This section is from the book "The Florist And Garden Miscellany". Also see: All New Square Foot Gardening: Grow More in Less Space!.
In No. 7 of Vol. I. will be found two woodcuts, conveying a good idea of a portion of the grounds at Chiswick upon an exhibition-day; and we propose, in this and the two following numbers, to give an account of the general features of the same, divided into three parts; - the preparation for the fete; the fete itself; and its conclusion. If there is one feature of these great exhibitions that is more worthy than another of provincial imitation, it is the strict adherence to the rules and regulations laid down for their conduct. It has often been our lot to witness the bad effects of the contrary practice at country shows: subjects admitted after the hour had passed for their reception; tents not cleared of exhibitors at the time appointed; and every thing thrown into disorder from want of carrying out, at every cost, the printed laws for their regulation. If the committees would but act firmly in every case, those exhibitors who, from indolence or neglect, were properly excluded, would be more careful for the future, and would make their arrangements accordingly.
But to our immediate work, - a description of the preliminaries to the Chiswick exhibition.
The Gardens are part of the Duke of Devonshire's Chiswick estate, and consist of 33 acres; the portion occupied by the exhibition, and laid down in grass, planted with an extensive variety of plants and shrubs, is about nine acres. To the Garden there are three entrances: the principal one from the carriage-road, leading from Turnham Green to the Duke's mansion; another from off the Green itself, leading immediately to the Council-room; and a third, the carters' entrance, by which alone all the objects for exhibition are received. As we enter at the Council-room, we pass the great conservatory, as represented in the right of the woodcut (vol. i. p. 180), and then reach a tent, 173 feet long and 33 feet wide; to the left of that another is erected, 225 feet long and 30 feet wide; and immediately at the end of this is another, known as the iron tent, 100 feet long and 25 wide, running straight for a part of its length, and then expanding into a half circle, 25 feet radius, for the exhibition of the large collections of miscellaneous plants. At right angles with this is the remaining tent, 75 feet long and 25 feet wide.
All of them are divided down the middle by a sufficiently high partition to make a suitable back for the plants arranged on either side.
Our usual time for being at the Gardens is about six o'clock a.m., and we enter at the carters' entrance. From the different roads leading on to the Green, vans of various constructions, with as various coverings, are seen wending their way to the general rendezvous. Each exhibitor, as he enters, signs a declaration of what he is intending to exhibit, and in what class; and until he does this, his productions are not allowed to proceed to the place of unloading. Before this rule was established, it was not unfrequent for an exhibitor to make himself acquainted with the strength of an opponent, and then enter the lists accordingly. We will, however, leave the van-road, and taking a footpath through a part of the Gardens containing the glass erections, we reach the tents. Here are to be seen plants standing about in all directions; gardeners busy-arranging them in places pointed out by one of the Society's officers appointed to this duty; labourers with hand-barrows, carrying the contents of the vans to the different exhibitors; persons are to be seen moving about in all directions, with choice specimens under their arms; and a multitude of gardeners, not exhibitors, walking about and examining the different plants, - a privilege granted them upon the understanding that they move amongst them carefully, and keep out of the exhibitors' way.
It is a most interesting sight to watch how all the confusion of beauty gradually assumes the most admirable forms of arrangement; no noise, no bustle, nothing to indicate that the smallest difficulty exists. Each exhibitor, as he gets his collection arranged, goes to a place appropriated to this purpose, where several clerks, in answer to his application, supply him with cards on which the necessary letters are written, with which he returns to the tent, where a person who performs this duty tacks them down upon the stage in front of his collection. It is to be remembered that all the plants are secured for travelling safely, and consequently that, as they are arranged, all extra supports have to be removed; cotton-wool, etc, that has been placed to prevent injury to the flowers in their transit, is also taken away, and every thing that detracts from their beauty. The litter made in doing this is swept up and removed by persons appointed to the service; and the exhibitor, after arranging all his plants, taking a look to see that all is as it should be, goes in search of "the Doctor." Professor Lindley, the Vice-Secretary of the Horticultural Society, is early on the ground, and moving about in all directions, sees that every thing is going on properly; he is also at hand to refer to in cases of difficulty respecting the arrangement of plants.
As the day advances, he generally takes a place where he is readily found. The exhibitor goes to him and asks for tickets: these are of two kinds, - the one for breakfast, the other for admission when the grounds are thrown open for the visitors at one o'clock. Regular and well-known exhibitors are supplied with both forthwith; to others the questions are put, "What have you brought?" If important enough to merit tickets, the additional question is asked, "Are they arranged?" if they are, the tickets are given; if not, they are refused until that is done. If the matters brought for exhibition are unimportant, tickets are not granted. By the time all the plants are arranged, it is full half-past nine, and men are seen sweeping out all the tents, gathering the litter together and removing it; and before the principal exhibitors have had a look at the general features of the whole, it is ten o'clock, and a body of policemen, commencing at the further extremity, courteously say as much, requesting every body to leave the grounds; and scarcely have they done this, ere the judges are seen entering in another direction to perform their important duties.