Colour-fest at RHS Hampton

There’s simply no getting away from colour and – thankfully – plants at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Many of the show gardens seem to have made a welcome return to putting plants rather than hard landscaping first while there are take-home ideas aplenty from pretty pastel combinations to in-your-face primary colours.

Now, I must admit to a bias towards Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes. I’ve followed his career since his first show garden – in a tent – at the Malvern Autumn Show back in 2008 but his gold medal-winning exhibit this year is one of his best.

rhs hampton
Colours in the border echo those of the hard landscaping

Paul is known on the gardening circuit for his skill at planting up a border but even so he has excelled with his Viking Cruises garden. There’s a sense of movement in the planting that drifts under trees, with variations in height and some beautiful combinations.

How’s this for a mix of blue?

rhs hampton
Campanula lactiflora ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ with Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’

Or pink – the bees were loving it.

rhs hampton
Oregano and perilla

Who says green is dull?

rhs hampton
Alchemilla mollis with the vertical lines of Liatris spicata ‘Alba’

Simple but really effective.

rhs hampton
Nicotiana sylvestris adding height to the planters

I really loved these Achillea ‘Summer Berries’.

rhs hampton

They come in a mix of colours that Paul had carefully separated out to give different effects. Here is the cream with bronze variant.

rhs hampton
Cream and terracotta achillea with Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black’ and Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldschleier’

And Persicaria bistorta is given a whole new feel when combined with carex.

rhs hampton

I was glad to see I’m ‘on trend’ as I’ve just planted up an old wine box with this erigeron.

rhs hampton

Another Cotswold success at this year’s RHS Hampton is Martyn Wilson, who also started his design career at the Malvern show. He has won his first RHS gold medal with a celebration of the regeneration of brownfield sites.

rhs hampton

I really liked the colours in this garden – rusted steel, oranges, creams, yellows and the odd touch of purple from buddleia.

rhs hampton

The attention to detail was superb.

rhs hampton

rhs hampton

While my Cotswold neighbours are using refined colour combinations, two of the show gardens are unashamedly brash.

rhs hampton

Bright, primary colours dominate the ‘Journey of Life’ garden by Edward Mairis, which has an acrylic wall in rainbow colours.

rhs hampton
Charlie’s garden is all about colour

In Charlie Bloom’s ‘Colour Box’ garden it’s the plants that sing out. Built with donations of time and products rather than financial sponsorship, it is dominated by plants in every colour.

rhs hampton

“I think the public want to see plants at a horticultural show rather than lots of impressive hard landscaping,” explained Charlie. “The idea was to rebel against the concrete and box ball fraternity and go mad with colour.”

That said, it’s a garden that has plant combinations you could try.

rhs hampton

I also liked the peep-through architectural wall from Stark and Greensmith.

rhs hampton

And the way the plants were set off against it.

rhs hampton

Here are some of the other things that caught my eye.

rhs hampton
Beach huts on the ‘Fun on Sea’ garden

There was more than a touch of the seaside.

rhs hampton
Southend Council’s ‘By the Sea’ garden

And some boats.

rhs hampton

rhs hampton
Hoyland Plant Centre’s Floral Marquee exhibit

It was good to see vegetables weren’t forgotten. Here on the gold medal-winning Blind Veterans UK garden by Andrew Fisher Tomlin and Dan Bowyer.

rhs hampton

A nifty way to grow strawberries on the RHS Kitchen Garden by Juliet Sargeant.

rhs hampton

And an edible green wall.

rhs hampton

Finally, at the end of a long day . . .

rhs hampton
Plants, Shoots and Leaves’ stand

there are some tempting places to sit and rest . . .

rhs hampton
Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants’ annuals display

or even lie down.

rhs hampton
‘A Bed of Roses’ by Fryer’s Roses

RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2017 runs until July 9. For more details, visit the RHS website.

* Flower-filled Mini (pictured top) is part of Primrose Hall’s Floral Marquee display.

RHS Hampton 2017: roses, butterflies and melting ice

Roses, butterflies and how to garden in the face of climate change are just some of the features at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

There are nearly 100 specialist nurseries in the Floral Marquee – six of them, ranging from cacti to daylillies, new to the show – and there will be four new roses launched, including ‘Lovestruck’, the 2018 Rose of the Year.

RHS Hampton
Rosa ‘Lovestruck’

Wildlife is a major theme and the popular Butterfly Dome will be surrounded by a wildflower meadow, with plants that provide food for butterflies and caterpillars.

Show Gardens

Naturally, top of my list of ‘must-sees’ is Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes’ garden for show sponsors Viking Cruises.

RHS Hampton
Paul’s garden is inspired by travel

Just weeks after winning Best in Show at the new RHS Chatsworth, Paul is making his third appearance at RHS Hampton; he won gold and best in show in 2012 for ‘Discovering Jordan’ and gold last year with a garden for the Dogs Trust.

He’s creating a small, urban garden for a couple who have travelled widely and incorporated ideas from those journeys into their plot. These include a triple arched feature wall based on Rome’s Arch of Constantine, a large Malaysian pot and paving that has an arabesque pattern.

RHS Hampton
The Manzano paving has an intricate pattern

The planting will also echo their travels with motherwort, found growing along the Danube, Italian alder and a species of mint from the Lebanon.

Herbs grown by Jekka McVicar will be woven into sweeping mixed borders in a white, yellow, mauve and blue colour scheme.

“Being influenced by travel is at the core of English gardens historically and this modern day interpretation is no different,” says Paul. “I hope people will see the various different influences and feel excited by that exchange of knowledge and ideas.”

RHS Hampton
A willow vine sculpture will enclose the Blind Veterans UK garden

Other show gardens include Andrew Fisher Tomlin and Dan Bowyer’s design for Blind Veterans UK, which explores the work of the charity and the sense of community it provides, represented by a willow vine sculpture that wraps around the garden.

Emma Bailey looks at dealing with depression in ‘On the Edge’ and the benefits of a sensory garden for children with autism is explored by Adam White and Andree Davies in the Zoflora Caudwell Children’s Wild Garden.

Designer Charlie Bloom is celebrating the people within horticulture with a garden built on co-operation and gifts.

RHS Hampton
The Colour Box garden is being built with donated products and help

‘Colour Box’ is being built with no financial sponsor, relying instead on donations of time and products from the horticulture industry following a social media appeal.

“I wanted to create something that credited ‘the team’ and not the designer or the sponsor’s wants,” explains Charlie. “I asked the different trades involved to be an equal part of the process and given appropriate credit, not forgotten sub categories.”

Bold, bright planting and limited hard landscaping are the key features of a garden that Charlie describes as “a celebration of people helping people”.

Tackling climate change

‘Gardens for a Changing World’ is a new category for 2017, designed to show how gardening is becoming more sustainable in response to changing weather.

RHS Hampton
Will Williams’ garden uses natural flood prevention measures

Among the entries are a natural solution to flood prevention by designer Will Williams using trees and leaky dams and another by debut RHS designer Rhiannon Williams showing how to manage rainwater in a garden with storage systems and planting.

RHS Hampton
Managing rainwater in a garden

Perhaps the most unusual will be ‘The Power to Make a Difference’ by Joe Francis, which will have an ice block at the centre. The ice is intended to melt during the show, filling a pool below.

RHS Hampton
There’s ice at the heart of Joe Francis’ design

Tom Massey has interpreted the title as “finding sanctuary in a storm” in his garden for Perennial.

RHS Hampton
The Perennial garden

The charity provides support for people in the horticulture industry who are facing difficulties and the garden shows movement from chaos to sanctuary with the planting colours from reds and orange through to blues and greens echoing the journey.

I will be heading for Martyn Wilson’s design ‘Brownfield – Metamorphosis’. Worcester-based Martyn made his show garden debut at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival in 2014, having studied at the Cotswold Gardening School, and designs gardens for private clients across the Cotswolds.

Inspired by post-industrial gardens, such as New York’s High Line, his garden looks at what happens when a former industrial site is reclaimed by nature.

RHS Hampton
Martyn Wilson’s design

“What interested me initially was the changing nature of urban landscapes which are so often are in state of flux,” says Martyn. “There’s the process of demolition and reconstruction but between the two, before building work starts, you often find nature moves back in and a new, temporary landscape is created. “

Twisted steel monolithic structures suggesting decaying industry will be set against a mix of plants, including many that naturally self-seed on brownfield sites, such as ferns and grasses.

Conceptual Gardens

There’s also Cotswold interest in the category that sees designers push the boundaries of what constitutes a garden.

Cotswold Wildlife Park & Gardens have joined forces with wildlife charity Tusk to sponsor a conceptual garden that aims to highlight the illegal trade in ivory.

RHS Hampton
Mark Whyte is putting the spotlight on the plight of elephants

Designed by Mark Whyte, it will feature an arch of 200 tusks – the average daily tally of elephants killed by poachers in Africa.

Visitors will walk through the arch to the sounds of the African savannah, there will be African-style planting, and the bones of an elephant at one end will symbolise the risk to the elephant population.

Finally, the World Gardens will take visitors to Oregon, Northern Spain, Charleston and Florida.

RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show runs from July 4-9, 2017. For more details, see the RHS website.

Getting nostalgic at Gardeners’ World Live 2017

gardeners world live
The Nostalgia Garden recreates a 60s village

Sometimes it’s good to look back, to reminisce and say ‘Do you remember?’ It’s something this year’s Gardeners’ World Live delivers in spadefuls with many of the gardens taking the 50th anniversary of the BBC programme as their theme.

Crazy paving, the original Mini, brightly coloured bedding, it’s all there at a show that celebrates five decades of the nation’s gardening obsession.

For me, and I suspect for most of the visitors, the highlight is the Anniversary Garden which chronicles five decades of changing gardening tastes with ‘snapshots’ of gardens of the time.

gardeners world live
Crazy paving and a washing line

There’s the bedding and veg-planted 60s garden, complete with washing line – before the days of tumble driers.

gardeners world live
The 70s garden

The 70s garden is enclosed by a fancy breeze block wall – one of my childhood memories – and borders of heathers and conifers with a move away from ‘growing your own’ at home, something that doesn’t reappear until the last garden although only in the form of a container of strawberries.

gardeners world live
Who else remembers breeze block walls?
gardeners world live
An outdoor entertainment space was an 80s’ idea

With the 80s came the idea of the ‘outdoor room’ and a built-in BBQ and seating, while the 90s with make-over programmes brought us decking and more imaginative use of hard landscaping.

gardeners world live
Decking was a 90s’ trend

Finally, the garden of 2000 onwards is more geometric with clipped box and a smart stainless steel water feature.

gardeners world live
The sharper outlines of contemporary gardens

It’s an exhibition garden – so not eligible for the best overall garden award although it won gold from the judges – and has been designed by David Stevens, who agreed with me that the nostalgia is likely to be popular.

gardeners world live
A stainless steel water feature on the 2000 garden

“It is ‘I remember that. My grandmother had a garden just like that.’ It’s bringing back memories,” he said.

“You can see how gardens have developed and how plants have come in and styles have changed.”

gardeners world live
You can play ‘spot the presenter’ among the plants at the show

It’s been a nostalgic project for him; 25 years ago, he worked on the first Gardeners’ World Live show with the late Geoff Hamilton in the days when the entire show was under cover, even the gardens.

“We did gardens then but built them in two days, which was crazy.

“It’s brilliant to be back for the anniversary and it’s really good of them to ask me,” he added.

The five gardens have been built by Peter Dowle and his Howle Hill team, who, as he put it, started on “the rebound” from RHS Malvern, where he won gold, Best in Show and the construction award for a Japanese-style garden.

“It’s been a really good experience doing this,” said Peter, who is based near Ruardean in the Forest of Dean. “David was at Chelsea winning gold medals when we first started there and was always the one we aspired to.”

gardeners world live
The star of the show?

The star of The Nostalgia Garden by Paul Stone is likely to be the original 1960s’ Mini parked at the period petrol pumps; it certainly struck a chord with me, as my first car was a classic Mini though not quite that old.

The village shop and plant stands display prices from 50 years ago – look out for the Gardeners’ World team in plants – and there’s even a Flymo tackling grass by the bubbling stream; the electric mower was first sold in the sixties.

gardeners world live
Claudia de Yong’s garden

Claudia de Yong’s romantic garden amidst the ruins of a castle for Wyevale Garden Centres was a deserving gold and best overall garden.

gardeners world live
I particularly liked the benches!

Roses, a soft colour palette and a loose style of planting make the design live up to its name: Romance in the Ruins. I particularly liked the benches from Worcestershire firm Home and Garden Ironworks – I have an identical one in my own garden.

gardeners world live
There are ideas for soft planting schemes
gardeners world live
with others in vibrant colours

Show director Bob Sweet told those of us gathered for a special press preview that Gardeners’ World Live is an “accessible show” with plenty of take-home ideas.

“We want people to look at the gardens and say ‘I could do that in mine.’, he said.

One of the best places to do this is in the APL Avenue, a series of small gardens built on a limited budget as a collaboration between a designer and a member of The Association of Professional Landscapes.

gardeners world live
Reclaimed construction materials won the judges’ approval in the APL section

The judges picked Living Gardens ‘It’s Not Just About the Beard . . .’, designed by Peter Cowell and Monty Richardson, as their top APL garden but there were ideas to be found on all of them.

gardeners world live
I liked the mix of seating and water
gardeners world live
Moss used as wall art
gardeners world live
and put in the frame

If you’ve got a really tiny space, the Beautiful Borders section gives ideas on planting schemes, this year with the starting idea of celebrating 50 years of Gardeners’ World.

gardeners world live
This border inspired by Monty Don’s dog Nigel is bone-shaped
gardeners world live
and has a well-used tennis ball on it

They’ve nearly all been built by newcomers to the show circuit – another thing Gardeners’ World Live prides itself on with the floral marquee often a starting point for nurseries new to exhibiting.

I didn’t get a good look at the massive marquee – not this time due to the weather unlike Chatsworth – but because the more than 90 exhibitors were still putting the finishing touches to their stands ready for the first day of the show.

It was the first time I had been to Gardeners’ World Live for more than 20 years and I was struck by how relaxed it is compared to many other big gardening events.

gardeners world live
The programme’s presenters were in a relaxed mood

The judges or assessors weren’t cordoned off as they deliberated, with warnings from officials not to get too close or photograph them. The current presenters of Gardeners’ World wandered from garden to garden, filming clips for Friday’s programme or just chatting with the designers and contractors, and the awards were simply announced to a gathering of the garden teams, press and anyone else interested – no dawn run with certificates here.

I’m already planning a weekend trip to fully investigate the floral marquee and, somehow, I don’t think it will be 20 years before I return again.

Gardeners’ World Live is at the NEC Birmingham from June 15-18, 2017. For more details visit the website

RHS Chatsworth 2017: a soggy start

There’s no way of softening the conclusion that yesterday’s press day at RHS Chatsworth was quite simply a washout. Torrential rain was bad enough, turning parts of the ground into a swamp but high winds forced organisers to close the show early.

Was it the right decision? Yes, definitely. The Floral Marquees – split into two either side of an inflatable replica of Paxton’s Great Conservatory – closed just hours after the event began, such were safety concerns. Big wooden signs were laid on the grass as a precaution, the press tent was shaking ominously in the wind and I saw a large metal barrier blown over.

chatsworth
Dressed for the weather – the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire talking to designer Paul Hervey-Brookes

Still, on the first day of this new RHS show it was hugely disappointing for everyone involved and meant I saw but a small part of what is on offer. Like many others, I had opted to walk around the show gardens first, as the forecast for later in the day was worse. I did get to all of them but it meant that with only three hours at the show I saw little of the experimental Free Form installations and nothing of the nursery stands, well dressing or RHS exhibition on gardening in a changing climate – ironically named in the circumstances. It was also difficult to fully appreciate or photograph the gardens when they were being battered by the wind and rain.

chatsworth
The IQ Quarry garden has stark lines . . .
chatsworth
. . . set against soft planting

Obviously, in such circumstances it’s difficult to fully assess this latest addition to the RHS line-up. However, there seems little doubt that it has potential.

The setting with the backdrop of Chatsworth House and its parkland is beautiful, although there was a feeling it hadn’t been exploited to the full, possibly due to restrictions on what could be dug up.

Many of the show gardens are difficult to photograph as any shot seems to include the bright white marquees, trade stands or food outlets; this is something that RHS Malvern has finally got right in recent years with the gardens sited on the showground so that the hills form a natural backing.

chatsworth
The hot end of the Palladian Bridge

The Palladian Bridge, stunningly dressed by celebrity florist Jonathan Moseley and his team, frames not the house, but looks towards what seems to be a rear entrance at one end and the ‘Great Conservatory’ at the other; the latter divided opinion on press day with one person describing it to me looking like an overgrown bouncy castle. Having not managed to get inside, I couldn’t really decide its worth but pictures I’ve seen suggest it is striking.

So, what of the things I did see? Naturally, I headed first for the garden of Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes who heard this morning that he had won gold, Best in Show and Best Construction.

Designed for the Institute of Quarrying, it was envisaged as a garden for a professional couple and inspired by the life of a quarry.

chatsworth
The IQ Quarry garden is one of many with a water feature

As such, it is a garden of contrasts: soft planting, so typical of Paul’s style, set against angular rock and concrete.

chatsworth
Cool grey set off many plants on the garden . . .
chatsworth
. . . including foxgloves

Foxgloves and elder, are framed against grey, rocks are set into planting and a striking sculpture by Stroud artist Ann-Margreth Bohl, makes a dramatic end piece.

chatsworth
A dramatic end to the IQ Quarry garden

Indeed, plants silhouetted against hard landscaping seemed to be a theme of the show as did water – and not just from the sky.

chatsworth
Stone sets off aeonium in the Wedgwood garden
chatsworth
More water this time on the Cruse Bereavement Care garden

The Cruse Bereavement Care garden is set around a central wall-enclosed seat area, with a long rill running through the garden.

chatsworth
The sheltered seat was welcoming

On a grey day, the yellow lupins stood out and the curved seating area offered a welcome retreat.

chatsworth

For me, the highlight of the Wedgwood Garden was the ‘windows’ that gives glimpses of the garden. There’s loose planting in shades of blue and yellow with splashes of red, and a long canal of water. It is just a shame that the main window also ‘looks out’ onto a restaurant.

chatsworth
One of the ‘windows’ on the garden

There are good ‘take home ideas’. Tanya Batkin’s Moveable Feast garden cleverly showcases how mobile planters can be used to create a garden anywhere.

chatsworth
Moveable containers and a great green roof on a store cupboard

Aimed at ‘Generation Rent’, it demonstrates how fruit, veg and flowers could transform an area of paving, while the large containers are on wheels to make them easy to move around.

chatsworth

Meanwhile, Butter Wakefield has produced a dreamy idyll with the Belmont Enchanted Gardens with wild flowers and vegetables, grown at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

chatsworth
Butter Wakefield’s idyllic retreat

Jackie Knight has created an informal water and rock garden to celebrate her silver wedding and the 25th anniversary of her first show garden. Aptly, given the conditions at Chatsworth, it was called ‘Just Add Water’.

chatsworth
Jackie Knight’s garden
chatsworth
I liked the way Jackie picked out the colour of the hammock in the planting

And Jonathan Moseley follows his success at RHS Malvern with another stunning display of how fresh flowers can transform a space. The Palladian Bridge takes visitors from cool greens and whites through a rainbow of colour to fiery shades of red and orange, while a willow snake – based on the Cavendish coat of arms – slithers through the display.

chatsworth

RHS Chatsworth 2017 runs until Sunday June 11. For more details, visit the RHS

Gardeners’ World Live goes back in time

There’s more than a whiff of nostalgia about this year’s Gardeners’ World Live. With the BBC programme celebrating its 50th anniversary, the show is looking back at gardening over the decades.

One of the displays I’m most looking forward to is the Anniversary Garden, which will show just how much gardening has changed over the 50 years.

gardeners world

Designed by Professor David Stevens and built by Peter Dowle, who last week won gold and Best in Show for his meditation garden at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival a few weeks ago, it’s being billed as “a brief history of modern gardens” and will have five ‘vignettes’ from the different decades.

gardeners world

Starting with the 1960s – who remembers colourful bedding and crazy paving? – it will move on to the 1970s and heather collections, outdoor rooms from the 1980s, growing environmental awareness and the garden ‘make-over’ of the 1990s, while the 2000s has a renewed interest in growing vegetables and herbs.

gardeners world

It’s not just gardening trends that are being remembered, the changing Gardeners’ World line-up is also being commemorated. Plants named after presenters, including ‘Geoff Hamilton’, ‘Alan Titchmarsh’ and  ‘Percy Thrower’ roses, and ‘Monty Don’ sweet pea, have been woven into the planting in ‘The Nostalgia Garden’.

gardeners world
Rosa ‘Geoff Hamilton’.

Designer Paul Stone has set it firmly in the 1960s with a village scene that has a classic Mini Cooper, period garage and even a Flymo – the first was sold 50 years ago.

gardeners world
The Nostalgia Garden

And the party theme continues into the Floral Marquee with a three-tier birthday cake made of peonies and a garden party with British cut flowers. There will also be the chance to buy a piece of ‘Spiced Beetroot’ birthday cake made by Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain for the GWL show.

gardeners world
There’ll be plenty of inspiration for grow your own

Meanwhile, ‘Gardeners’ Gold’ will be launched by Harkness Roses and Roses UK as part of the Rose Festival.

The Gardeners’ World anniversary is also the starting point for the popular Beautiful Borders feature. These small space designs show what you can achieve in the tiniest of plots.

gardeners' world
The Magnolias is a tribute to Percy Thrower

Among this year’s entries is ‘The Magnolias’, a homage to Percy Thrower by three Pershore College students, a modern-style rock garden for an urban site, and a garden that celebrates Monty’s dog Nigel that includes a raised border shaped like a bone.

gardeners' world
This border is inspired by Monty Don’s dog Nigel

More inspiration for those with limited space will come from the five designs on ’APL Avenue’ where landscapers and designers put forward ideas for either a small front or back garden – all built with a limited budget.

Jamie Langlands’ design has a magical folly

Among the entries is one by Jamie Langlands of Cotswold firm Pro Gardens. The ‘CLIC Sargent’ Garden has a magical folly at its heart and aims to inspire imagination and adventure for a young family.

The other designs range from a wildlife friendly urban plot and a “hipster back garden” with a floating lounging platform, to a modern back garden with an outdoor kitchen and a garden for art lovers with decking that converts to lounge chairs.

• Gardeners’ World Live 2017 is at the NEC Birmingham from June 15-18. There will be talks, growing advice, including how to grow veg in containers with Matt Biggs, nursery exhibits and free entry to the neighbouring BBC Good Food Show. For more details, see the website.

Ticket giveaway

I have six pairs of tickets to give away, valid for any day except Saturday June 17. See my Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram feeds for more details. (Click on the links at the top of the site.)

RHS Chelsea 2017 – in among the flowers

Cotswold gardens are generally big on herbaceous perennials so I love the chance to see something a bit different. The Great Pavilion at RHS Chelsea 2017 didn’t disappoint.

From specialist collections by expert growers to striking floristry and innovative ways to display plants, there was plenty to see this year.

Here are just some of the things that caught my eye.

chelsea

The waterlilies on Waterside Nursery’s stand were serenely floating amidst all the bustle of the show.

chelsea

And I loved the shaggy heads of this Eriophorum angustifolium, a British native.

The orchid display by the Eric Young Orchid Foundation was attracting a lot of attention. This is Paphiopedilum ‘Saint Saviour’.

chelsea

There were some interesting ideas for plant displays. This is a ‘living wall’ of thyme created by using Wonderwall planters.

chelsea

Or how about these ideas for house plants?

chelsea

chelsea

It was put together by Indoor Garden Design and Ikea.

chelsea

I loved the idea of hanging plants. This was above a bed.

chelsea

And this makes a change from a budgie.

chelsea

The British Florist Association is celebrating a century of flowers and this display was put together by floristry tutors and students at Moreton Morrell in Warwickshire.

chelsea

As usual, the Birmingham City Council stand was eye-catching.

chelsea

The Interflora exhibit had a lot of cameras out.

chelsea

chelsea

Of course, if it’s Chelsea there have to be roses. This is Peter Beales’ display.

chelsea

The delicacy of ‘The Fairy’ is a change from the larger blooms I generally see.

chelsea

This is also a beauty – ‘Rose Ball’.

chelsea

I’m planting lots more dahlias this year and, looking at the National Chrysanthemum Society’s stand, I may be branching out into those as well. This is ‘Vanilla Sorbet’.

chelsea

I also fell in love with Fibrex Nurseries’ new yellow pelargonium ‘Rushmoor Amazon’.

chelsea

Gardens may have moved on from tulips but I couldn’t resist photographing this on Avon Bulbs’ exhibit. It’s ‘Hemisphere’.

chelsea

And I love iris but seem to have mainly purple. These from Cayeux are definitely on my shopping list!

chelsea

RHS Chelsea 2017 the show gardens in pictures

RHS Chelsea 2017: the gardens in pictures

How to grow vegetables in containers

Grow your own is a big theme of BBC Gardeners’ World Live and ahead of the show I talked to Matt Biggs about how lack of space needn’t be problem.

It’s easy to assume that to grow vegetables you need space – an allotment or a back garden turned over to spuds and carrots. That’s difficult with gardens getting ever smaller and waiting lists for allotments while those living in flats may have only a balcony. The answer, believes Matt Biggs, is growing vegetables in containers.

“We’re trying to encourage everyone to grow vegetables and this can be done irrespective of the amount of space you’ve got,” he says.

“Just because you have a small back garden you’re not excluded. Come on in and join the fun.”

vegetables in containers
Matt will be demonstrating how to plant up herbs and vegetables in containers

Matt, one of the regulars on Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time, will be exploring how to do it and what to grow in daily talks on the VegTrug Grow Your Own Stage at BBC Gardeners’ World Live.

It’s important not to think you can become self-sufficient in veg, he tells me, but to choose things that are family favourites, are difficult to find in the shops, or that simply taste better when they are freshly picked.

“Grow your favourite vegetables rather than the things you think you ought to grow,” he advises.

Fast maturing or what he calls “high value” crops are better than things that are cheap to buy or that will occupy the container for months – main crop potatoes and parsnips are just two examples of crops to avoid.

Keeping a note of what you’ve grown and what worked will enable you to build up your own list of what works well in your garden.

Among his top tips are carrots, beetroot – “pick them when they are the size of golf balls” – and lettuce, particularly ‘cut-and-come-again’. Sweetcorn would be another ideal crop as it begins to lose sweetness as soon as it’s picked.

vegetables in containers
Peas and mangetout are ideal for growing in containers

Other suggestions for vegetables in containers include mangetout, peas, runner beans, endive and chard, while Matt says strawberries are ideal for hanging baskets where they are out of reach of slugs.

It also makes sense to choose mini veg varieties or those that have been bred for small spaces, such as broad bean ‘The Sutton’. Look out also for those with disease resistance.

If you can’t get mini veg seed, just pick before the crops reach full maturity and sow again.

“If you harvest when they’re small, you get better quality, they’re more tender and tasty.”

The key to success when it comes to vegetables in containers is not to sow the whole packet at once but to keep repeating every few weeks.

vegetables in containers
Chard is a colourful crop for a container

“People do forget to succession sow and to sow a little and often,” says Matt.

When it comes to containers, anything goes as long as it has good drainage and is as big as space will allow. Try recycling old wooden boxes – line them first with polythene to prevent water loss – or hunt out some of the many colourful plastic containers on sale.

“I would avoid metal because it will heat up in the sunshine and will scorch fibrous roots and dry out the compost but apart from that you can just use your imagination and make it fun.”

vegetables in containers
Try putting strawberries in a hanging basket

Matt advised filling your containers with compost designed for vegetables, or making your own by mixing organic matter, such as homemade compost, with a John Innes soil-based compost to give it more substance.

Once planted, choose a sunny spot and check plants daily for pests, diseases and water – an irrigation system saves time and water. Then, just keep harvesting and sowing.

“Don’t be frightened to do it,” he says. “The lovely thing about gardening is it’s not failure it’s gaining experience. Always be prepared to have a go, learn from what happens and enjoy it.”

BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2017 is at the NEC Birmingham from June 15-18. There will be talks, growing advice, nursery exhibits and free entry to the neighbouring BBC Good Food Show. For more details, see the website.

Ticket giveaway

I have six pairs of tickets to BBC Gardeners’ World Live to give away, valid for any day except Saturday June 17. See my Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram feeds for more details and to enter. (Click on the links at the top of the site.)

In the frame – RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2017

RHS Malvern Spring Festival – a sneak preview

I admit to being a little unsure about this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival. It was so good last year: stand-out gardens; a marquee full of tempting flowers; perfect weather. Would Jane Furze manage to meet let alone exceed that in her first year running the festival?

rhs malvern
Peter Dowle’s best in show garden

I was lucky enough to be allowed a sneak preview before it opens and first impressions are good, very good.

For the first time in the nearly 30 years that I’ve been visiting, Malvern seems to be looking outwards and finally making the most of its enviable setting. From nearly every point on the Three Counties Showground you are aware of the Malvern Hills in the background.

rhs malvern
The hills are a backdrop to the gardens

Continuing a move started a couple of years ago, the show gardens are positioned to be against the hills and elsewhere views have been kept clear of tents, stands and trailers, the necessary but ugly mechanics of a garden show.

Then there’s the feeling of space. Obviously, this was helped today by the fact that visitors were not on site but there’s the sense that even when the crowds arrive – advance ticket sales are already up on last year – there will be none of the past cramped atmosphere.

It is, says Jane with a smile, exactly what she had hoped for.

“We’ve opened the site up and created much more open space.”

rhs malvern
The festival seems to blend in with the hills

Permanent showground trees have been incorporated into the vista, filling the middle ground and linking the site to the hills.

“We’re in a really beautiful site and I wanted to make sure that location stood out. Everything is placed in the frame of the hills.”

Exhibitors’ vehicles, which used to occupy a fairly central area, have been banished out of sight and a vast swathe of grass has been left in front of the Floral Marquee.

rhs malvern
I love the detail on the gardens – this is from Sue Jollans

And what of that marquee? When I spoke to Jane a few months ago, she was excited about one of her major rejigs, namely the design of Malvern’s equivalent to Chelsea’s Great Pavilion.

It has changed shape and site on the ground several times over Malvern’s 32-year history. I think it’s finally right. The long 190m vista from one end to the other is knockout – even when the exhibits were still being put together – and the shape means nurseries are no longer in danger of being tucked away in a corner and easily missed. And as for the space outside, the marquee now has room to breathe, while keeping trade stands to a minimum means the hills are beautifully on show.

rhs malvern
The flowers are always a favourite with me

Jane confessed that her main worry before the festival had been the weather. Even that has worked in her favour. Today was a perfect sunny day with the forecast looking good. The forecast for the festival also seems to be set fair.

So, what are the ‘not-to-be-missed’ features? Here are just some of the things that caught my eye.

The gardens

The best thing about RHS Malvern gardens is the chance to get up really close – and usually from more than one side.

rhs malvern
Part of Villaggio Verde’s garden

Small enough to be relevant to the average gardener, they are nonetheless packed full of ideas.

And don’t miss Jekka McVicar’s Health and Wellbeing garden. She’s completely revamped what had been a rather neglected permanent feature. Now it’s full of edible and medicinal herbs with plenty of places to sit.

rhs malvern
Jane Furze (right) chats with Jekka on her garden

The garden, with a greenhouse donated by Hartley Botanic, will be cared for in the future by Pathways, a day service for adults with learning difficulties,

“I’m very pleased with it,” says Jekka. “It’s come up really well.”

Edible borders

rhs malvern
The Incredible Edible Bristol border

In the same vein, there are edible borders at this year’s festival. Created by community groups, including Incredible Edible Bristol and Garden Organic, they are putting the spotlight on community projects that promote food-growing.

The flowers

rhs malvern
The lupins are beautiful

For me, the Floral Marquee is the highlight of RHS Malvern. There’s plenty to see with exhibits of everything from cacti to clematis. At its heart is the Plant Finders Parlour, designed by Joe Swift, and set to be the stage for talks.

rhs malvern
Fibrex Nurseries is the featured Master Grower

Don’t miss the special Master Grower exhibit by Fibrex Nurseries. Part of a rolling programme across RHS shows, it explains a bit about the history of the family nursery and the behind-the-scenes work.

I also spotted stand-out lupins on W&S Lockyer’s stand and some irresistible peonies.

rhs malvern
I loved the peonies

British Flowers

rhs malvern
Jonathan Moseley is celebrating British-grown flowers

British flower growers are back at RHS Malvern in force. The austere surroundings of the Wye Hall have been cleverly disguised by Peter Dowle, giving the hall a Victorian street market feel.

rhs malvern
The floral fountain is spectacular

Don’t miss the spectacular floral fountain, designed by leading florist Jonathan Moseley. Hundreds of blooms in glass holders hang from the ceiling, slowly rotating as they catch a breeze. Simply mesmerising.

rhs malvern
Some of the glass holders

RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 11-14. For details, see the website

For show garden results see here