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Harrogate Flower Show demonstrated that it can rival Chelsea and Hampton Court, but what plans does its organisers have for 2011? Stand Out chatted to show director Martin Fish

For the past 12 months, Martin Fish has been getting to grips with the Harrogate Flower Show. A gardening expert by trade and former president of the North of England Horticultural Society, Fish was elected show director in October 2009, and has since been learning the ropes of an extremely popular floral event.

Fish is chatting to Stand Out, who has driven to the Yorkshire Event Centre in Harrogate on day three of the event. It’s raining, but the weather has not perturbed visitors who have turned out in their thousands.

In 2011, the event will celebrate its centenary, and already Fish and his team are developing their next plan of action, devising new show features and evolving existing areas.

“In one way, this year has been a steep learning curve,” Fish says. “We have a set formula of how things are done, and I’ve been involved with the event for a long time, but the difficult bit now is to pull in the changes I want and to make the event more cost effective,” Fish comments, and it’s clear he is looking for change.

“My background is in horticulture. Both the spring and autumn flower shows have good reputations but I want to increase the horticultural elements within them to make them the main shows on the circuit.”

Harrogate Flower Show has a loyal customer base, says Fish, citing visitor figures of 58,000 and 35,000 for the spring and autumn shows respectively.  He is conscious of attracting a younger generation, and would like to host student gardeners and landscapers, believing that the event lacks show gardens and displays that the average gardener can achieve.

But changes will take time, and Fish is more than aware of financial constraints.

“To make the show bigger we’d have to pour more money into the event. To justify that you have to be sure you will get the visitors. I am sure that as we add new features then the show will spread. Until then, it will be a gradual process because I am realistic about figures.”

This year, Fish has introduced Kitchen Garden Live, the Fodder Cookery Theatre and the Garden Advice Bureau, which replaced an advice roadshow that had been utilised in previous years.

Fish explains: “The show has always had a roadshow element but we found that the audience didn’t like asking questions in front of everyone and over a microphone. This year, we opted for the advice bureau where visitors could ask questions one on one and it’s been really successful.”

Now, Fish is looking at ways to engage children. A children’s activity area may be introduced in 2011 with young gardeners who sow pumpkin seeds at the spring show being encouraged to return to the autumn event to take part in a pumpkin growing competition. Such activities will promote continuity and support the growth of visitor figures.