For more than 130 years, the Goostrey Gooseberry Show has been a staple of the Cheshire countryside. But this year’s event has been marred by an unlikely row in which a champion grower has accused a rival of poisoning his prized crop.
Terry Price, 76, first entered the show when he was 18 and claimed his eleventh victory as the winner of last year’s socially distanced competition.
However, he has now claimed there was a deliberate attempt to sabotage his efforts to retain the title at last Saturday's event, after 46 out of 50 of his gooseberry trees were killed with a poisonous chemical.
The incident happened around three months ago and was an act of malice on the part of someone wishing to ruin his hopes of winning two titles in a row, Mr Price said.
The alleged sabotage attempt appears to have been successful, as he only finished seventh in the competition, with his top fruit weighing in at just 28 grams, just over half of his prize-winning 50g gooseberry in the previous year’s contest.
“They have been tampered with, there’s no doubt about that,” Mr Price said. “I could have cried when I found out because so much work goes into it and then it’s all gone like that.
“They know exactly where my best trees are and that's what they've targeted, which is why this year's competition has been such a struggle.”
Retired Mr Price, who previously worked as a butcher, gardener, lorry driver and a postman, decided to take matters into his own hands as soon as he discovered the damage to his beloved gooseberry trees in May, noticing that his harvest – which he cultivates all year in his back garden – had proven more disappointing than usual.
He had samples of the dead trees sent off for laboratory tests and analysis, and claims the results showed the formula that had killed them “is not available to the public”.
“It was something very strong that acted as a plant killer,” he added. “Don’t get me wrong, we are all competitive and want to win but at the end of the day we’re friends and get along.”
Mr Price is the president of the Goostrey Gooseberry Society, which was founded in 1897 and is responsible for holding the showcase. This year’s show was held at the village’s Crown Inn and a Facebook live stream of the event reached more than 1,000 people worldwide.
The widow, whose wife died four years ago, was given four trees in his teenage years by a friend of his father, which sparked his lifelong love of gooseberry growing.
Prior to Saturday, he had not finished below fourth place for more than 10 years, and has had a further 27 podium finishes at weigh-ins throughout the decades.
However, not everybody is convinced that a conspiracy is behind the unfortunate chain of events in Mr Price’s garden.
“Sadly Terry has reported potential sabotage with the spraying of his trees with weed killer,” said Martin de Krester, the secretary of the Goostrey Gooseberry Society.
“Needless to say if this was another gooseberry grower they would be banned for life but I find it hard to believe [that] someone would do that to Terry.”
The eventual winner of this year’s show was Chris Jones, 69, who has himself been growing gooseberries for more than three decades.
He dedicated his victory to his late brother Tony, who died from coronavirus, and said that he felt “the show must go on”.