has her tape measure out, and Phoebe and Jenny are talking daffodils. Meanwhile, Judge Jeff is banging in nails and Brigadier Simon is on odd-job duty.
They say it takes all sorts to make a world – and it's certainly true of the diverse bunch of volunteers who turn up each year to lend a hand in the run-up to an event which has rightly been dubbed the "Chelsea of the West". Among them are doctors, farmers, builders, lawyers, vets, teachers, horticulturists and people from a range of other backgrounds. What binds them is a love of gardening and a determination to ensure Cornwall Garden Society's 101st Spring Flower Show is a success. More than 100 in total, the volunteers began work on Easter Monday and will continue long after the event closes at 4pm on Sunday.
Held annually in the grounds of Boconnoc House, near Lostwithiel, the show regularly attracts around 10,000 gardeners, exhibitors, competitors and traders. A magnet for lovers of the spring-flowering shrubs for which Cornwall has become famous, this weekend's event will be returning to its roots. Launched in 1897 as the Daffodil & Spring Flower Exhibition, the cold spring has resulted in a 50% rise in daffodil entries.
The week-long set-up was undertaken by CGS volunteers from across the region, who gave up their time and expertise to prepare exhibition rooms and trade marquees.
Manning the old tractor shed, Phoebe Lockett and Jenny Coppen have been in charge of the narcissi exhibits for several years. Set on black fabric in identical vases, hundreds of varieties – from big rory-tory affairs to tiny scented specimens – are arranged neatly on tiered trestles.
Organisers say it promises to be the largest show of daffodils in years and is likely to be the show's most-visited attraction.
Phoebe, who lives at St Ervan, said: "The daffodils always look wonderful because yellow and white against a black background creates a stunning display. But this year they should look better than ever because of the rise in entries. The scent is always wonderful too."
Jenny, from Launceston, said setting up the show was a great opportunity to get together with fellow gardeners and socialise while working.
"You meet a lot of nice people doing this," she said. "And on the show days you hear lots and lots of people saying how good it all looks – that's when we know we haven't been wasting our time."
What visitors don't see – and aren't meant to – is the half-mile of timber and 3,000 screws that go into forming the base for the vases of magnolias, camellias, azaleas and an array of other flowers.
Peter Chown, who has been leading a team of volunteer carpenters for several years, had 30 helpers this year.
"It's misleading to call ourselves carpenters, because we're nothing of the sort," he explained. "I'm a retired probation officer and we have people from all sorts of backgrounds – even Judge Jeff Rucker – but not one carpenter."
A member of the show committee, Peter, who travelled from Praze-an-Beeble to organise the work, added that while "it's not fine art", it does have to be precise in order to conform to Royal Horticultural Society regulations.
Making sure everything is laid out exactly according to the rule book is the responsibility of competitive class organiser Sarah Gordon. Across in the camellia room, she was carefully measuring the precise space allowed for a set of floral exhibits.
"Everything has to be very neat and precise," she said. "Each class has a specific space allowance – and competitors would soon notice if the space allocated was even a fraction out."
Sarah, who worked in horticulture for 20 years, said judges from all over the world visit the Boconnoc show.
"We get a sense of enormous satisfaction when it is all there and the exhibits are looking wonderful," she said. "And we must be doing something right because we have judges who come here and say that although they have judged all over the world, this is the best they've seen anywhere."
Many of those feverishly bustling in and out of Boconnoc House's stable yard have been volunteering at the show for years. But for Ann Robinson from Ludgvan and Callington farmer Fiona Mudge, this was their first time. After coffee, cake and an introductory briefing, the two women set about re-blacking the show's entire stock of signage. Fiona, who is a member of Stoke Climsland Gardening Club, said it was important for her to get away from the farm once in a while.
"I wanted to be involved," she said. "So I've made time to do it. This is my relaxation."
People like Fiona, Sarah, Phoebe, Peter and the rest, are the backbone of the Boconnoc show.
Paying tribute to their hard work and dedication, CGS stalwart Giles Clotworthy said: "The spirit has been terrific – better than ever. It has been a terrifically happy atmosphere."
CGS chairman Andrew Leslie added: "The show is only as wonderful as it is because the volunteers make it all work. From Monday morning when the carpenters came in to the moment it opens on the Saturday morning, more than a hundred people will have been busy setting up and making it look splendid.
"Visitors arrive and see the finished article – but they have no idea the work that actually goes into it."
Cornwall Garden Society's Spring Flower Show, sponsored by Atkins Ferrie Wealth Management, takes place at Boconnoc tomorrow and Sunday. It is open from 10am to 5pm tomorrow and from 10am to 4pm on Sunday. Admission is £7.50 for adults, with under-16s free. For further details, visit www.cornwall gardensociety.org.uk or call 01209 714488.