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!


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.

“Desperate for Asters”

Aster 'Professor Anton Kippenberg'
Aster ‘Professor Anton Kippenberg’

Yesterday I had a lovely day out with my friend Victoria.  Firstly we went to Hampton Court which I blogged about last week but the main purpose for our excursion was because Victoria was “desperate” to buy Asters and was despairing of finding any apart from the bulk standard dwarf varieties that you find in garden centres.  I had promised her a trip to Old Court Nursery over the hill from me in Colwall which is home to a national collection of Aster novae-angliae and is known for the variety of asters it grows, breeds and sells.


We were a little early in the aster season to see the national collection in full flower but they should look amazing in a week or so.

Michaelmas Daisy Fairy
Michaelmas Daisy Fairy

Throughout the garden are willow sculptures by local sculptor Victoria Westaway and I particularly like the Michaelmas Daisy Fairy which is a centrepiece.


I was intrigued to visit the Picton Garden as I know Helen and Ross have had a major overhaul and the last time I was there in late April/early May the majority of the garden was bare soil where Ross had been clearing with a digger. At the time I thought they were mad but as you can see from the photos in this post they weren’t and the planting is stunning considering how recently it was put in.


I love the way they have planted the asters amongst other late summer perennials including grasses to show how well they work in a mixed herbaceous border. The aster, Japanese anemone and crocosmia combination above was one of my favourites.


You can see how well the aster work with grasses and it is a pity they aren’t incorporated more into the new perennial plantings schemes, often called prairie planting.


The planting also reinforced my feeling that I need more blues and yellows/oranges in my borders. We were meant to be looking at varieties that might work in Victoria’s garden and I wanted to get some shorter varieties to go in front of some tall asters I had bought a few years back who needed their feet disguised but I was so distracted by the planting I kept forgetting to look at particular plants.


We did notice that some varieties were more prone to sprawling than others so would be in need of staking more.  In my garden where tall plants seem to mysteriously develop a leaning nature I have to be wary of the taller plants or deploy a lot of stakes so the more self-supporting varieties are needed.  Some of the varieties that sprawl seem to do it more gracefully than others and it is therefore good to see them growing in a mixed herbaceous border so you can see how they grow and which will suit your own garden best.


I am pleased to report that we came away with a car full of plants and both pleased with our purchases.

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.

Spetchley Plant Fair


This Sunday saw the first real plant fair of the year.  Admittedly I have been buying plants all year from nurseries and at the gardening groups I go to but this is different.  Spetchley Plant Fair has a good reputation locally and is only about 20 minutes drive from me.  I haven’t been for a few years now and had promised myself that this year I would definitely go.  Saying that I dithered  as I am so focussed on what I need to do in the garden but having worked very hard on Saturday I decided a bit of plant retail therapy was needed.

I roped my Mum in and we headed off.  She had a planter that had belonged to my sister and she was looking for something to go in it.  I wanted to get some ferns, auricula and candelabra primulas so we had a plan and we went with cash so as not to be lead to far astray!!  We got there early as they opened and toured the site.  The plant fair is set on the lawn  in front of Spetchley House with a lake behind you. I like this plant fair as it has a friendly feel.  The selection of nurseries was excellent with some small local nurserymen that I know as well as some that had travelled further and had  excellent reputations such as Edulis, Fibrex Nurseries and Cotswold Garden Flowers.

2013_04210031 logo

Given the cold start to the season it wasn’t surprising that the selection of plants was a little limited.  Fritillaria, wood anemones, ranunculus and other woodland delights dominated.  I found a nursery which focused on ferns and after a lively debate about which two I would buy I decided to follow my original plan and buy Asian hardy ferns (Polystichum tsus-simense and Cyrtomium fortunei) so that I can create an Asian fern border by the patio at home.  I found some Auriculas and bought a large orange-red flowered one which I can divide and which will provide a good contrast to the purple ones I already have.  Then we explored the Fibrex stand and I introduced Mum to scented leaved pelargoniums which resulted in ‘Lady Plymouth’ being bought for the planter; I bought ‘Lara Starshine’ which has tiny red flowers.  Needless to say I succumbed to an impulse buy and inevitably it was from Cotswold Garden Flowers but I am very pleased with my Aeonium hierrense – yet another succulent to house in the garden.


After an early lunch in the garden tea-room and feeling warmer, there was a bitter cold wind, we finished off our visit with a wander around the gardens.  The gardens are typical for the age of the house with a walled vegetable garden, orangery, parterre and then a woodland walk leading to a lake.  The walled vegetable garden was very nice and neat and tidy but to be honest and not surprising there wasn’t much to see.  What I really liked though were the hot houses which were sunk into the ground.


I could spend hours working in this hot-house, the smell was incredibly earthy and there was that wonderful warmth you get in these environments.

In the woodland walk there were rhododendrons beginning to flower as well as trilliums and wood anemones.  Sadly the wind was getting the better of us so we took another tour of the plant fair which was getting quite busy  and then went home.

If you live near Worcestershire then I would really recommend the plant fairs at Spetchley for a pleasant day out  with the opportunity to buy  plants from a range of very knowledgeable and friendly nurserymen.  There is another plant fair on the 15th September which I hope to go to and buy a few late season treats.

What comes first?

2010_07300220What’s more important to you  – plants or design?  For me its plants every time and always has been.  Originally I started with some bedding plants and hanging baskets then as my confidence grew I started to grow a few perennials and shrubs.  The real leap came when I  moved to this house with a blank canvas of a garden and more time as the boys had grown up.  I love the thrill of germinating seeds, it gives me a pathetic sense of achievement.  If I do really well they eventually grow into plants which I add to the borders.

In recent years I would like to describe my taste as eclectic but I suspect in reality it was more a case of “oh I like that, and that, and that” and so I have all sorts in my garden.  One of these, one of those – all very bitty.  Over the last six months through joining some societies and local groups and meeting many skilled plantsmen my interest in plants has really been piqued especially in particular groups of plants such as Primula, Delphinium, Digitalis, succulents and more recently snowdrops.  I realised the other day  that I had a bit of a collection of Primula beginning and so I have bought my first real monograph on a species to help me learn more about Primula.

Stone House, Worcestershire
Stone House, Worcestershire

As for design – well this is something that is very secondary to me.  I do appreciate good design and the skill behind it but it just doesn’t hold my attention and doesn’t excite me.  I look at the showgardens at the local Malvern Spring Show but really my heart is in the plant marquee.  The gardens that I enjoy visiting whilst having varying degrees of design are often the gardens of plantsmen – Stone House, Cothay Manor.  I don’t tend to like gardens that have been designed as a set piece  as for me they often lack that extra something – maybe its passion, maybe its soul.  I prefer gardens that have evolved, gardens that are very personal; although I fully acknowledge that a personal garden can be very designed – I love Bryans Ground.

Bryans Ground, Herefordshire
Bryans Ground, Herefordshire

The reason I have been thinking about this is due to a conversation I had last weekend when visiting Victoria.  We were talking about shows and I was saying more or less what I have said above.  Victoria said her approach to plants was different.  For her it was about finding a plant that give her a certain look – maybe a particular colour or size of foliage, texture, flower to fit a particular gap.  She enjoyed researching what plants would fill this requirement.  I found this interesting as it is the opposite to my approach.

The Daily Telegraph Garden, Chelsea, 2010
The Daily Telegraph Garden, Chelsea, 2010

To me horticulture, particularly in the media and at shows, often gets split into two distinct areas – design and plants/plant care (which to me is what horticulture really is).  Gardening magazines are full of articles about this garden or that garden and how it was designed and who by etc etc with less so about plants.  Just as it seems to me that the focus of shows like the RHS Chelsea Flowershow is around the showgardens and less so about the nurseries and plants in the floral marquee.  More and more people are signing up for garden design courses and less for horticultural courses.  I think this is terribly sad especially when you consider that if it wasn’t for the nurserymen with their skills at breeding new plants or in holding or bringing forward plants for shows the designers would really be limited in what they can do.  Personally I feel that the garden media, including the makeover garden television shows of the 1990s,  is to blame for this shift and it is exacerbated by the ridiculous amount of sponsorship paid for the big showgardens and the pressure for the designers to then repay their sponsors with lots of media coverage.  How can the nurseries, never a cash rich industry, compete with this.

However, having said the above and had a bit of a rant,  I have learnt to appreciate the fact that many a plantsmen’s garden, including my own, can appear very bitty due to the disparate group of plants in it.  I have started to want my garden to feel more cohesive and for there to be more impact from groups of plants rather than a bitty look.  I will never fully embrace the whole design approach but I have started to consider focal points, sweeps of plants, stronger lines, journeys and the rest.  The trouble is that every time I start thinking like this I get distracted by something germinating or a Primula flowering – its truly is a lost cause!

Plant buying habits


I’m afraid I succumbed to my big weakness – bargain plants.  Visted my local Woolies and I had to have a look at their plant section!  I ended up with 3 water plants (they were all half price at £2.99 each), 2 lots of gladioli bulbs (BOGOF) and 2 packets of Laura Ashley seeds (BOGOF).  Generally I like to buy my plants from small nurseries, the growers at my local Malvern Spring show or from gardens I visit but I do have a weakness for Woolie bargains.  I have already bought two trees from them – the silver birch I bought last year for the princely sum of £2.99 is doing really well.

On the subject of where I buy my plants I was interested to read the article in this week’s AG about Tesco’s plans for a chain of garden centres.  They already have 25 garden centres which were formally Dobies and are reportedly planning to increase this to 100 stores within 5 years.  The stores are the mega garden centres which sell everything apart from, or maybe including, the kitchen sink.  Lucy Neville-Smith, the executive in charge of Tesco’s gardening plans is reported to believe that gardeners want a ‘destination-type’ garden centre.  I dont.  If I want a destination then it will be a garden where I may be able to buy some plants grown by the owners.  If I need compost, seed trays etc then I will go to my local garden centre, particularly the family owned one as I like to support local businesses.  I will not be driving 20+ miles to some large glorified supermarket that just happens to stock plants along with a meriad of other things.  Maybe I am in the minority but I think that the ‘real’ gardeners those who want more from their garden than a place to sit on a sunny afternoon will agree with me.  I hope this move of Tesco’s does not have the same affect on small nurseries as the big out of town supermarkets have had on small town centres