Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Fins And Roses: How an unusual pairing of flowers and fish led to the sweet(ish) smell of success

Ruth Donaldson (left) and Kay Massie, two of the Aberdeen City Centre Association Rose Princesses with Fish Festival Princess, Danielle Maloney (10). Picture taken 11 August 1990.
Ruth Donaldson (left) and Kay Massie, two of the Aberdeen City Centre Association Rose Princesses with Fish Festival Princess, Danielle Maloney (10). Picture taken 11 August 1990.

On the face of it, many would assume that a flower festival running out of plants would be a disaster.

But in August 1983, the organisers of Aberdeen’s inaugural Rose Festival could not have been happier.

A celebration of horticulture had been planned, riding on the back of the city’s impressive string of Britain in Bloom victories.

A total of 250,000 roses had been ordered for the event, all donated by local growers Anderson’s and Crocker’s.

On Saturday, August 20, volunteers took to the streets to distribute them far and wide – passing out free buttonholes to shoppers, diners, cashiers, drivers and traffic wardens.

The only exception were police marshalling a match at Pittodrie – the P&J reported – due to fear “of comments from football fans”.

By noon, all of the flowers had been handed out by the city’s “Rosegirls”, with those in charge considering upping their next order to one million to ensure they could meet demand.

The festival was expanded and returned in 1984, featuring daily processions with a pipe band and the city’s Rosegirls waving to onlookers from a horse-drawn carriage.

A youngster named Denise, the event’s Rose Queen, was also flown to Glasgow to hand over a 250-rose display in the shape of a rainbow.

These acts grew grander as the years went by – at one point involving private couriers and a chartered flight to deliver two varieties of rose for a display in the background of that evening’s Wogan talk show.

However Aberdeen Rose Festival also grew in another, perhaps less expected direction, when Aberdeen Fish Festival arrived on the scene in 1984.

As the streets filled with fragrant flowers, so too did they with north-east delicacies straight off the boat.

Fishmongers from across the region competed to present the best stall, while hotel balcony cooking demonstrations wowed the tens of thousands of spectators.

Appearances from the likes of Howards Way actress Suzy Gilmore and singer Fiona Kennedy added to the star power throughout the years, but organisers said the focus was always firmly on the fish.

Sampling mackerel at the Nor-Sea Foods stand in 1985 are James Grieve (with bonnet), Colin Smith, his wife Sylvia, son John (7) and (centre) Lynsey Corless. Serving up are (left to right) Lynne Taylor, Carole Taylor, Lorna Kelly and mum Frances Kelly.

A write-up of the 1989 festival in The P&J described a new fish-filleting machine as the “highlight” of the event – adding that it had “really caught the public imagination”.

And a star attraction in later years was the creation of a replica fish-house, where onlookers could see fresh catches arrive and pass through the stages of processing.

Fishmonger Ken Watmough took part in two festivals by setting up a stall.

He said: “It was very good PR for my business, as in 1982 I had taken over a very run-down fishmonger’s shop in Thistle Street.

“This was also at a time when holidays abroad were becoming very popular and the holidaymakers, having eaten certain species of fish and shellfish while away, created a demand for them when they returned home.

“There was no source in Aberdeen then for this range but I established very strong links with international food importers by attending food shows at Olympia and Earl’s Court in London and created a reputation for stocking fresh exotic fish species such as tuna, swordfish and shark and also a range of large exotic gambas prawns.

“The Aberdeen Fish Festivals gave me an extra shop window to promote my business.”

Initially a separate event, the fish and rose festivals became synonymous over the years, eventually being marketed side-by-side.

They were so closely linked that posters distributed in the mid-80s illustrated the extravaganza with images of a dancing fish holding a rose its mouth.

A poster for Aberdeen Fish Festival 1986

Like the floral gifts sent in prior years, seafood was also a popular present with the festival used to send it across the globe.

One year the two were combined, with specially-prepared boxes of roses and fish sent by road to mayors in cities throughout England and France.

Each included a goodwill message from then Lord Provost Henry Rae, explaining the reasoning for the “odd combination of products from land and sea”.

In the years which followed, the festival was relaunched as Grampian Seafood Fayre and fully incorporated the oft-accompanying celebration of roses.

But, unfortunately, the growing popularity of the event also directly contributed to its downfall.

Safety fears led to the cancellation of the 1994 events, with officials saying an increase in weekend harbour traffic on the water was “incompatible with having 20,000 people milling around”.

In recent years the unusual pairing of roses and fish has been overtaken by a more conventional pairing – namely oil and gas – in terms of attracting visitors to the city, and primarily for conferences and business meetings rather than floral fun.

Aberdeen’s transformation from a city of granite to one of roses can largely be attributed to just one man.

Aberdeen’s director of leisure and recreation, David Welch, in Union Terrace Gardens in 1981.

David Welch arrived in the north-east in 1967,  having previously worked as a horticultural officer in Blackpool and the head of parks and recreation in Bebington, Cheshire.

He immediately set to work on adding colour to the city, announcing plans to replace its grassy central reservations with rose bushes.

Mr Welch also embarked upon an extensive bulb-planting programme in green spaces throughout the city.

By the end of his 22-year tenure in the role, the city had gained two million rose bushes, 12 million daffodils and 30 million crocuses.

And starting in 1969, his work also helped Aberdeen take the Britain in Bloom crown 10 times – with 16 other commendations – in less than two decades.

Britain in Bloom competition judge Mr James Bruce samples the scent of a rose in the Duthie Park in 1980, accompanied by David Welch, and judges Patrick Linton and James Riddell.

The city’s success even caused it to suffer a short period of disqualification, so as to give other locales around the country a chance to take the trophy.

Mr Welch was also instrumental in developing improvements for the city’s Duthie Park, including his eponymous Winter Gardens and The Rose Mountain, upon which 120,000 roses burst into colour every summer.

In 1992 he was appointed chief executive of Royal Parks in London, responsible for 5,000 acres of some of the most famous public spaces in the world.

Using what he had learned in the north-east, Mr Welch transformed some of these areas in pedestrianised spaces and reintroduced horses to some areas – another idea which had proved successful in Aberdeen.

He also used his skills to create a floral display to mark the golden wedding of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in 1997.

Already a subscriber? Sign in