The Melplash Show

11 September 2016
Ben Pentreath

I have that feeling that I am taking a step back in time, and yet only by a two or three weeks. How quickly summer slips in to Autumn, but what a beautiful Autumn it is. We went for a glorious walk today with our friends Caddy and Kate across the hills from Eype to Seaton; the coast bathed in hot sunshine, the sea blue and sparkling. I wish I could show you it all, but for once (and intentionally) I’d decided to leave my camera at home and enjoy things in a different way – through looking, and not photographing.

And partly, too, because there’s a story I want to share, and I know I must write it this weekend or never. The Melplash Show.

I suppose it’s probably true to say that the real reason we didn’t go away this summer was the Melplash Show. Charlie was making sure that his dahlias and vegetables were as beautifully looked after as the most cosseted pooch in the upper east side of New York city. Care and attention reaps rewards, I always like to think, but as the day drew close I can’t help but admitting that we were full of trepidation.  New Zealanders from Charlie’s home town of Mayfield are very well aware of his incredible skills in the agricultural and pastoral shows; but this was new territory, and one never quite knows if the locals will be friendly to newcomers.

Early on the morning of the show entry day, Charlie picked and gathered. The flower room came into its own, and a host of ‘bikini vases’, as I have now learned they are called, started to do their work.

P1040266 P1040267 P1040268 P1040270 P1040272

By late afternoon the crop was well-edited and beautifully presented:P1040273 P1040274 Perfect vegetables were carefully boxed ready for transport:
P1040277 P1040282 P1040288All deliveries must be made by 8.00pm on the Wednesday evening; we had Zoe and Chris from the office staying, and were heading to Bridport for supper, to Charlie had to leave just a bit early with a car filled with incredible wares. The delivery was carefully and safely made.

The following morning we arrived at the show ground to find hoards of visitors and ominous signs outside several tents.P1040291

But the horticultural produce tent was open – and had been judged. At an immediate glance the competition was going to be tough. Frankly terrifying. This, for instance, was a massive cabbage.P1040293 P1040294

But we found some of the dahlias and realised that all that hard work was not quite in vain. FIRST PRIZE, Charlie McCormick.P1040295

And again!P1040297

And again, and again. Second prize for the beautiful bunches of flowers….P1040299 P1040304

Second prize in the hotly contested sweet-pea section (where to be honest the first prize winner was rather show stopping).P1040306 P1040308

Third in Gladioli.

Our friend Caddy who excels in the unusual vegetable category had done beautifully in the edible flower category:P1040312

Runner beans, and marrows; moments of great beauty:P1040317 Charlie won in Rhubarb!!!

This was the BEST IN SHOW:P1040325

Charlie: FIRST PRIZE IN ONIONS, another very hotly contested area.P1040328 P1040332

Caddy’s incredible carrots:P1040334 P1040336

And her insane pumpkin, by far the heaviest.  Unfortunately for Caddy she had brought in three incredibly heavy pumpkins, only to find that there was just one prize, ‘heaviest’. P1040343 P1040345 P1040348

Insane begonias.

Scenes from the Show:P1040350 P1040360

Judging in the honey tent:P1040371 P1040374 P1040377Show jumping:P1040391Cattle judging:P1040395A happy prize winner:P1040397 P1040404

Tense moments…P1040405

The subtly happy face of success…P1040407

And even bigger smiles when the Charolais herd won the best in show:P1040411 P1040412 P1040413 P1040418 P1040423

Super star:P1040425 P1040426 P1040431 P1040432 P1040433

In the sheep pens:
P1040437 P1040439 P1040443 P1040444

Inspecting the winning cattle:P1040448 P1040451 P1040455 P1040458 P1040459 P1040463 P1040465 P1040472 P1040474

Sheep and young keepers:P1040477 P1040478 P1040479 P1040481 P1040483 P1040488 P1040490


Charlie never told me he had a line in tractors….P1040495

Caddy’s son Ted, aged 16, had won several prizes in the Honey tent!P1040501 P1040502

Faces of success!P1040505 P1040510

Children’s art:P1040511

Children’s baking:

Vegetable and fruit creations (make a robot):P1040513 P1040515 P1040517

Miniature garden:P1040518

Flower arranging tent:P1040520 P1040529But back in the horticultural tent, an exciting moment….P1040530 P1040531

it turned out that Charlie had won the Percy and Elise Bowditch Trophy!  For most points in Dahlia categories.P1040532 P1040534

Some serious inspection was going on.P1040536 P1040538 P1040539 P1040541

Prize giving. Mr Hillier, best allotment. P1040548 P1040551 P1040553

Bill Howarth cleaned up nearly every single category, a true winner. We were told he enters eleven shows each spring, nineteen each summer. A true champion.P1040554

Charlie receiving his cup!P1040557 P1040559

Winner! I was so, so proud. Of course it’s the taking part that really counts, but it’s pretty nice to get the recognition that Charlie is growing the best dahlias – a fact we all suspected but is good to have confirmed.P1040564

Another winner! Caddy and her giant pumpkin.P1040567 P1040568


Slightly harsh words in the egg judging.P1040570


And more intense inspection. Completely blissful to watch.

P1040579 P1040585 P1040590 P1040592 P1040595 P1040601 P1040602 P1040608 P1040610

Parting scenes from Melplash…P1040613 P1040615 P1040618

… and then we were heading home, with the quiet flush of success and a raft of awards to put on Charlie’s flower room mantlepiece.

As a postscript, I thought you’d like to see a couple of photographs of the dahlia border this weekend.p1050014 p1050015 p1050016 p1050018 p1050019 p1050022 p1050025 p1050026 p1050027 p1050054 p1050056 p1050063 p1050064 p1050067 p1050081 p1050085 p1050086 p1050104It’s been a serene, gentle evening. I hope you’ve had the best weekend.

47 comments on this post

Miranda Sparysays:

I LOVE this photo essay! we had our Lake Hayes A & P Show in NZ yesterday and I only wish we had the population to have so many amazing classes and entries. Your photos of all the characters are brilliant and am just about to order 100 dahlia tubers – I won our best dahlia prize, but there were only 4 other entries….

I LOVE Melplash Show! My friend’s dad runs the terrier racing and we used to tag along as teenagers – we became accidental groupies of The Wurzels, we did did so many shows one summer! I hope to be there to take you on next year, but maybe I’ll stay away from the dahlias – I can’t compete with that!


I have just had a most wonderful hour transported back to my beautiful Dorset by your beautiful photographs. I was evacuated to Dorchester at age 5 in 1939. How fortunate I was for I had a wonderful foster grandmother who spoiled me and my time in Dorset made me the person I am today.. Thank you Thank you


Your pictures of the fair brought tears to my eyes. Growing up in Kansas I showed at all the local fair, sheep, cattle, and horses. From an early age until I went to college the summers and fall were filled with the preparations for fairs. I didn’t just love it i thrived on it and lived for it and all too soon it ended. I grew up to be a research scientist in Bethesda Maryland. The agrarian way of life but a very distant memory now that I am 81 yrs of age. The sights and sounds and smells that your pictures conveyed awaoke such fond memories that it is like a return to my youth.

One special memory I want to share with you. In a visit to the home making building I noticed several rows of glass jars with pictures in them. I asked the person in attendance what this was all about. The jars contained canned vegetable arranged so precisley as to creat such things as a hunter and his dog, boats being rowed in a river and a sunset behind a log cabin. Who was the creator of these wonderus jars of vegatables? An elderly gentleman whose wife had entered the can goods catagory for years but had passed away. Her husband took up the tradition in her memory and won every catagory he entered.

Such are the wonders of fairs where everyone is in good spirits and where every one is a real winner.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for those pictures. Ann

deby (in Canada)says:

Oh Ben and Charlie! Just remembered I failed to comment- excuse is I fainted with delight after reading what must be one of your top posts ever! I feel like I was at the fair- more well deserved congrats to Charlie! Have enjoyed reading all the comments- you bring such pleasure- for every comment bet there are hundreds of happy readers too…
cheers Deby


Prince Charles would have been happy there. Oh England, how much I love you!

June Creechsays:

Congratulations Charlie.

Dahlias remind me of my Dad, loved looking at them with Will (Creech) at the Dorchester Show and taking photos of the competition for next year!

Jessica Marcumsays:

Congratulations Charlie! The whole show seemed a dream.

Linda from Each Little World blogsays:

I faithfully read your blog but just must say that this may be my favorite of all your posts. It’s not just that so many folks enter the competitions, but the breadth of categories and the wide interest of the community. It’s an inspiration and education to Americans. And congrats to Charlie!


The dahlia borders are stunning! Absolutely stunning! They made me gasp out loud!! Thank you for sharing! I do love this blog! (As well as exclamation points!)


The photos are breathtaking and beautifully showcase the beautiful gardens. I am a relative newcomer to the blog, and have devoured every one; this the the most fantastic and lyrical so far. As an American who has visirited Britain many times, I must say your blog captures what, to me is the essence of your beautiful country….a blend of the old and new, city and country! I look forward to following you from here on. Job well done!

I just love your blog. I want to come to England and immerse myself in your beautiful country life. The dahlias are breath taking, congratulations to Charlie and Ben for sharing the event so well.


What a fabulous post; thank you so much, again. Well done, Charie. And all that amazing produce, The secret must be – as Arthur Fallowfield (Beyond our Ken, Late 50’s) answered every question in his wonderful west country dialect “the answer lies in the soil”

Nicola Lawrencesays:

Every photo made me smile and brought back such wonderful childhood memories – including of my entry into the patty/cup cake section at about age 6, where on our way to the pavilion I dropped them in the horse yards… Seeing how upset i was about to be, my father whipped them up, brushed them off, said no-one would notice – and I’m sure I won a prize – I do recall winnings of 20c and 50c. Happy days! Congratulations to Charlie – Caddie and Ted too. The dahlias are incredible. x


what a gorgeous post! oh to visit England! the dahlias ! thank you for sharing ❤️


huge congratulations Charlie. well done from Mary in Ireland.


simple pleasures for you and charlie and for all of us, the best. huge congratulations to charlie and huge thanks to you.


So, so glad you wrote this blog. Loved, loved, loved it! Congratulations to Charlie! The dahlia border is absolutely stunning. Thank you, Ben, for taking the time to photograph the Melplash Show
and share it with us. What a treat!


My September issue of House and Garden has just dropped through the letter box and there was Charlie along with the Land Gardeners staring out from page 70! More dahlia and cut flower envy – what a beautiful place and what a beautiful enterprise. What my sister wants to know is were you that very well dressed man who was standing beside her at the charity token bins in Bridport Waitrose on Saturday? She me rang up gloating!


Oh what bliss. Englishness at its very best and most endearing. Thank you for all those glorious photos and so very happy that Charlie did so well. Your garden is a thing of great beauty.


blissful x

Vanessa Hsays:

Well done, Charlie. Like a previous reader I’m interested to know if Charlie intends lifting all his dahlias for winter.


These sorts of shows are staged across the length and breadth of the UK and it’s so good to see excellence in growing and presenting, especially by the youngest people. As well as by Charlie, of course. Many congrats! Best, Nicola

Alice Minnichsays:

Thank goodness this post didn’t get away…it’s definitely one of my favorites! How comforting to know in this crazy world we live in, people still take the time and care to create such incredible natural beauty, then share it with their neighbors. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon….and for the rest of us blog readers, Monday morning. Congratulations to Charlie…what talent he has!


An explosion of late summer and Englishness, THANKS for this wonderful post.


It is so lovely to see the close up of the faces of the people at the fair. Their faces are so beautiful when reacting to flowers and veggies. Fearing I sound too old fashion it is wonderful to see young faces reacting to ‘real’ things instead of smartphones or other tech things. Thank you for taking all the time to write and photograph such a moving post.

Diane Keanesays:

Well done Charlie! And well done, as usual, Ben for another delightful post (do you get tired of hearing that?) I agree with other commenters about the simple pleasures, resulting from not-so-simple efforts, of an old-fashioned country fair. I could almost hear the murmur of the crowd and smell the animals and flowers. One thing was amiss, however: I assume the show-jumping involved horses? And where were they???? Cattle and sheep are not unattractive but nothing gratifies the eye like beautiful horses. Please make a note for the 2017 fair!

Congratulations again to Charlie and the dahlias!


Emma Fletchersays:

I visited the show with two of my children and it was one of the highlights of the summer. We saw all Charlie’s dahlias and they were indeed spectacular. The children now want to grow some in our garden at Bloxworth. Apples from our Orchard go to make Lulworth Skipper cider which won champion cider at the Melpash Show last year! You really captured the spirit of the day. I exhibited as a child at the Clones Agricultural Show in Ireland and when I saw the children’s exhibits all the memories came flooding back.
PS Thank you so much for the Blog – always the Monday highlight

Pierre B.says:

Congratulations mutitalented Charlie!


This is your finest post yet – in a league with the one about your wedding. It is beautifully written with a quality of gentle suspense, keeping your readers quite on the edge of their seats wondering what will happen next. And your photos are a wonder! This is all just what Americans believe England is like and here you have brought it all to life. Congratulations to Charlie on his great success, too.

Jules - Australiasays:

Yet another wonderful weekend spent with you both. Congratulations Charlie, you are indeed a winner.
Please keep up these amazing posts Ben. I can’t tell you how much pleasure they give me.
Cheers x

Jennifer Phillippssays:

Not much that I can add in the superlatives department when surveying the magnificent dahlias. I think if the judges had visited your garden as the sun set and viewed your stupendous border of dahlias, glowing in the last rays they would have awarded Charlie every trophy they could find….what a feast for the eyes.
Greetings from another Antipodean in sunny Nelson, NZ


all this time I’ve been thinking/hoping that Melplash was the church flower competition that Charlie entered last year only to be shut out by those who strictly conformed to the old rules. Has that event occurred? his dahlias are gorgeous and so plentiful.


How does he do it? Those dahlias are amazing!
Mine are rubbish but it has been my first year. What’s his secret?!

Gisela Barringtonsays:

Wow! You are spoiling us, Ben!

Emma Crawfordsays:

Will Charlie lift all his dahlias and overwinter them in store, or will he leave the tubers in the ground?
I love growing dahlias but this year mine have been hopeless as I lifted them but wasnt so meticulous about storing the tubers properly.
Intrigued to know if he lifts or leaves!


Fantastic post Ben thank you, lovely to read whilst I struggled in to work on the tube. Many contragulations to Charlie for his beautiful blooms. I definitely want to go next year, love a country show, fete, fair, festival whatever. Looking forward to the next post already..x

Tess Stuart Johnstonesays:

You are always so positive about your life/relationships etc it is refreshing just hearing people be lovely to each other and enjoy uncomplicated past times ……..although local shows are pretty stress inducing! so maybe I am just being too romantic.

Peter Hobbssays:

Well done on your success Charlie…inspirational…beautiful flowers and so well presented…thanks for so enchantingly telling the tale Ben as always.

Isla Simpsonsays:

What a top post Ben! And what a talented husband you have. How on earth did Caddy stumble to the tent with that ginormous pumpkin?


I was nervous for you just reading your introduction! Well done Charlie. What a wonderful show.

Chris Tuckersays:

Love this post. We left the UK early August to return to Christchurch, NZ – so missed most of the country shows dates. Thank you for sharing the delights of this very British celebration of countryside life and times. Congrats to Charlie on his stunning show successes. Christchurch is beginning to bloom. We will be thinking of you both when next we stroll past the Dahlia border at the Botanic Gardens.
Best wishes from Chris & Mike


All those beautiful dahlias and not an earwig in sight.

Huge congratulations to Charlie – geographical boundaries are obviously no barrier to talent.

And thank you Ben for imbuing old school with a bit of cool.

Debra Mooresays:

Magnificent well done Charlie justly rewarded What a gorgeous September we are having. Cannot wait to get down to Dorset next weekend for our holiday. Wonderful photographs of the show the bull was a beauty.l too would love to visit the show next year everyone was a winner keep up the good work.Thank you for a lovely post a sight to behold.


I must say,you’ve outdone yourself Ben! I always love your posts but this is my favourite yet,by far. Something so quintessentially English about a good country fair and it reminds us ” There will always be an England”. Top drawer stuff. That face Charlie pulled is priceless… I’m pleased all his hard graft was recognised by his peers. You two do lead such an idyllic life.

David Sanderssays:

I have to say that I find these rural shows fascinating; and well done to Charlie, he is doing the old school (St Andrews) proud.Looking at the pictures of the cattle judging section, I was transported back to the annual Cheviot Agricultural and Pastoral Show, not least because many of the faces seem so familiar; its quite easy to see where most rural New Zealanders originally came from – in Canterbury anyway.

Spring has finally arrived in the Antipodes, after a very mild winter and everything is beginning to look glorious.

julie cleeveleysays:

I’m coming along next year, so english and lyrical. Those dahlias are beautiful, and so is Dorset. Please can we have pictures of the kittens and Mavis ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *