OOTS: Britain in Bloom

Tomorrow sees the annual knees up for this year's Britain in Bloom awards in Torbay. Finalists from all round the country will be putting on their gladrags to find out whether they've won that coveted Gold award, showing they've reached the pinnacle of horticultural excellence for their community.

Over 1,000 places take part in Britain in Bloom, now in its 42nd year, from tiny villages to the largest of cities. It's not just their showcase areas such as parks which are important: those just like we've been considering here in Out on the Streets have an equal contribution to make when the judges make their rounds. Attention to aspects such as litter and weed-free public spaces, environmental projects and community-wide participation are also key to success.

Chippenham hasn't participated this year, if ever recently, but I have been able to visit or pass through several places over the summer that do, including Tetbury (see picture above) which has made the national finals this year. Whilst I haven't had time to look at all the aspects making up Britain in Bloom (BIB) in detail, I have seen lots of things which highlight some telling differences between Chippenham and these other towns.

A good BIB place needs to make a good impression at its entrances. This usually entails some kind of planting around the signs placed roadside to welcome travellers and good attention paid to major roundabouts, like the pictured example I saw in Bath on Sunday. I don't think the High Street entrance to Monkton Park is anywhere near the same league. In addition, key buildings in the town will have especially good displays. This won't be just the key municipal buildings like the town hall and tourist information office I've shown you in Chippenham already, major firms and other notable buildings will usually have some kind of display, just like the one I found in Wells pictured at the top of this article and this solicitor's in Devizes to the right.

About three times as many hanging baskets of the standard Chippenham managed this year are needed to line the main street. Displays to brighten the more mundane, but well visited areas such as car parks are also encouraged. Businesses are usually invited to sponsor public displays as well as having something outside their own buildings. All members of the public are encouraged to join in: this was particularly apparent off the main streets of Tetbury, where most of the houses had some kind of floral display outside their front doors.

The standard of bedding is very high: compare the above example from Wells, complete with luscious Cannas, Salvias and Dahlias, with this other example I found recently in our town centre on the left, or my oft-bemoaned red mulched beds.

Whilst the majority of examples I've shown you have used mainly annuals, the RHS guidelines do include all types of planting such as perennials, shrubs and trees. Bath for example does have some wonderful prairie beds by the station, but there wasn't a suitable place close enough for me to stop and take photos on Sunday. It's not just about summer displays or the high street: when the judges make their visit, places have to show evidence of year-round excellence, community-wide projects - such as with schools and other key groups - and sustained improvements.

The RHS manages the Britain in Bloom process and it's interesting that participation is considered to have the following benefits:

  • Developing social cohesion and civic pride
  • A positive impact on the local economy
  • Providing a springboard to introduce environmental initiatives

That sounds like just the kind of shot in the arm Chippenham needs at the moment, whether it's sought via BIB or other means. Whilst I've not been entirely fair in picking examples from many towns, similar examples were to be found across all of them, thus showing what Chippenham should be aspiring to.


  1. I'm all for a bit of social cohesion, but I'm never convinced by BIB. So much seems to involve incredibly gaudy hanging baskets and eye-searing bedding displays. Am I just a killjoy? Probably.

  2. Dawn - good point. That's why I'm not sure that BIB is the answer to Chippenham's ills. BUT I couldn't really talk about public planting/OOTS without tackling the subject at some point and I'm sure it's something I'll return to. I'm also very happy to have a debate about it right here, right now.

    What do you think everyone? I hope I can get Gary along to say something here about his experiences of BIB from an particpant village's organiser viewpoint.

    It's interesting reading the RHS BIB information pack and site because so many of the examples don't involve hanging baskets, frightening looking massive black planters or eye fryingly bright planting combinations. That's why I'm particularly grieved I couldn't stop to photograph Bath's perennial bedding on Sunday. It was absolutely gorgeous. However, I do have a marvellous example from Radstock (as part of the town's regeneration project) heading tomorrow's post and a longer post planned to show it off properly for a later date.

  3. PS The example bedding I saw in Bath on Sunday previously had been home to pink begonias and standard fuchsias. That's also available elsewhere in the town, but there are signs that other approaches to public planting are being adopted or at least experimented with.

    The pictured roundabout has in previous years been the home to some traffic stopping massive plant 'sculptures'. I'm wondering how much the cost of this year's gazebo and planting compares with one of those - Carl at Dobbies in Shepton Mallett told me they cost around £5,000 - he used to commission them for Brum and Coventry plantings. My SUP friend S was also telling me the Bath roundabout's been most controversial this year because the supplier of the gazebo has gasp! been allowed to place an advert on the roundabout :0

    Whatever next!

  4. Hi,
    As some of you will be aware if you have been following my blog our village, Woodhurst in Cambridgeshire has been taking part in the Anglia in bloom section of BIB this year. I have been on the team running it for the village. This year we have moved away from the 'Corporate bedding" and moved more towards the enviromental schemes which the competition encouraged, these have included things like clearing the village conservation area, Pond dipping with the kids, a dawn birdwatch and erecting nestboxes around the village. Of couurse for the visit from the judges we made sure all the planters etc around the village were looking good but as the judging was only a couple of weeks after the village feast week when we have our own garden competitions that was the least of our work. The result was that we won a Silver Guilt in the best small village category. We are probably going to give it a miss next year as we are trying to relaunch ourselves as an enviromental group and want to try and break away from the 'Bedding Plant' label we have wrongly gained in the village.

    I do think that if a community is sensible about it's entering it is a very good way of getting people to take pride in their surroundings but just ease back on the Petunia's.


  5. Gary, thanks so much for coming over and telling the BIB story from your experience. I'm afraid this post is perpetuating the bedding plant experience. However, I do have plans to redress the balance in later posts.

  6. PS I think your environmental approach is the way to go and much more sensitive/ in keeping with the area in which your village nestles.

    I'm concluding that it's not just right plant right place, but also right type of scheme, right place as far as public planting is concerned. There needs to be a much more flexible approach, though I'm sure budget and skills constraints play a big factor in the limited kinds of planting response we see from local authorities.

  7. I like the idea of weed free public places.

  8. Gary - loving the sound of Woodhurst. I must visit. And I love your advice to 'ease up on the Petunias'!

  9. Tatyana - so do I, starting with Chippenham!

    Dawn - I'd like to add Begonia's to the list too and I'm sure plenty of people would add Busy Lizzy's. I'm having a bit of a crisis in confidence - supposing my taste's in the minority and the typical response to BIB is actually what most people like?

  10. Oops - apologies for the misplaced apostophes in my last comment. I'm probably guilty of dreadful spelling now as well :(


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