‘Gold for Barbados at the Chelsea Flower Show’ by Keith Miller
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.
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‘. (READ THE REST OF IT HERE)