Very early on Tuesday morning, as soon as the gates of the Chelsea Flower Show were opened, the intrepid members of the Barbados Horticultural Society’s team hurried inside to catch a first glimpse of whatever certificate the judges had awarded them and placed on their exhibit during the night. And there it was, in all its glory … a Gold Medal! That very precious, highly sought after, most prestigious, extremely elusive, and for most exhibitors, never achieved, ultimate accolade in the horticultural world – a Gold Medal at the Chelsea Flower Show. Barbados had won one! And, quite incredibly this was Gold Medal number 16 for Barbados in 27 consecutive and highly commendable appearances at the show. When added to all the other medals won, 10 Silver-Gilt and 1 Silver, this all equates to a truly incredible achievement and a phenomenal record of continued success.
The chosen theme for this year’s exhibit is the Sailor’s Valentine, an extraordinary art form that represents a truly unique link between Barbados and Britain. During the 1800’s, when Britannia ruled the waves and Barbados was a major maritime hub in world trade, floods of British sailors poured into Bridgetown in search of ‘fun and frolic’. While there they also looked for special souvenirs to take home for their sweethearts, with the Sailor’s Valentine being the most special of all. Many of the finest examples still in existence today were originally purchased at the New Curiosity Shop in Bridgetown, owned by the Belgrave brothers. The classic Sailor’s Valentine is housed in an octagonal mahogany box with a glass cover to protect an intricate, delicate and painstakingly assembled collage of tiny, naturally coloured seashells, often incorporating a floral motif, a heart shape and a verse or message.
To make one of these beautiful pieces requires the talent and skill of a fine artist, the precision of a surgeon and the patience of a saint. That being the case therefore, there was never any doubt that recreating Sailor’s Valentines in a floral design would provide the Barbados team with possibly its greatest ever challenge. And they rose splendidly to the occasion!
To portray the exquisite magnificence of the Sailor’s Valentine, the team members created four enlarged floral replicas, with each one symmetrically positioned within a 20 ft. x 20 ft. formal landscaped area that is itself nestled in an octagonal perimeter to reflect the shape of the boxes. Each quarter of the garden is separated by four walkways, created with seed-pods from the Mahogany tree, converging into a lush tropical interior – resplendent with McArthur Palms, Dracaenas, Cordylines, Philodendrons, Heliconias, Anthuriums, Ginger Lilies and Orchids.
As soon as the exhibit first started to take shape, the general consensus of random passers-by was that this was something very special indeed. By the time it was almost complete on Sunday afternoon, many strangers were predicting a Gold Medal. But the Barbados Team has been coming to Chelsea for long enough to know that there is no such thing as a certainty and they would never take anything for granted – least of all a Gold Medal. So it was with real concern and genuine anxiety that the team awaited the judges’ decision. And that made the eventual news of the Gold Medal success all the sweeter.
To add some more icing to an already delightful cake, the Barbados Association of Flower Arrangers, ably represented by Jackie Ferdinand and Wayne Ramsey, also tasted success by winning a Silver Medal in the Sculpture in the Garden section of the show with their beautiful entry entitled ‘Temptation’.
It is worthy of note that the members of the Barbados Horticultural Society Team are all unpaid volunteers. They take great pride in the fact that they grow, pick and pack their own blooms and foliage, all collected from private gardens and nurseries around the island, and ship them from Barbados to Chelsea in numerous very large boxes. The working team at Chelsea this year comprises Jenny Weetch, Shirley Anne Howell, Carol-Anne Brancker, Trevor Inniss, Wayne Ramsey, Alexia Rudder, John Leach, BHS President Orson Daisley, Jackie Ferdinand, Sally Miller and Trevor Hunte, with Keith Miller giving support with PR work. In addition, there is also a small army of other volunteers who do diligent work behind the scenes throughout the year. The tremendous ongoing success of Barbados at the Chelsea Flower Show is very much the result of a great collective effort, whereby many people willingly share their skills and resources.
Being entirely dependent upon financial support from the Barbados Tourism Authority, corporate Barbados and generous individuals, as well as the donation of flowers from C.O.Williams and a list of other people too long to mention here, the society is particularly grateful this year for the generous contribution of Sir Martyn Arbib and Lady Arbib, who have shown themselves to be true friends of Barbados. On Monday, Lesley Garrett, the highly respected and very popular British soprano, kindly made a special guest appearance at the show on behalf of Barbados during the Press and Celebrity Day, which is one of the UK’s most distinguished and important PR events. Lesley, who is a regular visitor to the island and who recently performed to great acclaim at the Holders Season, attracted plenty of attention from the media and did an excellent job of promoting Barbados. Also in attendance at the event were several distinguished Barbadians, including Mr. Don Johnson, the acting Barbados High Commissioner in London, and Daphne Hunte, who is one of the world’s leading shell artists and modern-day creators of Sailors’ Valentines. Daphne was accompanied by her husband Robin, of The Merrymen fame.
As the Chelsea Flower Show continues for the rest of this week, hundreds of thousands of attendees will view the Barbados exhibit each day and enjoy a small but wonderfully delicious taste of what our beautiful island has to offer. Winning a Gold Medal is undoubtedly a monumental success for the Barbados Horticultural Society Team, but perhaps their greatest achievement is the exemplary way in which they represent their country with such dignity and excellence at the highest level on the global stage. If you ever want to see what Pride and Industry really looks like, just visit the Barbados exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show.