The Barbados Horticultural Society first exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1984, when they won a very commendable Silver Medal. The team returned in 1988 and has competed at Chelsea every year since then. During that impressive unbroken spell of 31 consecutive years, Barbados has achieved a spectacular record of 19 Gold Medals, 11 Silver-Gilt and 1 Silver – including Gold in 2018 for their magnificent exhibit ‘Barbados, where the rum comes from’.
To fully appreciate that success story, it is essential to understand how very challenging it is to actually win any kind of medal at Chelsea, not just a Gold. This is a competition that attracts the absolute best of the best in the horticultural world and has established the very highest set of standards and judging criteria. To put matters in perspective, most British companies that win a medal at the Chelsea Flower Show, any medal at all, recognise that achievement on their letterheads, business cards and any form of promotional material. In short, winning a medal at Chelsea is regarded as the ultimate accolade in the horticultural business.
It is against this background that we should evaluate the amazing record of the Barbados Horticultural Society (BHS) and what it really takes to attain that level of consistent success. Each year, in their efforts to recreate the exquisite beauty of Barbados, the team takes with them on the airplane about 70 large packing cases, full of a vast array of colourful blooms and foliage of all hues, shapes, sizes and textures. Then, after arriving in London on Thursday morning after the overnight flight, the team members go directly to the Chelsea showground to unpack the boxes and put everything in water, ready for them to start building the arrangements later in the day, and for the next three days of 12-hour stints of hard work that it takes to complete the exhibit.
What is even more remarkable is that while the majority of the cut flowers are provided by commercial growers in Barbados, some of the blooms and all of the foliage is grown, picked, donated and packed for shipping by a small army of BHS volunteers who work diligently behind the scenes throughout the whole year.
Exhibiting at Chelsea is a very expensive undertaking and it must be underscored how totally dependent the Society is upon getting sufficient financial support to participate each year. And, by extension, it must also be underscored how extremely grateful they are for any sponsorship they are given via the private sector, the government and generous individuals.
The tremendous accomplishments of Barbados at the Chelsea Flower Show are undoubtedly the end result of a great collective effort, whereby many people willingly share their talents and resources. The unparalleled Barbados Horticultural Society success story is a classic example of how Barbadians can achieve truly world-class standards when they work together as a team.
In addition to the gold award-winning Barbados, the Commonwealth countries participating this year at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show included Grenada and South Africa who both also won gold, and India who won a Silver Gilt for their display celebrating the 70th Anniversary of the British Council in India.
Other Commonwealth entries in recent years have come from Australia, Jamaica, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Trinidad and Tobago.