Harrogate's blooming for Yorkshire

PUBLISHED: 10:29 08 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:14 28 November 2017

Harrogate is representing Yorkshire in one of the largest horticultural campaigns in Europe

Harrogate is representing Yorkshire in one of the largest horticultural campaigns in Europe

Harrogate is representing Yorkshire in the 2009 Britain in Bloom competition. Tony Greenway tracks its bid for floral gold

This is Magnesia Well Cafe in Valley GardensThis is Magnesia Well Cafe in Valley Gardens

Harrogate is one helluva town. Just ask TV property gurus Phil and Kirsty, who regularly call it one of the best places to live in the UK, or The Times, which makes room for it in its guide to the '10 most expensive places to live in Britain'. The spa heritage, good schools, upmarket shops, arts facilities, housing and the falling crime stats all play a big part in Harrogate's irresistible charm offensive, but there's something else that makes it a must-go destination: it looks like a million dollars.

Apart from its elegant Victorian architecture and 200 acres of open common (aka The Stray), Harrogate is big on floral displays and its parks, verges, gardens and hanging baskets are a riot of colour and texture. In fact, Harrogate does flowers so well that, last year, the town won gold in the Yorkshire in Bloom competition. And this year it has the honour of representing the county in the prestigious Britain in Bloom event organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, which dubs it 'one of the largest horticultural campaigns in Europe, with the year-round aim of creating a more beautiful Britain'. In other words, to win it is a very big deal indeed.

If you enjoy all things floral, you'll think that Pam Grant has one of the best jobs in Yorkshire (or the worst, depending on your stress levels). She is president of the Harrogate in Bloom committee, and it's her job to spearhead the town's bid for gold glory. She's the one responsible for 'stirring everyone into action' and overseeing the bid. 'Harrogate in Bloom is an on-going project,' she says. 'A lot of planning goes into it.'

An understatement if ever there was one. Do the words 'logistical nightmare' mean anything to Pam and her team? 'They do, really,' she admits. 'It's not just about flowers. It's about the environment, recycling, carbon emissions, working with the local community and getting people to accept some responsibility for their surroundings. That's what these competitions are about now.

Harrogate is representing Yorkshire in one of the largest horticultural campaigns in EuropeHarrogate is representing Yorkshire in one of the largest horticultural campaigns in Europe

'It's not just about the council doing everything either. Everyone else has to do their bit too. A nice place doesn't just happen. It's not luck.'

This isn't the first time Harrogate has entered Britain in Bloom. It won the title in 1992 and 2003, and in 2004 walked off with the European Entente Florale title. It also won last year's Yorkshire in Bloom Rose Town or City Award; and Pam herself won the Yorkshire Rose Sawley Arms Trophy for her individual promotion of Yorkshire in Bloom. Even so, she's not taking anything for granted. Judging for Britain in Bloom takes place in the summer, although there could be a surprise visit in the spring for a preliminary peek. This year, judges will be looking for evidence of sustainable planting, so Patrick Kilburn, the council's head of parks and open spaces, and his designers will be busy rising to the challenge.

'If Harrogate wins Britain in Bloom it will enhance the profile of the town,' says Pam. 'More visitors will come here because there are a lot of people who enjoy flowers, open spaces and fresh air, which we have in abundance.We want to make Harrogate a pleasant town; a nice place to live, work and bring up your kids.'

Pam was one of the founder members of the Harrogate in Bloom group in the 1980s. Four years ago, when a president was needed, she was asked if she would do the job. 'We were in a special category for Britain in Bloom,' she says. 'And we didn't do very well.We just got a Silver Gilt. I thought "Harrogate can do better than this". Since then, it has.'

The local authority has a budget for flowers in the parks and open spaces but then, says Pam, it's down to private individuals working with two people from the council. 'We're very fortunate in that Harrogate people will get off their backsides and volunteer,' she says. Not that Pam and her team of 10 committee members go around dead-heading, you understand. But they do have to come up with some good ideas to make Harrogate a potential gold medallist.

'There are some empty shops in the town centre due to the recession, so we're organising flowers to put on the outside of the windows to at least make them look more attractive,' she says. 'Empty shops can look awful.We have to keep on our toes.'

Pam has always liked flowers, but that's not what drives her. 'I've always lived in Harrogate,' she says. 'The town's my passion really.' So when can she sit back, breathe a sigh of relief and say 'job well done'? Pam makes a small whimpering noise. 'After the judging day,' she laughs. 'On the other hand, you can never really stop with flowers, can you?'

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