RHS Autumn Harvest Festival Show 2015

I always write my post about the RHS Autumn Harvest Festival Show will a tinge of sadness, as it falls just a few days before I head off to China. The dazzling displays of fruit, vegetables and autumn foliage remind me what I’ll be missing over the next three weeks. Of all the RHS London events I find the Harvest Festival Show the most nostalgic. I can almost imagine Lady Grantham gliding past the exhibits, nodding politely at be-tweeded Head Gardeners as they present the fruits of their labours. This show has changed very little over the last 100 years – a reminder that there are still folk who have the zeal to grow fine fruit and vegetable for the exhibition table.

The Duke of Devonshire takes first prize with 'Muscat of Alexandria'. Wine experts believe it is one of the oldest genetically unmodified grape varieties in existence
The Duke of Devonshire takes first prize with ‘Muscat of Alexandria’. Wine experts believe this is one of the oldest genetically unmodified grape varieties in existence

The show programme is similar every year, so much so that I can even recall where different competition classes will be displayed. Their Graces the Duke of Marlborough and the Duke of Devonshire still do battle with their grapes but, as we’re witnessing in the latest series of Downton Abbey, the age in which the landed gentry dominated these shows is long past.

The winning entries in the giant pumpkin competition ranged between 68kg and 509kg
Winning entries in the giant pumpkin competition ranged between 68kg and 509kg

In the giant pumpkin competition it was schools rather than Earls in 2nd and 5th position. The glory of first prize went to Ian Paton with a plumptious fruit weighing 509kg (1112lbs) – that’s not far off the weight of a Shetland Pony. (I recall that in 2012 the same prize was awarded to one Stuart Paton with a fruit weighing 478kg. I can only assume these two pumpkin professionals must be related.) I cannot look at these fecund fruits without thinking of those obese, bedridden people that one sees on Channel 4 documentaries. However, despite their ripples and wrinkles there’s nothing faintly fleshy about them: they are hard as nails and not in the least bit saggy.

Pert little pumpkins. In 4th Peter Geyelin, followed by Robert Fisher and Ellis Guilford School joint 5th
Pert little pumpkins. In 4th Peter Geyelin, followed by Robert Fisher and Ellis Guilford School in joint 5th place

The sweet and sour scent of ripening apples hit you the moment you entered the Lindley Hall, discreetly illuminated for the special ‘Late’ event on Tuesday evening. It is the very essence of autumn, delicious yet hinting at decay. As usual exhibition displays of apples were prolific as well as perfect. R. V. Roger, a specialist in field-grown fruit trees, staged a mind-boggling display of varieties old and new. I asked advice about growing some low espaliers in our London garden and was encouraged to consider what kind of flavours and eating qualities I liked so that they could offer the best choice. If you are interested to know more, R.V. Roger are holding a special Apple Weekend this very weekend, the 10th and 11th of October, at their nursery in Pickering, North Yorkshire. I wish I could be there.

R.V. Roger's display featured over 150 apple varieties, along with medlars and quince
R.V. Roger’s display featured over 150 apple varieties, along with medlars and quince

It would not be the Harvest Festival Show without rod-straight root vegetables, trim tomatoes and perky potatoes. Simon Smith from Loughborough showed us how first prizes are won with his entry into the ‘Collection of 4 Root Vegetables’. Us lesser gardeners can only admire such patience and attention to detail. I am just happy if my vegetables taste good.

From left to right, Carrot 'New Red Intermediate', Long Beet 'Regar', Carrot 'Sweet Candle', Long Beet 'Regar' and Parsnip 'Victor'
From left to right, Carrot ‘New Red Intermediate’, Long Beet ‘Regar’, Carrot ‘Sweet Candle’, Long Beet ‘Regar’ and Parsnip ‘Victor’

I read a sign on one show bench explaining that all the fruit and vegetables entered in the show would be collected at the end by Save the Date Café, an establishment based in East London. They take food that’s destined for landfill and create meals which are offered to customers on a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ basis. Describing themselves as an ‘egalitarian eatery’, they use this as a way of bringing together all parts of the community, rich or poor, homeless or landed, in one friendly venue. It’s a great idea in a country where so much food in needlessly wasted. Save the Date’s chefs will be working with a lot of top-notch produce over the next few days: let’s just hope their customers like pumpkin soup 🙂

If you’d like to look back over previous RHS London Harvest Festival Shows, follow these links: 2012, 2013, 2014.

Have a wonderful weekend one and all!

And first prize goes to ...... Ian Paton!
And first prize goes to …… Ian Paton!