Another Chelsea Medal for Audrey
7th June 2018
Following on from her success two years ago in winning a gold medal for her floral arrangement at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show, Stanborough Park church's Audrey Balderstone has been awarded a silver gilt medal at this year's show, 22-26 May.
This time Audrey, who as before was exhibiting on behalf of the Watford Floral Society, was partnered by her friend Yolanda Campbell who helped her organise last year's Flower Festival at the church. Both Audrey and Yolanda are experienced flower arrangers/exhibitors/demonstrators and have exhibited at Chelsea before, gaining medals for their efforts, but this is the first time they have collaborated on an entry there. They became firm friends following their introduction many years ago in Ireland by the Very Reverend William McMillan OBE, a legendary name in flower arranging circles (usually referred to as 'The Reverend Mac').
"There were four classes in the Floral Design Studio and the standard was very high", Audrey recalled a few days after the event. "When we looked at our design again at lunchtime on Thursday we were much more hopeful that we would get a medal of some description. Privately I thought we might get silver so when we went back at 3:00 pm to see the results we were overjoyed to be awarded silver gilt. I just can't express how thankful we were. Taking part in Chelsea is very expensive in terms not only of cash, but of time, physical stamina and emotion."
It began at the beginning of this year when local societies across the country were invited to apply for the opportunity to exhibit at the next Chelsea Flower Show. However, it was not until the middle of March that Yolanda and Audrey found out that they had been selected to enter the competition to exhibit for the last three days of the show under the theme of 'Spirit of the Season'.
"We are given the dimensions of the space in which to stage the exhibit and the design must not go over those dimensions by a mm. The space should be used well ‒ neither overfull nor under filled. In addition, it must have artistic and practical merit and interpret the title well. Within those three criteria there are additional criteria so it is very tough. The exhibit is judged on a points system and only two points separates a gold from a silver gilt, two from a silver and two from a bronze. Some get nothing", explained Audrey.
The lack of time and distance between the two friends was a challenge and their first idea did not work out ‒ they had covered the word 'season' but not 'spirit'. It was then that they realised that Whitsun, celebrating the Feast of Pentecost, occurred just days before the event. With Audrey's Adventist background and Yolanda being a devout Catholic they chose the text "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit" Acts 2:4, and set about interpreting the text into a floral display.
Using a bespoke aluminium framework with a 'wave' effect as a base they chose Gloriosa Lilies to represent the tongues of fire. Wanting to create an effect that would be dramatic but not overcrowded they used a red/orange/yellow colour base and settled on flowers to complement the lilies ‒ Heliconia, gerberas, orchids, crispedia, sandersonia, bupleurum, flexigrass, and asparagus fern. Then they calculated the number of flowers they would require ‒ around 600, representing a mammoth task ahead of them!
An added complication was that Audrey was also helping Yolanda to produce an exhibit at Westminster Abbey for an Order of the Bath ceremony on 24 May. So, Wednesday morning saw them arriving at the Abbey for 9:00 am, completing the exhibit there, then collecting the flowers for Chelsea at 6:30 pm and arriving there at 10:00 pm.
"Everything had to be carried in from the car and the stand assembled", Audrey continued. "We had a problem right away because the ceiling was too low for us to get the 'wave' on the pole so we had to lift the stand on to the ground and then work on the top part down there. We then had to lift it into position and work on the rest. Just filling 150 phials with water ‒ taking care that it did not stain the circles ‒ was a challenge. Too much and it overflowed when the flowers went in ‒ too little and the flowers would not last. Most of the 150 phials had three flowers in them, plus the flowers going up the central pole.
"We worked solidly without even having time to eat anything and did not finish until three minutes before the deadline of 6:30 am. By that time the stand has to be pristine and everything (rubbish, extra flowers, tools etc.) cleared. We didn't even have time to have a last-minute check of everything. We left feeling exhausted and not very confident, returning at 3:00 pm to discover the judges' decisions." However, both had been sustained by the fact that Yolanda's family in Goa and many other friends of both were praying for them.
The work didn't end there as they had to return the following morning to fill the phials with water and in the afternoon return to Watford to prepare the flowers for a wedding at Stanborough Park church that weekend. Certainly, a very busy week for both ladies and one that they will remember for many years to come.