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.

RHS Malvern Spring Festival Show Gardens – Some Highlights


I have been attending RHS Malvern Spring Festival, as it is now known, for 15 years and over this time there has been a slow increase in the quality and number of show gardens.  It is often touted as a show that attracts those garden designers who are putting their toe in the show garden water and I think this year there was a distinct improvement in the quality of planting and design on previous years.  It wasn’t many years ago when I used to flinch at the planting which had bare soil showing, completely out of line with the squeeze them in abundant planting that is required of a good show garden.

My favourite garden was Constraining Nature by Kate Durr Garden Design.  She won the Best Festival Garden award and a gold medal, not bad for a first showing.  The Festival Gardens are designed by new comers who receive a £3000 bursary to support the build and advice from various experts.  I loved the textures in her planting (top photo) particularly the shady area at the back of the garden.

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I like the movement of the tufts of grass, not sure which it is, and the box balls.  For someone who isn’t keen on topiary I was interested to see quite a few of the gardens using them to provide structure and then in filling with seasonal interest.  Definitely an idea I think I will take forward.


As per the last few years the show garden by Villaggio Verde stole the show and you have to admire the ambition of the designer.  This isn’t just a frontage with scaffolding or the like behind it but a garden you can walk around the outside of and peer through a wrought iron gate to see the baskets of pelargoniums hanging on the wall.  The only down side was the grey skies which threatened rain all day and dispelled the idea we were somewhere in Andulusia. Unsurprisingly this garden won Best Show Garden.


This garden, As Mad as a Hatter, by Gary Bristow was quite appealing.  However although I loved the textures I would have preferred a bit of cross over between the two areas.  I think a few oranges in the purple side would have lifted it and vice versa but I am sure there is some theme idea behind it.



I quite liked the planting and the clean lines of Out of Darkness by Lisa Burchill and Robin Ideson which won a silver. I suspect the dead moss square seats may have had something to do with the silver. However, as someone who has a preference for foliage over flowers I like the combinations of not only leaf shape but also the shades of greens, yellow and purple in the variegation.


I was surprised at how many ideas I came away with this year.  In the past at Malvern the show gardens have some interesting plants but I rarely feel inspired by the planting combinations and never about any sort of landscaping/structure.  But this year, the Cornerstone garden, by Pip Probert and Gareth Wilson, showed a renewed interest in alpines and presented them in such a way that I can see being possible to recreate even in the most modern urban garden – so a rockery is no longer needed to grow these delights. Again I think this is something I might try to replicate in a future garden.


The garden is not all just alpine troughs but on the other side there is this delightful cottage style garden – a real winner from my perspective.

I really enjoyed the show gardens this year and it is good to see so much good quality planting. I hope the standard continues to improve and maybe one year soon Malvern will start to get the same excellent reputation for its show gardens as it already does for its nurseries.

The RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from 7th – 10th May – its a good day out, why not go

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

Birmingham Borders – GW Live

Yesterday I went to the Gardeners World Show in Birmingham.  This isn’t an event I have been to before and to be honest it wasn’t really my cup of tea but there was one element which I really liked and wanted to share with you.

The show has a ‘competition’ for enthusiastic gardeners and horticultural students who want to have a go at designing and planting a horticultural display which will be judged by the RHS – they call it ‘Birmingham Borders’.  Each entrant is given a raised bed which has been ready prepared for planting and I think they have a couple of days to plant it up.

You get a feel  of the space from the photo above and as you can see there were a variety of styles adopted.  I have tried to find out what remit the entrants were given for their gardens but as there doesn’t seem to be anything obvious in the show programme or on the website I am assuming they had a free hand.

I was amazed at the standard of the entrants.  I don’t think I would know where to start if I’m honest but then I suppose I’m not a budding garden designer so maybe it just isn’t in my psyche.  Above is the entry from Garden Hero – a fellow garden blogger and twitter and you can read about the background to his ‘garden’ by clicking on the link.  He did extremely well achieving a Silver-Gilt and I don’t think my photo does his garden justice.

It was also interesting that some of the entrants had treated the small space as a garden as the one above did whilst other have treated it as a border. You can see more images of the borders here

As I have said the standard was high and I think at least two of the gardens, including the one in the top photo, were awarded golds. Why did I like these so much?  Well because the ‘gardens’ were small on size and small on budget the average gardener  – me – could easily relate to them and get ideas.  Sadly, the show organisers put these borders right near the back of the site and I’m not convinced they were getting the attention they deserved.  We certainly had to go looking for them.

Hopefully some of these new garden designers will have got the bug and will aspire to compete at a higher level and we will see more of them.

Another sneaky preview – Malvern show

Bravura by Paula Taylor, Kistner

This evening I had the opportunity to have another sneaky peak at the gardens at Malvern Spring show.  I  had been down on Monday helping on one of the gardens but it was interesting to see them finished.  There was a weird atmosphere hanging around the showgardens.   I walked through lots of hustle and bustle of people setting up the sundry stalls, it was like a shrine to the white van and then I found myself in an area of eerie quietness.  Hardly anyone around apart from a film crew from Gardeners’ World and also the RHS judges – me I went the other way!!

I decided to have a look at the gardens that had been built for the Chris Beardshaw mentorship competition as I hadnt really had a chance to see them on Monday.  I was really impressed with the standard, although I know nothing about garden design, for people hoping to get a scholarship/mentorship deal the quality seemed very high.  All the gardens in the competition need to be based around a Circus theme.

The Inside Out Garden - Juliet Stafford Garden Design

I liked the central design of the garden above but thought the planting was lacking, the plants seemed to small and the group of grasses on the far side seemed to act as a full stop to me but then maybe I wasn’t getting the design.

Juggling the Balance - Barry Chambers

This is my favourite garden in the competition.  It is meant to be a community garden.  I liked the rhtyme the alliums give the the garden, and the circular design gives a sense of inclusion.

But then what do I know I expect none of the three I have picked out will win!!