There’s plenty going on in the Cotswolds next month with village gardens open and a display by specialist cacti growers.
Succulents and cacti are enjoying a rise in popularity as houseplants become fashionable again.
There’ll be the chance to see a wide range in Cheltenham when enthusiasts stage their annual cacti and succulents show.
Agave, aloe and euphorbia will be among the wide range on display with classes for individual plants or groups.
The event, held by the Gloucester and district branch of the British Cactus & Succulent Society, is at Shurdington Social Centre, Shurdington, Cheltenham, on June 3, 2017. It runs from 11-4pm and admission is £1.
There will be plants for sale, growing advice and refreshments available. More information on the website
There’s a few chances to combine a day out in the Cotswolds with a bit of garden-visiting.
Gardeners in Bisley are planning to open around 10 plots on Sunday June 4, 2017.
There will be a range of size and styles and entry is £1 a garden, or a combined entry fee of £5.
The event, from 2-6pm, is raising money for Bisley WI Village Hall and there will also be refreshments and live music.
There will be gardens of all sizes open in Prestbury, Cheltenham, on June 17 and 18, raising money for St Mary’s Church and The Butterfly Garden charity.
The event runs from 2-5pm on both days and includes plant sales, nursery stands and cream teas.
Admission is £5 for adults, accompanied children enter free. You can pick up a passport for the gardens at St Mary’s Church or at any garden with the Prestbury Open Gardens sign.
Chedworth is holding an open gardens and flower festival on June 24 and 25, 2017 from 11-5pm on both days.
As well as around 13 gardens to wander around, there will be cakes, plants and produce for sale, and refreshments. Admission to the gardens is £5 for adults and there will be a shuttle bus from the village hall.
The money raised will go to the Friends of St Andrew’s and other village charities.
Gardeners in Cheltenham are hosting a plant fair and getting an insight into the history of vegetable growing.
Lynda Warren will be talking about her father’s experience and her own research in ‘The Wartime Kitchen Garden’.
The talk is being hosted by Charlton Kings in Bloom, a voluntary group that promotes gardening in the Charlton Kings area of Cheltenham.
Members are also planning a plant fair outside the King’s Hall on May 13 from 9am to noon with vegetables, including tomatoes, annuals and perennials.
And the annual garden competition will take place later in the year.
The talk will be held at the Stanton Rooms, Charlton Kings in Cheltenham on Friday April 28, 2017. It starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £6 to include refreshments. They are available from The Forge newsagent (01242 523729).
For more details about Charlton Kings in Bloom, visit the website.
The history of gardens and allotments in Gloucestershire will be explored at a day-long series of talks this month.
Gloucestershire Local History Association is hosting its annual Local History Day on Saturday March 18, 2017, with three guest speakers.
Dr Jan Broadway will talk about the history of gardening societies in the county, Dr Jeremy Burchardt, from the University of Reading, will discuss Gloucestershire’s place in the early allotment movement and Michael Brown will present ‘Ghastly Gardening: Horticulture’s Horrible History’.
The event at Churchdown Community Centre, Churchdown, will include displays by Gloucestershire Archives, the County History Trust and the Gloucestershire Gardens & Landscape Trust.
Doors open at 10.30am and the event closes at 4pm. Admission is free and there will be refreshments available for a donation. A full timetable can be found at the association’s website .
The day has been sponsored by The Midcounties Co-operative Community Fund through the Gloucestershire Community Foundation.
Leading designer Cleve West is coming to the Cotswolds next month to talk about the importance of gardening to health. Ahead of his visit, we chatted about designing, turnips and whether
he makes a difference.
It’s a cold, miserable February day and Cleve West is heading for his allotment when I catch up with him. It’s not the most appealing weather to be outside but that doesn’t seem to matter.
“It’s the dullest day you could ever imagine,” he says “and already I could stay down here all day.”
His allotment, he explains, is a place he and his partner, Christine, use as somewhere to escape.
“This is where we unwind. It’s our 17th season coming up and it would be quite a difficult wrench if we suddenly lost this little bit of sanctuary.”
Yet, across the country, allotments are being seized for building land, something Cleve deplores.
“We should be protecting allotments,” he says. “They’re part of our heritage and for some people they are their only access to a garden.
“The benefits are incredible, not only for the food, but for the exercise and peace of mind. They are a place to come and relax.”
It’s these health benefits – both physical and mental – that have made him appreciate the importance of gardens and his role in creating them.
“I always wondered what use we are as garden designers and I came to the conclusion that we weren’t too much use,” he admits. “But reflecting back on some of the gardens I’ve done and then doing Horatio’s Garden, suddenly the penny dropped.”
Cleve was responsible for designing the first of the Horatio’s Gardens, set up in memory of sixth former Horatio Chapple, who was killed by a polar bear on the Norwegian island of Svalbard.
Set in the grounds of spinal injuries, they aim to help the recovery of patients by allowing them access to the natural world.
Cleve’s garden is at Salisbury Hospital, a place he knew well as his best friend had been a patient there. Another garden has since been built at Glasgow, designed by James Alexander-Sinclair, and fundraising is taking place to build a third, designed by Joe Swift, at Stoke Mandeville.
It was the reaction of patients to Cleve’s garden that made him “rethink” his work.
“Some [patients] just burst into tears because they had been locked indoors without a place to go for several months.
“To get that opportunity just to go outside and feel fresh air, sunshine, rain, snow, whatever and connect with nature again. It’s such a simple thing but we all just take it for granted.
At first, he planned to fill the garden with low maintenance shrubs to keep down costs for the charity – “people don’t really appreciate the fact that it is all very well doing these gardens but they need looking after,” he observes.
But it was soon decided that perennial planting that gave a sense of the changing seasons would be far more stimulating for patients. A strong volunteer network and regular fundraising help to fund the head gardener and new plants.
It’s experiences like this that will underpin Cleve’s talk at the Gardens Illustrated Festival at Westonbirt School in March.
“It really is going to be very personal,” he says. “It’s based on my observations and experiences.”
He will cover all types of gardens from those based on healing plants to what he describes as “a more spiritual level” where a garden can help with emotional trauma such as grief.
Cleve also believes gardening is important to the wider issue of biodiversity and protecting the environment, something that he feels passionately about.
If the realisation that he does make a difference came slowly, then so did his love of gardening.
He was introduced to growing by a great aunt who lived in Chiswick, London.
“I used to go to see her and potter around the garden with her,” he recalls. “Then she got too old to do it and I took over.
“Slowly but surely I got bitten by the bug.”
A garden maintenance round in his early twenties, followed later by a design course with John Brookes at Kew, paid for with a legacy from his aunt, started a career that today sees him working both with private clients and designing award-winning show gardens.
Both have their stresses. While he designs with reference to the house and surrounding landscape, compromise is sometimes necessary with a client who has fixed views.
“It’s not always an easy job,” he admits. “That’s why I quite like show gardens. Stressful as they are, it’s the only chance you ever get to do something exactly the way you want it.”
Even so, he’s glad to have a year off from Chelsea and the other RHS shows giving him the chance to concentrate on his private work and beloved allotment.
It will be, he says, a “catch-up year”, a chance to reclaim areas where weeds are out of hand – probably by planting lots of potatoes and squash – and with time to grow a full range of fruit and some flowers.
Which brings us to turnips. Dinner with friends recently converted Cleve to their taste and he’s growing them for the first time this year.
His main ambition though is to build a polytunnel for his favourite crop, tomatoes. An oak is now casting shade over the greenhouse and an alternative is needed.
“It’s going to be a tomato tunnel,” he says. “Fresh, hand-picked organic tomatoes – lovely.”
It’s a sentiment that’s hard to argue with and as strong an argument for the importance of gardens as any.
• Cleve West is one of the speakers at the Gardens Illustrated Festival on 25-26 March 2017 at Westonbirt School, Tetbury. For more information see website
• Thereare three Horatio’s Gardensor more information about Horatio’s Garden see here
Gardening experts are heading to the Cotswolds this year offering advice on everything from early spring bulbs to the meaning of flowers.
Want to know how to build a pond and plant a bog garden, or perhaps pruning trees is a puzzle. Workshops, lectures and a garden festival will give gardeners ample opportunity to pick up tips and advice.
Here’s a round-up of the gardening talks on offer.
Stroud-based home and garden shop Allomorphic is also the setting for a series of day courses and lectures with lunch.
Award-winning designer and RHS judge Paul Hervey-Brookes will be sharing his design expertise in three courses covering planting for winter, gardening in a small space and the basics of creating a show garden.
Other courses include how to make beautiful hand ties, summer door wreaths or arrangements to suit every celebration.
The ‘Queen of Herbs’, Jekka McVicar will be sharing her knowledge of plants medicinal and culinary while container planting expert Harriet Rycroft will explain how to have pots that look good all year-round.
The magazine’s second festival at Westonbirt School has a line-up of some of the gardening world’s best-known faces.
Designers Cleve West, Tom Stuart-Smith and Arne Maynard are among those who will be looking for paradise, exploring the health benefits of gardens and the use of beautifully crafted materials in gardens, while Sarah Raven will be showing how to combine colour in borders.
The roses of Sissinghurst, how to be a green gardener, and the canals and water gardens of Birmingham are just some of the subjects that will also be explored during the two-day festival.
The event on March 25-26 also has tours of the garden and a plant and design clinic alongside the gardening talks.
The Generous Gardener near Cirencester is launching a new series of evening lectures alongside the usual daytime gardening talks.
Among those speaking at the evening events at The Coach House Garden are Bob Brown, of Cotswold Garden Flowers, with advice on new garden-worthy plants and Helen Picton talking about growing asters.
The lecture days, now in their fifth season, include two speakers and lunch. Among the double acts are Alan Street from Avon Bulbs talking about early spring treasures and Tony Kirkham, head of Kew’s arboretum, giving advice on everything to do with trees.
Leading designers Julian and Isobel Bannerman will take you through the making of their gardens while Derry Watkins, of Special Plants nursery, will tempt you to grow plants that are borderline hardy.
Designer Rupert Golby shows how to bring the garden indoors and writer and plantsman Stephen Lacey will suggest plants to introduce scent.
Bog gardens, ponds and how to create and plant them is explained by Timothy Walker, former director of Oxford Botanic Garden, while Telegraph columnist Helen Yemm will be choosing plants for a stunning summer show.
Plantsman Roy Lancaster shares his lifelong passion for plants and Helen Dillon will give an insight into the making of her famous garden in Ireland.
The 2017 dates for the Rare Plant Fairs have just been announced with new nurseries and a second Gloucestershire venue. I’ve been finding out what goes on behind the scenes.
Like most gardeners, I can’t resist a plant sale. Be it a flower show, fundraising community event or merely a table at the end of someone’s drive, I find it impossible to go past without taking a look. So, Rare Plant Fairs with their selection of specialist nurseries are particularly tempting.
Unlike the big shows, there’s no limit on visitor numbers, high entry prices or miles to walk back to your car with purchases. As for shopping online, buying direct from the nursery with the chance to discuss growing needs and suitability for your plot is much better.
And the fairs are invaluable for smaller nurseries, who can’t afford the big shows or don’t have time to open the nursery.
“They are often one or two person bands and it’s a balance between growing plants and selling them,” explains Ian Moss, who runs the Rare Plant Fairs with his wife, Teresa.
“The fairs really do offer the opportunity for these smaller and very good nurseries to get out and put their wares in front of the gardening public.”
The idea of Rare Plant Fairs started in the early 1990s with events organised by Derry Watkins, of Special Plants nursery in Wiltshire. She ran them for several years before handing the organisation on.
By the mid-2000s the events were floundering and it was then that the nurseries took over running them, with Gloucestershire grower Victoria Logue of Whitehall Farmhouse Plants one of the first to be involved.
The idea behind today’s events is simple: gather a group of diverse nurseries and let them set up shop in a good garden; entry to the fair includes admission to the garden.
“We try to price the event to be at or slightly below the normal cost to visit that garden,” says Ian.
The money raised is divided between the Rare Plant Fairs to cover admin costs and the garden owner. Some use it to help with running costs, others donate it to charity.
This year, a second Gloucestershire date has been added to the calendar. As well as the long-running April event at riverside plot The Old Rectory in Quenington, there is a July event at the 40-acre Highnam Court, near Gloucester. Both will be run in aid of Cobalt Health, a Cheltenham-based charity that provides MRI scanning for dementia and cancer.
Another new venue that is likely to prove popular is Hanham Court, near Bristol, which will be hosting a fair in June. Once the home of designers Isabel and Julian Bannerman, whose many projects include the stumpery at Highgrove, it is now under new ownership and is a classic English garden (pictured top) full of roses and lilies.
The new fair at the Walled Garden, at Cannington, Somerset, in July offers the chance to see a wide range of unusual plants, including a collection of cacti.
“It’s got quite a mild climate for the area so they get away with some slightly more ambitious planting than you would normally expect in Somerset.”
In addition, 2017 sees a second event at the popular Bishop’s Palace in Wells, Somerset. As well as the regular March date, there will be a fair in August when the herbaceous borders are at their best.
It also gives Ian and Teresa the chance to showcase some different nurseries: a hellebore specialist will be there in the spring; a salvia grower is booked for the August date.
Organising the fairs is a job that starts before the previous season ends, with the couple visiting possible new venues to check their suitability – parking can be a deciding factor – and checking that existing gardens wish to continue.
Applications for a coveted nursery slot open in October and close a month later. Then comes the task of matching requests to events, making sure everyone gets their share while maintaining a good variety at each fair. There’s also the need to recognise the loyalty of nurseries that have supported the fairs for years while encouraging newcomers.
For 2017, there are around 250 ‘spaces’ across all the fairs and around 350 requests were received.
Nurseries come from all over the country, including Cornwall, Essex, Leicestershire and Wales and typically there will be around 15 at each fair; the largest at Kingston Bagpuize in Oxfordshire in May has 30 stalls. Many nurseries offer a wide range of plants, such as herbaceous perennials, others are more specialised: orchids, shrubs or alpines. All are ‘vetted’ to ensure they are growers rather than merely retailing plants brought in from elsewhere.
This season, new nurseries include hellebore specialist Kapunda Plants, Gardener’s Delight, from North Devon selling mixed herbaceous and Hertfordshire-based Daisy Roots with hardy perennials and grasses. Fibrex Nurseries, near Evesham, also return with pelargoniums, ferns and ivies after a gap of some years.
Once the details are finalised, the publicity drive starts with 45,000 copies of the events guide printed and the newsletter emailed out.
The fairs are popular, not only with nurseries but also with gardeners; many prefer the ‘down-to-earth’ atmosphere with nursery stands merely a trestle table loaded with plants rather than the complex displays seen at the big shows.
Last year, thanks to rain-free days, the events had their best season ever with an average of 550 visitors per fair.
And they are friendly events with the growers themselves often buying from each other before the fair opens. It seems that, like me, they can’t resist a plant sale.
Walking through a wood at night isn’t an obvious crowd-pleaser but the Enchanted Christmas light show at Westonbirt is different. In fact, it’s become so popular this year sees advanced booking only and timed tickets.
The annual display is now in its 20th year and for many families seeing hundreds of lights transforming the National Arboretum is a traditional start to their Christmas.
Last year, more than 35,000 people visited the 12-day event, which runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from the end of November until just before Christmas.
It’s the increasingly popularity that has led to the change in ticketing, explains arboretum spokeswoman Emily Pryor.
“We’re striving always to improve the quality of visitors’ experience. We want it to be the best we can give.”
As a result, there will no longer be the option to pay at the gate and all tickets to the route will be issued in one-hour time slots, although people can enter the arboretum any time after 5pm to visit the restaurant and shop.
And Emily stresses that once on the illuminated trail there is no pressure to get around in a given time.
“Visitors can take as long as they need,” she says.
As well as new arrangements for tickets, the display in the Enchanted Christmas has also seen some changes with a complete overhaul of the equipment used to ensure an even brighter and more dazzling show.
This includes a more powerful machine to pump bubbles out into one part of the trail where they will be picked out by UV lights.
“It looks quite amazing in the dark,” says Emily.
Meanwhile, an ‘elf village’ for Santa’s helpers will have tiny houses lit up among the trees, while Father Christmas – dressed in the original, traditional green – will be taking Christmas requests and Mrs Christmas will be telling stories.
Although the one-mile trail follows a different route through the Old Arboretum each year, the concept remains the same. Lights in every shade from red, blue and white to green, purple and orange transform Westonbirt’s trees, picking out twisted limbs, fissures in bark or the graceful shape of weeping specimens.
Some trees are lit with a steady spotlight, others are part of an ever-changing display as lights go on and off with timers.
Among the most popular elements are those that involve audience participation. The ‘singing tree’ has lights that are sound sensitive and visitors are encouraged to sing or shout to illuminate it. Elsewhere, a sequence of lights is triggered by visitors beating on drums.
And there is the chance to light up the Enchanted Christmas with pedal power by riding on a bicycle.
“It’s a huge hit with kids.”
There’s even a touch of disco with a huge mirror ball that reflects back onto the trees.
• The Enchanted Christmas opens on Friday November 25 and runs on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until Sunday December 18th.
• The trail is pushchair and wheelchair friendly. Stout shoes, warm clothing and a torch are recommended.
• For more details and booking information, visit Westonbirt
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Two of the Cotswolds’ popular gardens offer the chance to celebrate autumn this weekend with their last big events of the 2016 season.
Colesbourne Park and Painswick Rococo Garden are both better known for their snowdrop displays but each has plenty to offer at this time of year as well.
At Colesbourne there’s a rare chance to see the arboretum and enjoy the autumn colour spectacle on Friday and Saturday, while from Friday to Sunday, the Rococo Garden will be showing off its home-grown produce and explaining how to get the most out of the harvest.
Among the trees
Colesbourne’s arboretum was started by Victorian plant-hunter Henry John Elwes and has been added to by his great-grandson Sir Henry Elwes.
It now numbers around 300 trees, with six registered as the largest of their variety in the UK and some 120 years old.
“This is very much a plantsman’s collection of trees from around the world,” said Sir Henry. “The arboretum was started by and is still managed by the Elwes family.”
The rest of the 10-acre garden will also be open with woodland walks and views across the lake, which is believed to get its unusual blue colour from lime.
Learn about apples
At the Rococo Garden, apples and pumpkins are just some of the produce on show as the historic garden encourages visitors to celebrate autumn.
On National Apple Day this Friday, there is a children’s Apple Activity Day with the chance to learn how to cook with apples, bug-hunting and apple games.
The apple theme continues on Saturday and Sunday with talks by Martin Hayes on orchards and how to prune trees. The Gloucestershire Orchard Trust is supplying information about traditional local varieties and there will be demonstrations of rural skills, apple-pressing and wreath-making.
And if you’ve got a mystery apple tree in your garden, you can take in the fruit for identification by Martin on Sunday.
“It’s an opportunity to find out what to do with autumn produce and the last chance to see the garden before we close for the year,” says garden director Dominic Hamilton.
• Painswick Rococo Garden’s Apple Activity Day for children is on Friday October 21 from 10.15-3pm and costs £7.50. Book online at The Rococo Garden or call 01452 813204.
The Autumn Festival is on Saturday and Sunday, October 22 and 23, from 10.30am to 3pm. The 2016 season ends on October 31. For more details, visit The Rococo Garden
• Colesbourne Park is open on Friday and Saturday, October 21 and 22, from 12.45pm with optional guided tours led by Sir Henry and head gardener Arthur Cole. Admission is £5, to include a cup of tea. For more information, see Colesbourne Park
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When I catch up with Royal Horticultural Society judge Richard Sneesby, he’s feeling a little jaded after two long days at the Chelsea Flower Show but upbeat about what he saw there. The show seems, he declares, to have turned a corner.
“It was nice to see something different. There was a move away from the usual blue and white planting.
“For a long time we’ve had a kind of herbaceous mix of very feminine planting, of quite muted colours and lots of things at the same height.”
Richard is on the Chelsea selection panel and was part of the team, made up of designers, journalists, constructors and nursery experts, who judged this year’s Artisan and Fresh gardens. He will be talking about the process and how Chelsea influences design at a fundraising talk this month for Cheltenham’s Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice.
He’s well qualified to spot changes in thinking having taught on design courses in Sheffield, Cheltenham and Falmouth over the past 25 years; he numbers Chris Beardshaw, Hugo Bugg and Sam Ovens, who all exhibited at this year’s Chelsea, among his former students. He is also senior judge for the Society of Garden Designers’ annual awards.
There was, he says, no dramatic shift this year but subtle changes: a rediscovery of shrubs and evergreens and some unusual plants.
“What was so wonderful about Andy Sturgeon’s garden was that I had no idea what probably 60 per cent of the plants were.”
Yet, novelty alone won’t make a design work.
“It does not need to be whacky. It has got to be magical, it’s got to transport you for a moment to something different,” explains Richard, who now lectures at the Eden Project, alongside his Cornwall-based landscape architecture business.
However, doing something different is far from straightforward.
“It is getting harder and harder to do something new. It’s extremely easy to copy, it’s reasonably easy to adapt, but it’s incredibly difficult to find something genuinely new.”
And only those designers who are confident are likely to take the risk of doing something that’s not tried and tested at the world famous show.
“If you get it wrong you have absolutely put your head above the parapet and there are not many people in the world who have got the guts to do that. People who have should be celebrated even if they get it wrong.”
When it comes to the RHS, gardens are marked out of four in nine separate categories, including construction and fulfilling the brief, with a threshold that has to be passed for each medal. Among the pitfalls are what Richard describes as ‘miniaturising’ things, such as making paths that are too small or seating areas that will take only one person, stuffing plants in too close together, or having poor specimens. Generally it is mistakes that make the difference to the medal awarded.
“Anyone who is offered a place at Chelsea has an equal chance of getting a gold medal.”
Richard will be talking at Cotswold Farm one of the area’s Arts and Crafts gardens. It was, he says, a period that saw collaboration between gardeners and architects and the sort of broadening of ideas that could be seen at the Chelsea Flower Show, with many gardens featuring bespoke works of art.
“We’re starting to see gardens that are a collaboration of more than just the designer and a contractor. There are serious crafts people and very skilled artists, all sorts of people involved in these gardens.
“The more interesting ones are the ones that have come from the minds of more than one person.”
Richard Sneesby will be talking about the Chelsea Flower Show at Cotswold Farm Gardens, Duntisbourne Abbots, on Friday June 24 in aid of Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice. The event begins at 6pm with a drinks and canape reception and tickets, costing £15, are on sale from Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice on 01242 246285, email Leckhampton.firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Sue Ryder website
• My reflections on this year’s Chelsea Flower Show are here
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