A time for happiness and reflection

Les English from Morpeth Chamber of Trade, Nigel Lawton from Heighley Gate, Terry Garnick, Northumberland County Council Neat manager and Morpeth Town Clerk Gillian Turner with Morpeth's  Britain in Bloom award last year.
Les English from Morpeth Chamber of Trade, Nigel Lawton from Heighley Gate, Terry Garnick, Northumberland County Council Neat manager and Morpeth Town Clerk Gillian Turner with Morpeth's Britain in Bloom award last year.
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Golden-anniversary celebrations should always have elements of happiness, fulfilment and reflection, and all three were present for me last Monday at the Spring Meeting of Northumbria in Bloom.

No, I haven’t been a regional judge since the start, that only began 12 years ago, but my involvement with Alnwick in Bloom and through that the wider organisation, began in 1981.

A decade earlier I’d met, judged with and befriended Bob Woolley at Warkworth Show. He became Mr Northumbria in Bloom in my eyes. So special memories came flooding back at last week’s meeting, and 50 years’ existence of Britain and Northumbria in Bloom is good reason to celebrate.

The competition was organised by the Tourist Board in 1964 after prompting by the late Roy Hay, a horticultural journalist, and Northumbria was in on the act from the beginning. There were only seven entries that first year, a far cry from today, and they were judged by Bob Woolley (chairman) and his wife May, both now deceased, accompanied by Mrs Kenneth Clark, current, ever-active life president.

Birthday celebrations began on March 3, when representatives of villages, towns and cities throughout the region met at Brandling House, Newcastle Racecourse, for the launch of our 2014 competition, whose catchment area is from Berwick in the north to Cleveland (south) and Greenhead in the west.

Given the area covered, it’s no surprise that 30- plus judges, all volunteers, are required. We work in pairs and have our hands full doing the rounds of spring and summer visits. Apart from the major competition categories, there are numerous special awards. The schools competition, Growing Together, can attract 50 or so educational establishments. This before we even consider the It’s Your Neighbourhood awards, aimed at encouraging local initiatives.

It has become a tradition at our spring meeting to invite a presentation from a regular major award-winning community, and as Morpeth has done so well over several years it was natural that they should explain their success.

Finally came RHS Council member John Wheatley’s Creating a Wow With Plants, with lots of on-screen images and brilliant examples of plantings as seen through the eyes of a national judge.

Eileen Burn, chairman of Northumbria in Bloom, rounded off the meeting with a rallying call for us to party with colourful plants and celebrate 50 glorious years.