Ascot Spring Garden Show

On Point, Tom Hill Garden Design

Yesterday, I spent a pleasant day down in Berkshire visiting the inaugural Ascot Spring Garden Show and also The Savill Garden.  It was particularly interesting to me as I grew up near Ascot and Windsor, only moving to Malvern in 2000, so the day proved to be a real trip down memory lane.

The show is the result of a partnership between Ascot Racecourse, The Savill Garden and The Valley Gardens at Windsor Great Park. Unlike the vastness of Malvern Spring Show in about a month’s time, this is very much a boutique event with just the right mix of nurseries and show gardens.

The event is held at Ascot Racecourse in the area adjacent to the Parade Ring with some nurseries and show gardens outside and some in the Grandstand.

On the Point, Tom Hill Garden Design

In addition to a Young Gardeners show garden competition, the show included six show gardens based on a “Town and Country theme”,  They were all of a good standard and I have included some images from my three favourites on this post.  What was particularly interesting was the amount of colour that had been achieved especially as the gardening season has barely started.

A Garden for all Seasons, Kate Gould Gardens

I like the planting in Kate Gould’s Garden.  The Corten screening provided a wonderful back drop to the fresh spring flowers and foliage. I particularly liked the above combination.

The clever placing of large pots gives interest before the new foliage appears.

The Courtyard, Longview Design

I really liked the almost understated planting in Joe Perkins ‘The Courtyard’ garden, again benefiting from the wonderful spring freshness of Euphorbia, I think this time it was Euphorbia martinii but elsewhere in the garden was my new fascination, Euphorbia characias ‘Black Pearl’. These have been under planted with drumstick primulas and Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’, ferns and what looks like young Dicentra leaves.  I really must try Erysimum again.

There were also around 30 nurseries and a whole host of trade stands but not so many that you found yourself looking for the plants which is the case these days at the bigger horticultural shows.  As you would expect at this time of year the bulb growers were out in force but also some nurseries that I rarely see at Malvern: Architectural Plants, Botanic Nursery Gardens, New Forest Hostas and Hemerocallis.

And I will leave you with my favourite plant from the nurseries, Muscari ‘Siberian Tiger’ and before you ask yes of course some came home with me, along with some Nerine bulbs for the Autumn.

I thought the Ascot Spring Garden Show was really good, and that’s on a cold, damp and overcast day.  As I said earlier it’s a small show, more somewhere to go for a couple of hours than the whole day and maybe combine with a visit to The Savill Garden as we did or a trip to Windsor.

I do hope they repeat the show next year – I will certainly be hoping to go again.

Malvern Autumn Show

There is something quintessentially English about a flower and veg show that I doubt you could find anywhere else in the world.

I love Malvern Autumn Show as it heralds the start of Autumn, a season I love with its colours ad abundance.

The show as so much to offer for everyone with all the key components of the traditional country show: giant vegetables, tractors, llamas (well this is Malvern), agility dogs – its all at the show to enjoy.

Over the years the horticultural element has increased with a few more nurseries each year but the show is really a country show and my favourite is the Autumn Show marquee.

Here there are a number of shows within a show with various societies having their shows alongside the Malvern open competition.  The quality and number of exhibits never fails to impress.

The embroidery design course I am doing has, I think, given me a new appreciation of textures and colours and I think this comes across in my photos this year.

I found myself attracted to strong colours and interesting foliage.  I loved the vibrancy of these hot dahlias against the dark foliage – stunning.

As for the wrinkly texture of this savoy cabbage – I can see this translated into a textile design.






The Art of Kiku


I was about to write about the Silver Pavilion, a natural progression after the Golden Pavilion in my last post, but I spotted these photos I took of Chrysanthemums on my first day and have ended up researching why they are grown as they are which is very different to the Western approach.

Having arrived in Kyoto after goodness knows how long travelling, starving and suffering from sleep deprivation I wasn’t allowed to check into my hotel room for another 3 hours.  I stumbled into a small restaurant, where no English was spoken and I was the only Westerner and woman, ordered probably the wrong thing, accidentally ate a large and very hot chilli and to be quite honest wanted to go home!.  Anyway, I decided the best thing to do was to get some fresh air so I walked up the main road from the hotel for a while; being Japan I soon came to a large temple, the Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple.  


I wasn’t sure if it was OK to go in but a very nice man with excellent English in a bright yellow T-shirt welcomed me.  He explained that the temple buildings were closed that day to the public as they were inducting a new Head Priest (I think) in and people had travelled from all over Japan to attend.  However, I was welcome to explore the grounds, take photos, and there was a bonsai exhibition to look at.  I can’t tell you how much better I felt after talking to that gentleman – I felt normal again instead of an alien on my own in a strange country.


It turned out that the bonsai were in fact bonsai Chrysanthemums, or Kiku in Japanese.  The display did seem appropriate to my circumstances that day – something else very different and alien!


The kiku is a key symbol in Japan.  It represents longevity and rejuvenation and is the symbol of the Japanese royal family.  We had been due to go to a kiku festival, or kiku matsuri,  when we got to Kyushu but due to the earthquake in this area earlier in the year our itinerary had been changed.


I find these plants fascinating and looking back they were the first example of the extraordinarily controlling approach to horticulture the Japanese have which some of us found a little challenging.  In fact this approach, to me, represents much of Japanese culture which is very ordered and controlled.


I have learnt a little more about kiku and how there are numerous classes of plants which are shown at kiku matsuri throughout Japan in the Autumn. I wish I had known a more when I saw these displays as I think I would have appreciated them more.  Well, maybe ‘appreciate’ is the wrong word as to me the plants were too manipulated but I would have understood better instead of being completely baffled by this exhibit.


As you can imagine I was completely perplexed by these as it seemed that someone had deliberately sat on the flowers.  However, having found a wonderful post about kiku on Botany Boys blog I can tell you that these are ichimonji or komonshoukiku and are meant to represent ‘noble family crests’ like this.

Related image

The flowers are displayed with white discs of paper under to stop them flopping.

Another class can be seen in the top photo – the kudamono, or what we know as the spider chrysanthemum.  You will see that each bloom is held up by a wire disc.


Another class, presumably of one stem – the flowers were very small so I’m not sure what the judging criteria is on these.

There are also cascading chrysanthemums which I saw a few examples of during my travels, especially at various temples but I am unable to locate any photos of.


This is how the kiku are displayed at the festivals and here you have a mix of the spiders, referred to above, plus some atsumono which are the large flowered kiku.

I found these displays fascinating. Whether or not you agree with the approach it is always interesting to see something new as it makes you question and challenge your own preconceptions.

If you are interested in learning more about the Japanese kiku I also found these interesting posts from the New York Botanical Garden where they appear to have had a display and the Japan Times.

Matt Mattus, over at Growing with Plants, appears to be interested in the Japanese approach to Chrysanthemums as well – I might just have to get some advice from him as I have a hankering to have a go at bonsai or the cascades.




RHS Malvern Spring Show 2016

The UCARE Garden
The UCARE Garden

I can’t remember the last time I went to RHS Malvern Spring Festival and it wasn’t freezing cold and/or raining.  This year we were treated with a beautiful sunny day which really bought the plants to life especially in the show gardens.  I took my mother this year as she is really getting into gardening and wanted to look at greenhouses.  She isn’t that keen on the showgardens so we didn’t spend much time looking at them but I did spot a few that I really liked.  Of the ones I saw The UCARE Garden was my favourite.  I really liked the planting with the orange of the Dryopteris erythrosora picking up on the orange flowers of the euphorbia and the rust of the water feature.  Blue, being a complimentary colour, works very well with the orange and whole is contained by the box edging with its frothy fresh spring leaves.  The garden won a silver-gilt and I believe lost points over some of the planting but given that the season has been so cold until now its a wonder that the designers had the material they did to work with.

The Sunken Retreat
The Sunken Retreat

I was also attracted to The Sunken Retreat again because of the oranges but I also liked the clean lines of the hard landscaping and the sunken seating area (sorry no photo) which means the plants are at eye line.  My mother really didn’t like this garden instead she preferred this one

The Water Spout
The Water Spout

Her reason was that she could see herself in this garden, there would be things to do and lots of different plants to look at.  She felt the others were very set pieces with plants that were all flowering now but what would they be like in a months time and they were too precise and designed for her.  I have to admit that I probably would be bored with the two gardens I liked but as I said to Mum they show you have to combine plants to get good effects – she still wasn’t convinced!


Before the showgardens our first stop was the floral marquee which is always my favourite part of the show.  I think there might have been less nurseries this year as it felt very spacious even when we returned later in the day and the showground was full. Next year I think I will go to the show on my own as in recent years I have always been with someone and I never look properly as I am too busy talking or pointing things out.  Anyway, I did see some of my favourite nurseries.  I always love Fernatix’s stand but then I would be quite happy with a garden that was all ferns; they are just so elegant and create a wonderful atmosphere.

Hardys Plants
Hardys Plants

Hardys Plants stand looked wonderful as ever but a particular achievement this year as Rosie Hardy is in the middle of creating her very first RHS Chelsea Show Garden which I am really looking forward to seeing.


I was also taken with this eye-catching display; it was nice to see a display which made you look up.  But then again I always love bulbs and I was particularly taken with Tulipa Rosy Bouquet which I can see bringing together the white lunaria and cerise rhododendron in my garden.

Tulip Rosy Bouquet
Tulip Rosy Bouquet

So those are my highlights from RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2016.  I think the show continues to improve year on year and having visited a number of similar events around the UK I still think it is the best.  Its hard to explain why,  but trying to put aside it closeness to home, there is just such a nice atmosphere and it always seems friendly with nurserymen happy to are information and advice.

If we were having tea right now…..


If we were having a cup of tea right now I would be telling you about my fab weekend at the Alpine Garden Society annual conference. I learnt all sorts of things, many of them not to do with plants.  For example I learnt that New Zealand’s only native mammals are bats (is that right Yvonne?) which makes it strange that the Speargrass (Aciphylla), a native, is a very prickly thing when there is no need for it to be as there were no browsing natives!!

If we were having a cup of tea right now I would tell you that I am very weary as I didn’t get to bed until 1am due to gossiping in the bar last night, I am getting too old for such outrageous behaviour

If we were having a cup of tea right now I will admit to buying two more books today: Autumn Bulbs by Rod Leeds and The Well-Designed Mixed Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust. Manning the second hand book stall this morning was quite reassuring as it appears my book purchasing addiction is not unusual.  It occurred to me that us plantaholics seem to often also be book mad and if we aren’t buying some plant to shoe-horn into our garden, we are buying a book to shoe-horn on to a bookshelf.  We are just collectors looking for things to collect.

If we were having a cup of tea right now I would tell you how pleased I am that I got to buy some fresh Hepatica japonica seed as well as some narcissus and lily bulbils.  Last year I didn’t notice that certain seeds sent into the AGS seed exchange which have to be sown fresh or bulbils which won’t travel well in the usual packaging were available so I was determined this year not to miss out on this one day opportunity.  I will have to make sure I get sowing next weekend.

If we were having a cup of tea right now I would tell you that I am wondering what possessed me to sign up to the NaBloMoPo challenge this month.  I have two days this week where I won’t be home from work until probably 8:00/8:30.  On top of this as I was away for the weekend I have had little opportunity to take photographs in the garden and I didn’t take any at the conference so I don’t have many prompts or ideas for posts – oh dear, I will have to get my thinking hat on.

If we were having a cup of tea right now (and you were into plants) I would be asking you why you don’t join the AGS.  You don’t have to be interested in the ubiquitous cushion plants or those you might associate with rockeries.  ‘Alpine’ covers all sorts of bulbs, in fact most bulbs that aren’t tender (and even that isn’t always stuck to) as well as those plants that grow in the wooded foothills so things like Peonies, Aquilegia, Primulas, some delphiniums, and my favourite, ferns.  But more importantly as well as having access to the wonderful AGS seed distribution scheme you can go to events like this weekend and meet all sorts of passionate plants people and hear fascinating talks which continue over lunch or dinner – such a nice change to work.

My View of RHS Chelsea 2014

The Potters Garden

So what did I think of RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014? Well I thought the show gardens were on the whole of a high standard although there was still an element of sameness despite the well publicised inclusion of a number of younger designers but then again there are only so many formats you can adopt with a show garden and I think we have become very spoilt in recent years.  It was nice this year that there wasn’t as much cow parsley or similar in the gardens but there were definitely plants that recurred time and again in the gardens.  I think the image above of the Potters Garden demonstrates many of the favourites this year: white foxglove, vibrant blue Anchusa azurea Loddon Royalist and fluffy white Anthriscus ‘Ravenswing’.

Paul Hervey-Brookes' BrandAlley Garden
Paul Hervey-Brookes’ BrandAlley Garden

There was a lot of low to mid level herbaceous planting with the occasional short grasses mixed in for movement.  The only real height was from the trees and the topiary which is always very prevalent.  I would have liked to see more variety of heights in the planting but that’s just me and I think this is one of the reasons I like Paul Hervey-Brookes’ Italian Renaissance Garden.

Cleve West's M&G Garden
Cleve West’s M&G Garden

As ever the show gardens of the experienced designers, I nearly put veterans but I wouldn’t want to offend, were immaculate with a level of attention to detail that you really don’t appreciate until you have spent a day or two trying to emulate it. I liked the Cleve West garden which displayed Cleve’s obvious plant knowledge with drought tolerant planting included at the front of the garden before you move into the shady main area of the garden with the water rills. However, I think I have come to expect this level of expertise from Cleve so my interest was more in the less experienced designers.

Rich Brother's The Night Sky Garden
Rich Brother’s The Night Sky Garden

I really liked the Vital Earth Garden designed by David and Harry Rich, among the young designers, and was pleased to see they were awarded a silver-gilt.  I liked the use of the rusty reds of the verbascums which picked up on the red on the dry stone wall and the red in background hedge. The garden referenced the Brecon Beacons and the fact that it is one of only 5 places in the World with a Clear Sky status.  I think the Rich brothers set themselves an incredibly hard task in trying to evoke a sense of the night sky in a garden that is viewed in the daytime.  But what I really liked was the looseness of the planting which somehow created a very pleasant atmosphere – it felt like a space I would enjoy sitting in.

Hugo Bugg's Garden
Hugo Bugg’s Garden

I also quite liked Huge Bugg’s Waterscape Garden which illustrated ideas for gardeners to collect and reuse rainwater.  Hugo is the youngest designer, 26 I think, to win a Gold at Chelsea. Whilst this wasn’t a garden I would like for myself I liked the fact that Hugo hadn’t replicated the, in my view, use of rectangles and squares which designers seem to rely on in these spaces.  I liked the angular use of the hard landscaping which I understand is meant to replicate naturally occurring geometric patterns although that reference was lost on me.  It was also nice to see the mass planting of Iris siberica, which made a change on the bearded irises that proliferated in some gardens as they always do at the Chelsea show.

Avon Bulbs Gold Medal Display
Avon Bulbs Gold Medal Display

Moving into The Great Pavillion I was spoilt by the displays. Due to the heat of the day the scent from the roses on David Austin’s stand was quite intoxicating.  Sadly the Pavillion wasn’t as busy with press as the show gardens and I always feel that there isn’t enough coverage of this area but then many of the press are looking for something unusual or a special story and whilst the nursery displays are stunning, showcasing extraordinary plantsmanship and skill they don’t sell papers. I was so distracted by the displays or talking to one of the bloggers I encountered that I forgot to take lots of photographs but here are some highlights.

Jacques Amand
Jacques Amand

I was particularly struck by the Jacques Amand display due to the large number of Cypremedium calceolus that was planted out. A plant you rarely saw until the last few years due to an extensive breeding programme.  Hopefully in a year or so the price will come down or I will be brave enough to have a go with one.  I also have a fascination with Arisaema and although I have a few in the garden they are not as spectacular as these.

Hiller Nurseries
Hiller Nurseries

Hiller Nurseries have a substantial stand in the middle of the Pavillion but this is always a stunning display which you can often walk through, although whenever I went there it was closed as they were waiting to be judged or hosting special guests.  I love Hiller’s displays as they always show how you can make wonderful plant combinations. One side of the display was a white garden but I preferred this more colourful section.

Rickards Ferns
Rickards Ferns

Needless to say I couldn’t resist a display of ferns.  This time by Rickards Ferns who I haven’t seen before but I will definitely be checking out their website.

Jonathan Knight Sculpture
Jonathan Knight Sculpture

Finally, moving away from plants here are some sculptures that I really liked. The showground is crammed with trade stands full of all sorts of sundries, art works and things you never knew you needed in your garden.  Most of it I ignore as it is either not to my taste, such as the large shell encrusted T-Rex, or way past my budget.  However, I was entranced by the work of Jonathan Knight so much I had to take some photographs.  I am sure these are rather pricey and never something I could afford but there was just some sort of emotion to them that struck me.

So those are my highlights of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014 – there is another display that quite my fancy but I will post that tomorrow as my Wordless Wednesday.

A Trophy and too many Camassias


I have never ever won any trophy for anything so you can imagine how thrilled I am at winning the trophy above.  It is  even better given that the trophy is a wooden bowl when you consider my eldest son is a wood turner so we have a passion for wood in my house.


I won the trophy at the Alpine Garden Society Malvern show which was held today at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival.  Like the other AGS shows it is a one day competition with competitors entering from around the country.  The plants above are in the Open section which a mere novice such as myself can only dream of aspiring to.  Many of the plants have been grown and cosseted for many years so the amount of commitment and dedication from the top exhibitors is to be admired.  This is my second national AGS show; I entered my first one last July when I got the bug for showing alpines.


I entered six classes in the novice section and I have to admit some of the plants I nearly didn’t bother entering but then I am my own worst critic.  I achieved three firsts – 3 pans of rock plants (Semiaquilegia, Saxifraga fortunei and Arisarum proboscideum); 1 rock plant grown from seed (Erinus alpinus); and 1 Sempervivum as well as a second for a Saxifraga and two thirds for a Rhodohypoxis and the other for a Primula marginata in the foliage category. Having staged my plant at 7:30 this morning I returned just before 10 to get the results. Thrilled at my awards I went off to spend the day working for Avon Bulbs at their stand.

Grevillea Mount Tamboritha
Grevillea Mount Tamboritha

I knew we would be busy in the floral marquee; Avon Bulbs are always popular and I have queued many a time to buy one of their treasures, but the stream of customers for the six hours I was on duty seemed endless. I sold so many Camassias and Gladiolus byzantinus that I will be happy not to see any for some time as well as Scilla peruviana which we  ran out of around lunchtime.  We also had regular demands for Lunaria annua Chedglow which had been featured on Gardeners World yesterday evening.  I loved every minute of it. I learnt lots of stuff from Chris (the boss) and also the customers themselves. I enjoyed sharing the excitement of customers at finding a plant they had been looking for, their indecision as to whether or not to splash out on another plant and the general sense of fun they were having.

Cypripedium calceolus
Cypripedium calceolus

Suddenly during the middle of the afternoon one of my fellow AGS members, Pauline, appeared in front of me.  She had come over especially to tell me I had won the Hartside Trophy for the most points in the novice section but I had missed the trophy presentation.  I have to say it hadn’t occurred to me to even look to see when the trophy presentation was as I didn’t think I would do that well.  But at least I missed having to go up in front of lots of people to receive the award!

Androsace bulleyana
Androsace bulleyana

As I said I have never won a trophy and I have to admit to feeling quite excited at the prospect as I made my way back to the AGS show at the end of my shift for Avon Bulbs.  It is a rather lovely trophy I think you will agree and is on my mantlepiece in pride of place.

Sadly, my camera is over exposing pictures at the moment so the photos on this post were taken with my son’s phone when he came to help me collect up my plants.  The plants I have featured are ones that caught my eye in the last 15 minutes which I would like to acquire – my love of red shows.

So I will now be seeing what I have that might be up to show standard for the next show I can get to in July.  I think I need 10 firsts before I can go up to intermediate but I’m not in a rush.  Talking to Pauline who was a novice last year she found the step up challenging as her plants had not yet bulked up enough and the number of exhibitors was greater.

All in all a full on, tiring but satisfying day.

London Alpine Show

Pleione formosana 'Snow Bunting
Pleione formosana ‘Snow Bunting

There is no ‘My Garden This Weekend’ post this week as I have spent the weekend in London helping at the Alpine Garden Society/RHS Alpine Show.  This is a new show and was held on a Sunday which means it is a nuisance for me to get to as there seem to be no trains to London from Malvern on a Sunday morning.  So I offered to help out at the show in return for a lift and overnight accommodation.  To be honest I find it easier to meet people if I am doing a job and I also find that people are more chatty towards you if you are helping out.


We arrived around 2pm on Saturday and set too set up the book stall and also the artistic display which you can see in the background.  This display was all around the hall and features photographs, botanical art and embroidery. I was particularly pleased to help with setting this up as I am taking on Artistic Show Secretary role for the AGS show at the Malvern Spring Show in a couple of weeks and will have to stage the same entries.  I have taken many photographs to crib from!


We left at 7:30pm, returning at 8:30 the next morning ready for the judging.  Exhibitors had started to arrive from 8:00am and this year as the show was on a Sunday as opposed to two days mid-week exhibitors who don’t normally show at London attended traveling from as far away as Newcastle and Carmarthen.  All in all there were 350 plants on the show benches, an increase from the 280 last year. Judging started around 9:30 and I was roped into stewarding which basically means you follow the judges noting who has won what and putting the award stickers on the entry cards.  Then the RHS opened the doors to the general public and we were rushed off our feet until around 3:30.

Sanguiana canadensis forma multiplex
Sanguiana canadensis forma multiplex

There were four nurseries in attendance, Wildside, Evolution Plants, Trewidden and Jacques Armand and their stock was positively flying out of the door.  We sold lots and lots of books and other merchandising and signed up a handful of new members to the AGS.  Whilst there were the usual AGS show visitors there was also a very good turnout from other visitors and it was clear that many were impressed with the plants on show and wanted to know more. Exhibitors and AGS volunteers were very busy answering questions on plants, cultivation, the AGS and showing.  We sold out of the book Alpines in Containers which is a primer for those starting out and could have sold many more copies.

Primula sieboldii kotunosirabe
Primula sieboldii kotunosirabe

I did find time on my break to buy some plants and luckily there was room in the van to get them back home.  For those interested I bought the following:

Epimedium wushanese ‘Caramel’
Anemone nemorosa ‘Buckland’
Thaspum barbinode
Asphodeline turica
Ranunculus x arendsii ‘Moonlight’
Erica cerinthoides

Dionsysia 'Gothenburg White' involucrata alba
Dionsysia ‘Gothenburg White’ involucrata alba


As I have said on previous posts alpines aren’t all cushion plants. The term relates to any plant growing above a certain altitude.  This obviously caused some bewilderment for some visitors when presented with a wide variety of woodlanders such as the Sanguiana above and ferns.  I spent some time persuading one lady that there were indeed blue poppies and another that a Meconopsis Poppy was an alpine.  I think these

Androsace vandellii
Androsace vandellii

misconceptions are part of the reason why the AGS struggles to recruit members and attract visitors to show.  Its something that was discussed at the AGM back in November and whether we should consider a new name for the society.  Personally I think we need to educate gardeners more and show them the vast variety of plants that our members grow and in some cases show.

Whilst my preference in alpines is more for the woodland varieties and bulbs who cannot not be smitten by this Androsace displayed in a mini crevice garden which unsurprising won a first in its class and is something for me to aspire to.

Having packed everything away we left central London at 5:30pm yesterday, getting home at 10:00pm completely shattered so I am pleased I have had today off work.  I have spent the day pottering in the garden and planning my entries for the AGS show at Malvern in a couple of weeks time.