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.

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!

Fernatix
Fernatix

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.

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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.

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.

Images of RHS Chelsea 2014

Positively Stoke-on-Trent
Positively Stoke-on-Trent

I have been to the Press Day at RHS Chelsea Flower Show today, lucky me!  Its been a long day so I am too tired to post a proper post tonight but here are some images which you might like

Cleve West's The M&G Garden
Cleve West’s The M&G Garden
Vital Earth The Night Sky Garden
Vital Earth The Night Sky Garden
'Parsley The Lion'
‘Parsley The Lion’
Avon Bulbs
Avon Bulbs
The Brewin Dolphin Gardens
The Brewin Dolphin Gardens
Hope on the Horizon
Hope on the Horizon
Interflora
Interflora

Malvern Spring Festivals – the Nurseries

Ian Butterfield Nursery
Ian Butterfield Nursery

Being a bit of a plant nut for me shows are all about the nurseries not the show gardens.  If I am honest I think the show gardens, especially at Chelsea, get far too much coverage and the nurseries get overlooked.  At the end of the day without the nurseries growing, and in some case breeding, plants there wouldn’t be much on offer for the designers to plant up their show gardens with!  Anyway, stepping off my soap box, I am devoting this post to some of the nurseries in the Plant Marquee at RHS Malvern Spring Festival.

Hardy's Nursery
Hardy’s Nursery

This year the Plant Marquee has been relocated to the other side of the showground having been in the same location for years.  I liked the layout of the new Marquee although there were 10 less nurseries exhibiting which was a little disappointing.  However, because today it has rained more or less all day the showground was getting very muddy and when you add a leaking gutter to this which resulted in a couple of nurseries having to work in very muddy conditions at the start of the day there were some grumbles.  Saying that I think the location of the plant marque was as good as previously with probably more passing trade.

Cotswold Garden Flowers
Cotswold Garden Flowers

Having visited the show for more years than I care to remember it is nice to see familiar nurseries and faces.  I was thrilled to discover Ian Butterfield had returned with his pleoines.  He thought last year was his last but there he was back again. He gave me an idiots guide to growing pleiones and a catalogue so I can order another one when I have killed the first one!

Sue Beesley's Bluebell Cottage Nursery
Sue Beesley’s Bluebell Cottage Nursery

In the past I have bought from both Hardy’s and Cotswold Garden Flowers but this year my interest has strayed away from the usual woodland plants I buy so having admired their stands I moved on.  I also liked Sue Beesley’s Bluebell Cottage Nursery display.  This was her first time at Malvern and she seemed to be doing well as whenever I went to say hello she had a gaggle of customers waiting to buy plants.

Fibrex Nurseries
Fibrex Nurseries

Having discussed ferns and pelargoniums many an evening on twitter with Fibrex Nurseries it was a foregone conclusion I would succumb to a few purchases from them: a Woodwardia unigemmata for the exotic border and a Pelargonium Sweet Mimosa which has deliciously scented leaves and is perfuming my greenhouse as I type.

Fernatix
Fernatix

I love the guys at Fernatix and their displays are key contributor to my fern obsession and they, many a nurseryman, are only too pleased to chat and give advice. So every year I buy at least one fern from them.  This year it is Onoclea sensiblis which I chose because the foliage is very different from the normal ferns.

Dibley Nurseries
Dibley Nurseries

Dibleys was on my list to visit as I wanted to buy some tender Begonias to adorn the patio and feed my new exotic foliage fascination.  I came away with Begonia Raspberry Swirl, Begonia Rocheart and Begonia L’Escargot which has made me very happy.

Trewidden Nursery
Trewidden Nursery

Last up is Trewidden Nursery from Cornwall.  I encountered them a couple of weekends ago at the London show and discovered they had an extensive range of succulents – another of my interests (maybe I have too many interests!).  Needless to say I came away with two new Aeoniums, both bred by the nursery, Aeonium sedifolium with dwarf leaves and Aeonium ‘Cornish Tribute’.  Hopefully one of them might earn me an award in the Open Garden competition next year if I enter.

This year I got a third which isn’t as good as last year but it’s still an award though I think trying to enter plants into the Open Garden competition at the same time as getting organised for staging the AGS Artistic Show may have been too much so I might not bother with the Open Garden next year.

Oh and I also bought a bit of garden art which for some reason seemed to make people laugh – I think it’s all a matter of taste and I love her.

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Malvern Show Gardens

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I’m no longer much of a fan of showgardens and tend to gravitate to the nurseries and floral marquee more.  However, I thought I would have a quick look to see what was on offer this year.  Malvern has always been one of the shows where new designers can stretch their wings and have a go at doing a show garden.

In my humble and inexpert view the gardens have a tendency to be fairly safe and what you would expect but then Malvern, in my opinion, is a show for plant buyers and has an excellent reputation for the number and variety of nurseries at the show and therefore it doesn’t really need to try to attract crowds with the promise of weird and wacky designs – that is the remit of Hampton Court Flower Show.

I only had time for a quick run round, plus the press and television crews were in the way, and so this post is very  much based on a fleeting glimpse

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The two photographs above are of the garden that really quite my eye and made me stop in my tracks and I believe it received a Gold award.  It is designed by Villaggio Verde a fairly local company that specialises in olive trees and other mediterranean plants.  The garden is part of a set of gardens all celebrating the Tour de France and represents a cafe in the South of France where professional cyclists have stopped for 100 years.  I liked the non-fussy planting especially around the beehives and it felt to me a fair and realistic representation where the designer hadn’t got too carried out.

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Another planting that appealed to me was in the garden called, A Return to the Med designed by The Garden Design House.  I liked the textures of the planting and also the detail in the pebble pathing.  I would like to replicate this pebble pathing on my patio although I suspect it would take me ages to do and may just send me mad so this will be an idea I file away again for yet another year.

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The two photographs above show the planting in a garden entitled, Single Track Mind, designed by Teresa Rham of Groundesigns;  another garden in the Tour de France group.  The intention of the garden is to represent the mental challenges faced by the road racing cyclist.  I have to confess that I never really get the deeper meanings of these show gardens but again I was attracted to the planting.  The mixtures of textures and shades of green in the photograph above and the darker shades, again in flowers and foliage, in the top photograph.  Of course we have to remember that the plants are planted far closer together than any of us would in our gardens and this is typical for showgardens where there is a pathological fear of earth showing; honestly, they can get marked down on it!

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Finally, this garden appealed to me – A Room for a View designed by Alchemy Gardens.  I suspect that I am attracted to both this garden and the very top one as they are completely different to mine.  Something that I could never have in my own garden and so far more interesting to me than the cottage/woodland style gardens.  I also suspect that there is an element of escapism in them, taking us to somewhere warm, and in the case of the Alchemy Garden, tropical which couldn’t be much further removed from the cold, damp and windy show ground yesterday.

Whilst these gardens are not as unattainable for the average gardener as the showgardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show they are still something that few of us would replicate in our gardens.  However, the pundits always like to say that the average gardener can get inspiration from showgardens so what  inspiration did I get from these?  As I have said I like the pebble pathing in the Return to the Med garden and the understated green textures of the Single Track Mind garden is food for thought when planting a border where you want interest besides relying on flowers.  The Cafe garden demonstrates the impact planting en masse can have and as for the last garden again the good foliage combinations are shown but really for me I just want to paddle my feet in the pool, who needs inspiration!!

Stunning alpines

Dionysia 'Tess'
Dionysia ‘Tess’

On Easter Monday I popped along to the local Alpine Garden Society’s plant show.  This was an annual show organised by the group I go to and not part of the national circuit but the standard of entries were still very high and I think many are entered into the national shows.  Above is Dionysia ‘Tess’, this is a plant I have only discovered since I joined the Alpine Garden Society and apparently it is very hard to grow to the standard above.  It needs to be grown in an alpine house and the growers that exhibit turn them every 4 hours, or so I am told, in order to get such a uniform flowering across the plant.  I did like this Dionysia but generally the cushion plants, as they are called, don’t appeal to me; they are too perfect, too neat – I prefer my plants to look more natural!

An entry of 3 pans of Dioynsia
An entry of 3 pans of Dioynsia
Ipheion dialystemon
Ipheion dialystemon

My attention was taken more with the bulbs which given the time of year were much in evidence.  I particularly liked the crocus I showed in my wordless Wednesday post but found the markings on this Ipheoin quite striking.

Asplenium fontanum
Asplenium fontanum

I have learnt two major things since I joined the Alpine Garden Society last year.  Firstly, that there are masses of plants out there that I have never heard of and secondly, and more importantly, alpine plants are not all the cushion plants shown above.  Ferns are alpines, as are Peonies, Lupins, Delphinium, Aquilegia, Azaleas, Rhododendrons – in fact anything which grows in mountainous conditions but that doesn’t have to be dry mountainous  conditions and it includes lots of the woodland plants I love.  So my new interest in ferns and my continuing and growing passion for Primula are well fed.

Primula marginata 'Dwarf Form'
Primula marginata ‘Dwarf Form’

Being the end of March there were certainly lots of Primulas on show.  I was annoyed with myself for not having more courage and entering my Primula marginata into the novice section as the one I have is rather good although not as large as the one above.  In fact the entries in the Novice section, whilst good have made me think that I could have a go.  So I have set myself a goal of having something to enter into the show in a year’s time.  I am covering my bets and have ordered a range of miniature bulbs which I will grow on in pots in the hope of being able to enter them as well as my primulas.  I have also decided to start of with specialising in Primula marginatas; there are so many different Primulas that I needed some sort of focus. This meant that I came home with another two in my bag.

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Who knows in 20 years time I might be able to achieve prize-winning Primula allionii like the ones above.

Education of a Gardener

Primula marginata laciniata
Primula marginata laciniata

I cancelled my RHS membership this week, well I cancelled the renewal of it.  This hasn’t been an easy decision which is ridiculous given that it is just an annual subscription to something.

Just after having made the decision I read an article by Frank Ronan in a copy of Gardens Illustrated from 2008 which talked about whether membership of the RHS was necessary to be a good gardener.  In the article he captures all the things I had been musing about and questions whether the membership, about £50 for a single member, is worth it.  Like Frank I leave in the West Midlands, near the Welsh borders so I am at least 3 hours drive from any of the RHS gardens which means that to make any visit worthwhile an overnight stay is needed.  The monthly magazine, The Garden, is alright but there are far too many advertisements and it is trying to please all its members so there is a bit on vegetables, a bit on ornamentals, a bit on a gardening technique and quite a large section on events around the country.  The cover price for the magazine is £4.25 more than Gardens Illustrated which has similar content but it seems with less adverts.  I don’t feel that The Garden is worth £4.25.

I prefer the seed distribution schemes run by the Hardy Plant Society and Alpine Garden Society to the RHS’s.  I have used the RHS advice centre a couple of times, once getting no response at all.  Living where I do the London Shows and Chelsea are a 3.5 hour train journey each way and having been to Chelsea a couple of times I am no longer in a rush to go again – it’s too crowded and there is too much focus on the showgardens for me. A view shared by many keen gardeners I have met in this area.

I know the RHS is a charity and that it carries out research into horticulture etc and this is important but I’m not a charity and I can’t afford to pay for something which I don’t feel is adding anything to my life.  When I really got the gardening bug some 6-7 years ago I felt that I had to join the RHS, it was something that good gardeners did.  I also subscribed to the two main glossy gardening magazines – Gardens Illustrated and The English Garden.  However, after about 3 years I cancelled these subscriptions as the magazines had become repetitive, which in their defence is hardly surprising given the seasonal nature of gardening.  The pile of unread magazines had reached a ridiculous height and has only now been read through and disposed off – hence reading a 2008 edition  of GI.  As well as being repetitive the magazines no longer fulfilled my need for information and knowledge.

As I blogged about earlier this year I have now found and joined a number of specialist societies: The Alpine Garden Society, the Hardy Plant Society (including their Galanthus, Geranium and Ranunculus groups) and my localish horticultural society.  More importantly I have gone to the monthly meetings of the local groups and through these I have listened to fascinating talks about plants I had never heard of and met interesting and knowledgeable people who are happy to share their experience with someone who has realised how little she knows.  I have learnt more in the last 6 months than I have from 4 or 5 years membership of the RHS or reading the glossy magazines. Finally in the last month I have discovered the Scottish Rock Garden Society Forum which is fantastic – busy, friendly, international and not all about those tiny domes of plants people associate with alpines.

This is what works for me.  I think all of these resources, societies, magazines have their own place and all give something to gardeners.  When I  was on twitter I used to get tired of people moaning about Gardeners World dumming down etc but people forget that gardeners are a vast and varied group of people.  They all want something different.  Some are into growing edibles, some ornamental, some love plants, some design, some have acres and a gardener, some a window box.  To try to be everything to all gardeners only results in the offering being weakened and diluted.  I also know that in the UK we are very lucky to have the magazines and television programmes that we have and others in the US and Europe aren’t so lucky.

For me I have had my interest grabbed and held by the beautiful gardens in the magazines and the RHS has encouraged me with practical skills and to visit shows and gardens but now I have moved on to wanting to learn far more about particular plants than they can offer.  So I have  cancelled my RHS membership although I will continue with the Plantsman that I love.  I also get Hortus and the journals from the societies and when I need a sumptuous fix of beautiful gardens I will treat myself to one of the glossies.

I  feel like my horticultural education is really underway but there is an incredible amount to learn – it is very exciting.