The Dundee Flower and Food Festival will be taking place on August 30th and September 1st and 2nd this year. A staple of the Dundee calendar. In its current guise the show will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, but the Dundee Flower Show is much older.
We don’t know exactly when it started but we think that the Dundee Horticultural Society was formed around 1825 and had their first flower show that year. We know this because there was an advertisement in the newspaper. At this time there were 5 annual flower shows, showing off the best plants from each part of the year. The competitions were dominated by the gardeners to the wealthy estates on the outskirts of Dundee and in Angus. Other groups popped up throughout the 1840s and 1850s and splits occurred as members fell out over a ‘difference of opinion’. It all petered out in 1857 and no shows appear to have been held until 1864.
The Dundee Horticultural Society had reformed. Their first show back in 1864 was a very popular tented affair in Baxter Park with over 5000 people attending. But their biggest show was to come in 1867. The Flower Show was one of the features of the British Association’s visit to the city and was held over 4 days. An amazing 60,000 people visited the show. Over 5,000 entries were made in 314 categories for a total prize fund of £309 – around £26,000 today. Although there was a spot of confusion when the Working Men’s Horticultural Society held a show right next to the main one and visitors had to pay twice when they entered the smaller show by mistake.
The following year couldn’t match the spectacle, but the excitement was not lost, when the patrons indulged in a Hare Hunt to capture an intruding rabbit in one of the show tents. The event continued in Baxter Park until 1871. After that it moved around between the Drill Hall and the High School premises. The first show at Magdalene Green was held in 1886, and it was held there from 1895 until the 1920s (with the exception of 1915-1919 due to WW1) when the show moved to the newly built Caird Hall. In 1914 the show was held at the Ice Rink for the first time. Problems were caused at later events at this venue, when the freezer machines were turned on too soon and all of the exhibits stuck to the floor.
The show moved to Camperdown Park in 1988 when the Council took on part of the responsibility for running the show in conjunction with the Dundee Horticultural Society and other local groups. It was at first known as the Dundee Horticultural Exhibition, but this changed in 1989 to the Dundee Flower Show. The ‘Food’ was added to the title in 1999 when it became the Dundee Flower and Food Festival.
Dundee City Archives holds the records of the Dundee Horticultural Society (Ref: GD/X1368)
You can find out more about this year’s show here.