Plans are afoot

Beth Chatto's gravel garden

Beth Chatto’s gravel garden

My garden for the last 9 years or so has become my identity to many people particularly as I have been a serial blogger on the subject.  Even recently at work people have started to ask about my blog and I’ve heard the expression “Helen writes a gardening blog you know” more and more.  Something in me twitched at this.  I have always hated being pigeon-holed and railed against it.  But I also think I twitched as I felt guilty for not blogging much and because I have hardly been in the garden properly for some 6 weeks or maybe longer – a niggle of guilt has been eating away at me. I’m not so worried about the blog as I know my lack of interest is because with a new demanding job I am too tired to spend more time looking at a PC when I get home.  This assumption is backed up by my desire to blog today when I am on leave – I obviously need some sort of vehicle for my mental output.

 

As for the garden it has troubled me that I can’t get interested in it. I have struggled since the new neighbours cut down their new overgrown garden and left me with little privacy. I have also come to realise that my creative side needs projects to keep it interested and whilst there is plenty of maintenance needed which I enjoy most of the time I really need a project to get me properly engaged.  Having dug up the front lawn earlier this year and replanted the space I have been left wondering what to do.  I have even spent time looking at new houses but again my heart wasn’t in moving as I do like living here.

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Then something changed, it wasn’t a light bulb moment or any sort of revelation and I actually suspect that because I had had a quite week at work allowing me to catch up properly before a week’s leave that my head had cleared and allowed me space to think about the garden.  In addition I was home alone last week and found myself wandering around the garden with my morning cuppa  which led to pondering.

And you guess right a new project has come about and I am a happy bunny, itching to get going and suddenly enthused to tidy up and regain control of a garden which seems to have embraced its neglect far too quickly for my liking.

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I want to sort out the Big Border.  It has never been quite right since I created it and I have struggled to work out why it isn’t right and what I should do with it.  To give you some background the Big Border was created when I lifted the back lawn.  This was partly because a large shed/workshop was going in part of the garden and I needed to re-house the plants, partly because I think lawn is a waste of time in a small garden and partly because the garden slopes so much that cutting the lawn was hard work.  This latter reason also explains why I have struggled with how to plant the Big Border that was created.  As my fellow sloping gardeners will know, and there are a few of them out there in the blogasphere – check out Rusty Duck, a sloping garden can be a real challenge.  No only do you get weary lugging things up and down the garden but you realise that you see the plants differently to in a flat garden.  So if your garden slopes up from the house as mine does and you choose to plant tall plants, as I have a habit of doing, you find yourself looking at leggy stems.

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I am sure that there are clever garden designers out there who would dismiss my frustrations and in no time at all create something magical with tall plants.  However, I am a simple amateur gardener whose plant knowledge has been on a steep learning curve over the last 9 years and whilst I know far more about plants than I did when I planted the border initially some 4 years ago, I am still learning by trial and error – mainly error!  In addition my tastes have changed a lot in recent years.  This was brought home to me back in June on a garden visiting trip when I found my yearning for something more exciting than roses, alliums and geraniums – I wanted something with movement; something different; something with textures, foliage; something that wasn’t an English Country Garden.

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So when I was wandering round the garden last week, cuppa in hand, pondering the Big Border I started to ask myself what I wanted and I went back to beginnings with asking what plants do I like – ferns (no too sunny), bulbs (yes), actually tiny bulbs (more troublesome).  I knew I didn’t want a rock garden as I loath them, they are so depressing with all that grey stone but there was a germ of an idea here.  How to create a space for my little bulbs and alpines without creating a rockery and how to merge it into a bigger border.  I faffed around on the internet, messaged my virtual friend at the Scottish Rock Garden Society who shared some photographic ideas; I pondered and spent time standing and staring at the border.  Then the creative juices started to peculate and slowly the ideas started to drip through.

Firstly, the long thin border along the top of the wall (opposite side of the path) which houses my roses, which I adore, would be beefed up with the removal of the disappointing geraniums and the addition of perennial herbs such as sage and lavender giving all year round substance.  Then I would accept the fact that there was bright light to the Big Border now and the slope gave good drainage, but in warm dry weather, could cause the plants problems, and I would plant the space with plants that actually enjoy this environment – what a novel idea!

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For the astute of you who will have been looking at the photos on this post you will have twigged that they give a clue to the inspiration behind my idea – Beth Chatto’s gravel garden which I visited in June and was the highlight of the trip for me.  Now I know that I can’t replicate this as I have considerably more rain that Beth and my soil is clay based so more fertile but I want to use the approach she has taken and select plants that will enjoy the more exposed site and which are crucially not that tall.  The focus will be on foliage strong plants to give interest all year so I plan to use bergenias (I have many in the front garden that need a new home), grasses (I fancy another Stipa gigantea), things like agastache, agapanthus, lots of bulbs for throughout the year, agave, etc.

My disappointing border

My disappointing border

I am excited by the prospect and there is already a programme of clearing and relocation planned which will not only free up the space but will help with producing a screen along the exposed boundary line.  Of course being August and warm and dry I will have to wait until the weather cools but in the meantime I am thrilled that I am finally rediscovering the garden.

 

End of Month View – July 2016

IMG_6076Opps sneaking in a day late with the post which is disgraceful as I host the meme but there you go.  Life moves on, you find yourself blogging less and less and losing track of the days and the pattern of posting and the next thing you know you are late like the proverbial White Rabbit.

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Anyway, what is there to say about Hugh’s Border except it is very full and interestingly and is probably faring better than most of the garden given the dry conditions we have had recently.  The only real casualty are the Sensitive Ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) which are looking a little frazzled.  They need moisture even when they are in the shade despite what the reference books say.  I have some in a very damp corner of the garden which look wonderful but the ones in Hugh’s Border despite it not having as good drainage as the rest of the garden give in at this time of year every year and every year I think I really must pull them out.  But I forget and then in the spring the new fronds with their red stems appear showing that they are spreading around and I relent.  “No more” I cry – well mutter.  I am determined not to be hoodwinked into a reprieve and I intend to drastically cull the Sensitive Fern and replace it with some ferns that are  a little more robust and not so touchy about things.

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As for the front of the border the phlox are looking and smelling wonderful and I find myself thinking that as they seem to like these conditions then maybe I should add to them but I need to be very particular about the colour as I don’t want a garish pink and I think the colour palette for phlox is quite limited.  Anyway, a bit of research is needed.

There isn’t much else to say about the border as its one of those areas that just gets on with it and finally has filled out enough to have a bit of interest happening whatever the time of year.

As ever any one can join in the end of month meme just decide on what part of your garden you want to feature or maybe give us a tour of the whole garden.  The instructions are on the tab at the top of the blog.  I look forward to seeing your links in the comment box below and having a mooch over to see what is happening at yours particularly as it is now raining here.

Helen

There’s more to the life than gardening (and blogging)

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I was surprised to discover today that it is 17 days since I last posted a post on this blog and even more surprising for someone who has posted 3 times a week for at least 9 years is the fact that I haven’t missed posting nor have I even thought about it.  I didn’t even share with you the photo of my blue meconopsis poppy, grown from seed, which flowered this year with half a dozen flowers nor did I ever get around to blogging about all the gardens I visited in Suffolk or my visit to Croome Park last weekend.  Something has changed in me not just in terms of blogging but in other aspects of my life and it is for the better I think.

Anyone who has read this blog for a while particularly over the last 18 months will know that my job has changed and this past 18 months has been quite unsettling for me as I step up to a much more responsible role with a huge feeling of needing to prove myself.  It has taken its toll on me at times emotionally and physically but recently a new phase seems to have started – maybe I feel more assured in my role, maybe its not as scary and new – whatever it is I am now sleeping better and I don’t feel so stressed which can be no bad thing.

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One of my coping mechanisms in recent weeks, which I think has helped enormously, is walking.  Most evenings I go out after dinner for a walk, to the adjacent common or sometimes on the hills.  And it has made a huge difference particularly to someone who spends so much of the day at a desk or in meetings.  The local common is a wonderful place to walk as the grass is allowed to grow tall with just some paths mown through it and you can just loose yourself and let your mind drift; then on my return home I embroider.  In a strange way the compulsion I used to feel to garden in order to de-stress has been relocated to walking and sewing. I am sure that some of this relates to my new neighbours clearing the fence line and reducing my privacy.  I have tried to employ my usual Pollyanna approach to this saying it will be fine but I am struggling with it and we are looking at ways of addressing it – I’m even toying with moving house!  But I also think that the garden isn’t fulfilling my need for creativity any more.  I have basically run out of spaces to dig up.

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I have nearly finished the revamp of the front garden and just need to put the path in.  I say ‘just’ but this actually means laying a brick edge hence the delay while I work through all the excuses why I can’t do it this weekend or the next until I decide to just get on with it and stop procrastinating.  I will have to post about it soon as I am rather pleased with how it is looking in its first year but I am waiting for some of the asters to flower to give it colour before I do.

There is nothing new to do in the back garden aside from day to day maintenance which I have been doing as and when but I have to make myself garden these days.  This morning I made myself deal with the dead rose blooms I could see and of course once I was outside I spent a satisfying couple of hours dead heading, cutting the grass path and re-engaging with the garden.  I was thrilled to discover some banana seeds had germinated in the greenhouse, that a wren appeared to be nesting in the old bird box and that the fig tree I had brutally pruned a couple of weeks ago, when I rediscovered it under the triffid branches of the Geranium palmatum, was covered in lots of new emerging shoots.

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Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy my garden but not in the compulsive obsessive way I used to.  I don’t drool over the bulb catalogues any more instead that bad habit has been transferred to sewing magazines.  I don’t have a desire to spend every minute of my spare time in the garden, visiting a garden or at a garden club – instead I am a more rounded person which can only be a good thing.  Whilst I enjoyed my trip last month looking at gardens in Suffolk I would have liked to have had the opportunity to visit Gainsborough’s birthplace museum which was just near our hotel but always shut by the time we returned and I have recently developed an interest in the Northern Renaissance artists which may influence my holiday choices next year.

My family and friends think I have moved to a better place and that the real me is finally emerging.  Expressions like ‘you have blossomed’, ‘you have grown’ etc are being used and I think they are right.  I will always love my garden, whether its this one or a new one, but I don’t now need to rely on it to justify who I am, to prove I can achieve something and I don’t need to blog relentlessly any more to satisfy my need to mental stimulation and desire to connect with others.

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This new phase, with adult children and a demanding but rewarding job, means that I have the time, funds and courage to embrace interests I used to have many years ago.  I want to travel more, maybe I will have a go at gliding again, I want to get fitter, I want to expand my sewing and embroidery abilities, I want to see art, I’m going to go canoeing for the first time and if I loose some weight along the way I will be thrilled.

There will be blog posts but probably more as and when and I have started a new blog to record my sewing journey and to connect to other sewers but I don’t know how successful that will be as to be honest I am actively trying to avoid looking at screens when I’m not at work but we shall see and that’s the key change instead of setting myself mad targets and schedules, looking for things to blog about, I have moved to a more relaxed ‘lets see’ approach and I am comfortable with it.  So ‘lets see’ what the future brings – I may paint the spare room or I may read a book this afternoon, it doesn’t matter.

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End of Month View June 2016 – Hugh’s Border

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A quick End of Month post from me as to be honest I had lost track of where we are in the month.  The garden is at its most full and even more so given the amount of rain we have had over the last few weeks.  Hugh’s border is looking fuller than ever, and in some places too full.

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The other end of the border which is shadier but not as shady as it used to be due to the neighbours cutting down the trees along the boundary.  This end is the home to some of my earlier fern acquisitions which are now quite substantial, there is also a Paulownia although it is battling with a rogue foxglove growing through the middle of it.  My idea is that the Paulownia will form a leafy canopy over the border but I think that will take a few years.  I spent some time this last weekend digging up Pulmonaria which grew along the edge of the steps and had started to self-seed around.  It was great when the border was so shady but had well outgrown its space so I have replaced it with another fern and some more siberian irises which I hope will bring some new textures to this end of the border.

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The front edge of the border which is a lot better than in previous years but at the moment lacking in colour.  There are some foxgloves, crocosmia and a fuschia about the flower so in a week or so it should colour up.  My approach these days is for the foliage first and then the flowers to add colour highlights during the year.  However, I need to work on how I combine the foliage.  I was very impressed with some of the combinations I saw in the gardens last week so there is food for thought on how to improve the planting.

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The back of the border from the bench and you can see this is particularly chaotic and probably too full.  I need to do some editing here and make some decisions about what should stay but I enjoy that side of gardening as it stimulates my creative side.

So that’s a whizz around Hugh’s border before I go to work.  All are welcome to join in with the end of month meme I just ask that you put a link to your post in the comments box below and link to this post in your post so we can all track you down.

Let there be light

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As gardeners we need to be continually adapting, whether it is to changing weather patterns, replacing ailing and much loved plants or in my case losing the tree canopy from the woodland end of the garden; to the extent that there is no woodland.

I have been anticipating this change for a number of years now.  Ever since the couple who lived next door split and their children went to University I knew it was only a matter of time before the house was sold and new owners would be tackling the garden.  I don’t think in the 13 odd years we have lived here that my neighbours had ever done any gardening other than cutting the grass, chopping off the odd branch that got in their way and weeding the driveway.  The garden had obviously been much loved by their predecessors and there have always been signs of good plants hidden amongst the undergrowth.  The house was on the market for a year and during this time I have made sure that I planted some shrubs in the woodland border to replace the tree canopy should new owners tidy up on the boundary line.

End of July 2015

End of July 2015

The new owners finally took up ownership about a month ago.  They are a young family full of energy and enthusiasm with two sets of grandparents helping to sort out the property before they move in.  I found myself wondering how the house felt yesterday as over the last few weeks every weekend the air has been filled with the sound of sanders and drills and I think they have painted every room in the house – they say the interior was as neglected as the exterior.  But more fascinating to me has been the gungho attitude to sorting out the garden.  One of the grandfathers (or ‘olds’ as his son refers to them) is a dab hand with a chain saw and strimmer.  On the first weekend they set too in the front and by the end not only did they have a pile of debris some 10 foot tall but you could actually see the far front corner of the house up which was growing a beautiful climbing hydrangea.  They have worked along the furthest boundary, finding a shed on their way and yesterday it was the turn of our shared boundary.

Having been blessed with complete privacy from this side of the garden ever since we moved here it was rather startling to come round the side of the house from planting in the front to see two men clearing the fence line.  They have removed the majority of the trees and intend to remove the sycamore and ash trees as well.  The intention is to only keep a large oak tree, which we didn’t even know existed, and some prunus.  The large sycamore is going as its roots are pushing over the retaining brick wall that holds up the garden – my reaction is ‘hoorah, no more sycamore seedlings!’ They think they have doubled the size of the garden already; certainly they have gained something like 6-7 foot along our fence line and probably 15 along the back fence. You can just about see the difference if you compare the two top pictures and they still have a lot to clear so the sunlight levels should increase further.

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The impact on the garden has been quite dramatic with sunlight flooding in to what was the shady part of the garden.  The shade had been so dense in the past that the ‘lawn’ was just moss which is partly why it was dug up.  Being a perennial Pollyanna I am trying to look past the fact that they can see into my garden and vice versa and focus on the fact that the patio is now much sunnier which means that it might be worth getting a couple of nice chairs.  I don’t have to group all my sun loving pots down one end of the patio any more which means I can arrange things better.  It also means that I had to spend some time today moving the shade loving pots to the opposite side of the garden into a smaller area of shade and replacing them with pots of bulbs which should really benefit from the extra light.

It will be interesting to see how the shade loving plants cope and whether the shrubs I have planted will give them enough shade.  There are a couple of self-sown hawthorns in my garden along the fence line which I have deliberately left for some years and they are now higher than the fence so I will allow those to grow up into trees and provide some privacy.  But what I am really interested to see if whether my perennials which have a tendency to lean towards the right of the garden will straighten up if they are getting all round sun-shine. It really is quite fascinating.

A Book Review BOGOF

As I am blogging less I am feeling guilty that I owe a couple of book reviews to Frances Lincoln so I thought I would go for a BOGOF approach (Blog one, get one free).

61EcrMOgs-L._SX432_BO1,204,203,200_Shakespeare’s Gardens by Jackie Bennett
As an English Literature graduate I have a love/hate relationship with Shakespeare and interestingly having despised his writing while I was studying I now find myself becoming more appreciative.  The book charts Shakespeare’s life through the gardens of the houses associated with him and in doing so gives an interesting discourse on the Elizabethan garden as well as its society. The usual tourist trail suspects of Mary Arden’s Farm, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and New Place Garden are all featured as are the Inns of Court to represent his time in London and Kenilworth to represent the high society of the Elizabethan world in contrast to Shakespeare’s world.  Each garden is seen through the skillful lens of Andrew Lawson and his photographs are supplemented by various images, mostly paintings, to illustrate the text.  Jackie has researched the history of each property and how it came to be part of Shakespeare’s life but this embroidery the biography with a wealth of historical information, particularly around the day to day lives of normal people;  I found it refreshing not to be reading much about Elizabeth I and her court.

Jackie gives a detailed history of each garden and we learn that Ellen Willmott, she of Miss Willmott’s Ghost (Eryngium giganteum) fame was an adviser in 1911 to the Shakespeare Birthplan Trust on the improvement of Anne Hathway’s garden. Likewise,  we learn about London garden, the Globe and Gerald’s Herbal in a section on his time in London. I really liked the botanical illustrations from the Herbal which would make lovely embroidery designs.

This is a well researched book with extensive footnotes and a bibliography so if you have an interest in the life of Shakepeare or garden history it would probably be very attractive to you.

New Wild Garden – Ian Hodgson

This was a book I was looking forward to reading and it didn’t disappoint.  I am new wild gardeninterested in a more relaxed style of planting but not so keen on what I shall sweepingly call prairie planting as I find it rather boring after a while.  The premise of this book is to show you have to plant in a more relaxed style in the new style in a range of settings from meadows, woodlands, xeriscapes and ponds.  It has ideas for the largest garden to pots.

Ian talks through the book about the wildlife benefits of this approach to gardening and how you can help the declining pollinators by planting the right plants.  He looks at how you should look at the different types of ecologies and then choose the most appropriate to your own situation and then plant the plant associated with that ecology.  So you might have a warm, well-drained border which you could plant to replicate the natural landscape of the Mediterranean; this same principle is applied to pots, ponds and a wealth of border locations.

The book ends with a directory of suitable plants.  Each illustrated with details of height and spread, preferred location and what plants they will associate with. Whilst there aren’t any planting plans in the book what is very useful is that a number of the photographs of a planting combination is carefully labelled with each plant identified so you can see the elements of any combination you aspire to create.

Whilst I started out expecting a book extolling the proponents of wild planting with lots of gasses and North American perennials the New Wild Garden is actually a modernised ‘how to create a garden’ book with the pristine lawns replaced with wildflower mixes, details of how and what to plant, growing tips and suggestions of plants or bulbs that can be planted in various locations.

I think this book could be a first gardening book for the new gardener who wants to take a more modern and holistic approach to creating a garden.

I enjoyed both these books; one of them purely coffee table book and the other more instructional.  I would recommend them to any one depending on their interest in Art and Film Studies in Fife.

 

 

 

This week’s obsessions

Iris hollandica 'Autumn Princess'

Iris hollandica ‘Autumn Princess’

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Note to self: plant more of these for next year amongst the grasses.

I really discovered Dutch Irises a few years ago but last year the penny dropped that you really need to plant them amongst grasses or grassy looking plants which will support the flowers but also hide the long stems. Whilst the whites, yellows and blues are nice I just adore the colours and tones on this variety, they light up the border in a most elegant way.

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I have re-introduced Lupins in the garden this year having not grown them for years mainly because of the tatty state of the leaves as the flowers fade.  I had forgotten how beautiful the young fresh leaves can be and what an interesting addition they make to the border.  I am also really pleased with the colour of the flowers as they were an impulse buy at the local garden centre back in the Spring when I was looking for some strong colours for the borders.

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Last year I became quite obsessed when visiting a nearby garden with the large block of poppies that were about to open.  I just love the hairs on the buds especially when they are back-lit.

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.