IQ Quarry Garden lives on after RHS Chatsworth

Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brooke’s award-winning IQ Quarry Garden has found a new home at the National Memorial Arboretum. He talks about the challenge of moving a garden and the responsibility of designing for the future.

Paul Hervey-Brookes’ re-imagined IQ Quarry Garden may not be facing the scrutiny of RHS judges but he is just as nervous about how it’s received.

IQ Quarry garden
The IQ Quarry Garden won top honours at RHS Chatsworth

The garden, which won gold, Best in Show and Best Construction at RHS Chatsworth, has been re-designed for a site at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, giving it a life span far beyond the norm for a show garden.

“It’s one thing to win the medals we did at Chatsworth but it’s another thing to have a garden that you know has the potential to be there for two or three generations,” he says. “There’s a weight of responsibility knowing generations of designers will be judging my work.”

IQ Quarry Garden
Paul Hervey-Brookes

The move to the NMA is fitting as the garden was commissioned to celebrate the centenary of the Institute of Quarrying and the arboretum is on the site of a former sand and gravel quarry. Yet, despite the move being planned from the outset, the garden’s future use did not influence Paul’s design for the inaugural Chatsworth show.

“What I wanted from the start was that we would re-purpose it rather than just plonk it down brick by brick.

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The new garden occupies a long, narrow site.

Indeed, the two sites could not be more different. The Chatsworth garden was a large rectangle – one of the biggest RHS show gardens ever built – whereas the new space is a long, narrow and sloping piece of land.

“I was really keen to use a site that nobody else wanted,” explains Paul, who was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the IQ for his work, the first person not involved in the industry to be given the Institute’s top honour.

Taking key elements of the original garden, including paving, seats and the striking rusted wall by Stroud sculptor Ann-Margreth Bohl, his aim was to create something that gives an emotional break between memorial gardens.

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The striking sculpted wall is one of the elements that has been reused.

“It’s so that it’s not one very emotionally consuming garden space after another. It is much more an area to sit, think and rest or just walk through.”

While the planting follows the same semi-naturalistic style of the Chatsworth project, there is far more of it, and wide grass paths and level hard landscaping mean it is accessible for those with reduced mobility.

Reusing show gardens is preferable to their otherwise rather brutal demise in skips but it does come at a cost.

“It makes it really expensive,” says Paul. “Once you know things are going to be re-purposed you’ve got to be as careful taking them out as you were putting them in, which is time-consuming and costs a great deal more.”

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The IQ’s motto: ‘the fruits of the earth for the children of men’.

Much of that cost has been looking after the plants since the Chatsworth show in June. The hard landscaping was stored near the NMA but the trees and plants went back to their original nurseries to be repotted and grown on.

“The nurseries don’t really like doing it simply because they know the stress the plants go through. They really need to go in the ground after the show and be allowed 18 months to recover. Trying to nurture them back into looking good at the end of the year is quite a challenge but it was all part of the deal.”

Meanwhile, Paul called in the same construction team, headed by Gareth Wilson, to rebuild the garden: “I thought it was important to have the same contractor who understood the lifting and shifting the first time around to see the project through to the end.”

IQ Quarry Garden

It’s not the first time the Stroud designer’s work has found a new home. His first Chelsea garden was won in a competition and is now installed at a house in Hemel Hempstead while plants from his two Chelsea gardens for online fashion retailer BrandAlley were sold for charity and the hard landscaping given to community projects.

“I don’t think the physicality of a show garden is important at all but it’s really important that stuff is reused because otherwise it’s an incredibly wasteful kind of journey.”

Malvern Autumn Show: news, inspiration and plants

Garden shows always take me a long time to explore and the Malvern Autumn Show is one of the slowest. Not only are there interesting plants to hunt out, being my ‘local’ event, there are growers and designers to chat to about the past season and their future plans.

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The giant veg were incredible

Aside from admiring the giant veg and apple displays at this year’s show, I discovered several plants for my growing plant wish list, heard about exciting developments at one of my favourite nurseries and picked up ideas for displaying flowers from my new cutting bed.

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There were lots of apples on display

The show

But one of the most interesting conversations concerned the show itself. I’ve long been critical of the way the Malvern Autumn Show is laid out and felt that the gardening was being sidelined, opinions I put to Head of Shows Diana Walton in a recent interview. She told me then that moving the RHS Flower Show out of the halls – commonly referred to as the cow sheds – was one of the changes being considered in a revamp of the event.

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Displays like this from Old Court Nurseries should be in a marquee next year

That move has now been confirmed by Nina Acton, Shows Development Executive, who told me: “There will be a floral marquee for next year.”

Shifting the plant displays into marquee with more natural light and a less claustrophobic feel is something that will be welcomed by exhibitors and visitors alike. It will be interesting to see what other changes are made.

The Growers

One of the first growers I bumped into was Malvern stalwart Medwyn Williams whose display of perfectly grown and presented veg is always a show highlight.

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These perfect vegetables got the top award

This year, it won the coveted Best Exhibit in the RHS Flower Show award – something he’s achieved countless times before.

“I never get fed up with it though,” he assured me. “I’m pleased for the team.”

It had, he said, been a “funny season” with high temperatures in May and June that had affected plants later on.

“But we are very solid people who can take on all challenges and veg have an uncanny way of getting over things.”

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There were also some great veg displays in the amateur contests

It takes a team of six three days to assemble the intricate display as none of it is done before arriving at the showground.

“It’s the best bit for me,” said Medwyn. “Creating something from good quality veg is a joy.”

In comparison to Medwyn’s decades in the business, Julia Mitchell of Greenjjam is the new kid on the block, although her penstemon displays are fast becoming a regular at shows across the country.

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A white flower nursery will be launched at the spring festival

Greenjjam is currently based in Evesham but there are plans to move to a bigger site over winter. More exciting, she told me about plans to launch ‘The White Nursery’ at next year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival.

It will run alongside the existing business and will stock white or predominately white-flowered trees, shrubs, climbers and perennials.

“I just think white is beautiful,” she explained.

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A novel way of displaying roses

The award for most innovative exhibit was given to C&K Jones for their striking display of roses.

The Malvern Autumn Show is late in the season for roses and makes putting on a display challenging. This design by Rachel Jones, who runs the nursery with her husband, Keith, used individual blooms rather than whole bushes and highlighted the different uses of roses, including as edible petals on a ‘petal pizza’.

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Rose petals displayed as a ‘pizza’

It was only the second outing for the idea, as the design was first tried out at the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show.

“I didn’t know whether the judges and the public would like it but we’ve had a very good response from them both,” said Rachel.

The Florists

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There were some beautiful cut flowers in the British flowers area

With talks from top florists, including Jonathan Moseley, the area devoted to British flower growers and florists is one of my favourite parts of the Malvern Autumn Show.

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A simple table decoration by Vale Garden Flowers

One of the driving forces is putting flowers together in a more natural way and the display by Freddie’s Flowers with a bloom-filled wheelbarrow was just one example this year.

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Freddie’s wheelbarrow stuffed with flowers

Freddie’s Flowers offers a slightly different take on the usual floristry service with customers receiving a weekly box of mainly British-grown blooms and instructions on how to arrange them, either in a leaflet or via a how-to-do-online video.

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Small milk bottle vases make a great hanging display

The other display idea that I spotted was Vale Garden Flowers’ interpretation of glass jars for showing off simple flowers. Hydrangea heads, Daucus carota and feverfew looked stunning in milk bottle-style jars hung from a rustic wooden frame. Simple and effective.

The Plants

I’m a sucker for a heuchera and there were lots at Malvern with spectacular displays by specialist nurseries Heucheraholics and Plantagogo.

Although it had finished flowering, H. “Megan’ caught my eye on the Heucheraholics stand thanks to its beautiful marbled green and silver foliage.

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The pretty foliage of Heuchera ‘Megan’

Bred by the nursery and named for owner Sean Atkinson’s mother, it has unusually large flowers for a heuchera, which often have rather dainty flower spikes. Light pink in colour, they have a yellow centre with white inside the throat and appear from April onwards; the plant on the stand had only just finished blooming.

Another pink-flowered heuchera that’s on my wish list is H. ‘Paris’, which I saw on the Plantagogo stand.

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Heuchera ‘Paris’

Again, it blooms for months, starting in spring and often lasting until November and has beautifully marked foliage, while the flowers have an almost two-tone quality.

I must have been in a pink mood because it was another pink flower that drew me towards Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants’ stand.

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Antirrhinum ‘Pretty in Pink’

Antirrhinum ‘Pretty in Pink’ is a hardy cousin of the more familiar annual snapdragon. With flowers not unlike those of a penstemon, this antirrhinum should be treated in the same way and cut back in spring after the last frosts.

It likes any reasonable soil in sun or part-shade and will flower from early June through to the autumn.

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I loved the colour of this kniphofia

In sharp contrast to all that pink was Kniphofia ‘Mango Popsicle’ on Hayloft Plants’ stand. Teamed with bronze carex and Salvia ‘Burning Embers’, the dainty orange ‘poker’ almost glowed.

The beauty of the ‘popsicle’ range of dwarf kniphofias, explained James Edmonds from Hayloft, is that not only are the flowers smaller and the plants shorter, they have fine leaves rather than the more usual strappy foliage, which can make an ugly clump for long stretches of the year. This makes them easier to bring further forward in planting schemes.

Plants will reach around 2ft-high and flower from late July through to October.

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Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’

My final plant spot was a delicate pennisetum on Newent Plant Centre’s display. ‘Karley Rose’ has the typical fluffy pennisetum flowers but with a delicate rose blush and forms a neat clump of around 3ft tall.

Setting it off on the stand was a wooden fence, made at a Herefordshire centre that helps ex-service personnel suffering from PTSD.

Looking ahead to the Malvern Autumn Show 2017

The Malvern Autumn Show has a new boss who tells me about this year’s event and why she’s excited about the future.

For many years, my gardening life has been bookended by the Malvern shows. No matter how many seeds I have already sown, the Malvern Spring Festival marks the beginning of the growing season for me while the Malvern Autumn Show is the tipping point, a time to take stock and plan for the year ahead.

The two-day autumn show is very different to the spring festival with an eclectic mix of food, flowers and family entertainment. Harvest is always a major theme and there are displays of giant veg, orchard fruit and contests for the longest runner bean or largest pumpkin.

Malvern Autumn Show

In the past, there have been show gardens and the perception that the horticultural side had a stronger presence. Talking to other regular visitors and exhibitors, I know I’m not the only one wondering if the gardening is being sidelined in favour of cookery, animals and shopping.

Diana Walton, who took over as Head of Shows in January, is well aware of the concerns and is keen to stress that the fears are unfounded. Horticulture, she says, is “immensely important”.

“We know we have a section of the visitors who are coming purely for the horticulture and we must keep the strength and the quality in that area.”

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The nursery exhibits are a highlight

However, the other features are valuable: “We are offering an event that we constantly hear people tell us is their favourite of the year because they come and they can see a bit of everything.”

This year, she has ‘tweaked’ some aspects, mainly the layout to make movement around the show easier, and it will be next year that more obvious changes are implemented.

“There are certainly plans afoot to freshen the show up next year. This year’s project was spring and next year’s project is autumn.”

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Cut flowers are one of the popular contests

Drawing the various gardening elements together into one area of the showground is one possibility while the RHS Flower Show, currently in the ‘tin sheds’, or permanent halls, may also move, with a marquee not ruled out.

“The position of the RHS Flower Show is under consideration,” says Diana. “I think perhaps it’s time for a little bit of a change all around the show.

In the meantime, there are several new features at this year’s event: garden writer Alys Fowler and Jamie Butterworth, from wholesale nursery Hortus Loci, make their Malvern debuts and there will be a ‘Power of Pollinators’ display with nurseries offering pollen-rich plants, exhibits from bee-keepers and the chance to find out more about pollen with the help of scientists from the University of Worcester.

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Alys Fowler will be speaking at the show. © Ming de Nasty

Designer Mark Eveleigh’s permanent Tree House Garden, which won RHS silver at the Malvern Spring Festival, will be used for interactive talks for children and the National Vegetable Society returns with its national championship, held at Malvern every five years. Meanwhile, the Autumn Theatre will have masses of dahlias in a display by Jon Wheatley.

Despite being a newcomer to the Head of Shows role, Diana feels at home on the Three Counties showground as her uncle was chief executive for many years and she spent a lot of her childhood there.

“I was literally brought up on the showground, it was my playground,” she says with a smile.

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Dahlias will decorate the Autumn Theatre

While she heads up six of the Three Counties’ eight annual shows, the Malvern Autumn Show is one of the biggest, alongside the Royal Three Counties Show.

“I’m really excited about it because there’s such passion and enjoyment behind this show. Everybody I speak to just loves it and looks forward to it.”

So, what should you look out for at this year’s event. Here’s my pick of what’s on offer.

RHS Flower Show

Malvern Autumn Show

This is always top of my must-see list. There will be 35 nurseries this year including Fibrex Nurseries with ferns and ivy, Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, Derbyshire Bonsai and Plantagogo with heucheras.

Expert advice

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Carol Klein is one of the experts at the show

There’s a host of gardening experts offering the benefit of their years of experience. There will be question and answer sessions and talks on specific subjects, including growing dahlias, vegetables and what to plant for pollinators.

Carol Klein will be discussing autumn colour and propagation. Tim Miles, head gardener at Cotswold Wildlife Park, which is well known for its tropical style planting, will give ideas for eye-catching autumn plants, and the current popularity of houseplants is catered for with talks on cacti and terrariums.

Celebrating British Flowers

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Jonathan Moseley

Florist Jonathan Moseley returns to the Malvern Autumn Show with demonstrations of how to get the best out of seasonal flowers.

The Floral Fiesta will also have displays by British cut flower growers and florists.

Giant Veg

Malvern Autumn Show

You either love or hate these outsized monsters but either way they are worth going to see, if only to admire the skill and dedication needed to get parsnips, cabbage and carrots to grow so big.

Harvest Pavilion

Malvern Autumn Show

I love traditional horticultural shows and the Malvern Autumn Show’s Harvest Pavilion is just a bigger version. From beautiful cut flowers to perfectly matched fruit and veg, it showcases the best in amateur growing.

This year, there will be even more on display as the show hosts the National Championships of the National Vegetable Society and there will also be the popular contest for a trug filled with autumn produce.

Food and drink

Malvern Autumn Show
Selasi Gbormittah

And if you want to know what to do with all that produce, head for the Food and Drink Pavilion and the Cookery Theatre.

Andi Oliver, from the Great British Menu, Great British Baker Selasi Gbormittah and author and grower Mark Diancono are among those giving advice.

Herb Society president Judith Hann will be discussing cooking with herbs and there’s information on using edible flowers.

The Malvern Autumn Show runs from September 23-24. For ticket details, see the website.

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.

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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?

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

Or pink – the bees were loving it.

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Oregano and perilla

Who says green is dull?

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

Simple but really effective.

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Nicotiana sylvestris adding height to the planters

I really loved these Achillea ‘Summer Berries’.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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The attention to detail was superb.

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

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

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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.

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“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.

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

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And the way the plants were set off against it.

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

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Beach huts on the ‘Fun on Sea’ garden

There was more than a touch of the seaside.

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Southend Council’s ‘By the Sea’ garden

And some boats.

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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.

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

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And an edible green wall.

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

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Plants, Shoots and Leaves’ stand

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

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Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants’ annuals display

or even lie down.

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‘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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Who else remembers breeze block walls?
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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.

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Decking was a 90s’ trend

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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There are ideas for soft planting schemes
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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.

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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.

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I liked the mix of seating and water
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Moss used as wall art
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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.

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This border inspired by Monty Don’s dog Nigel is bone-shaped
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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.

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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.

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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.

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The IQ Quarry garden has stark lines . . .
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. . . 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.

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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.

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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.

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Cool grey set off many plants on the garden . . .
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. . . 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.

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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.

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Stone sets off aeonium in the Wedgwood garden
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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.

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The sheltered seat was welcoming

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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Jackie Knight’s garden
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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’.

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

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Or how about these ideas for house plants?

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It was put together by Indoor Garden Design and Ikea.

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

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And this makes a change from a budgie.

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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.

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

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The Interflora exhibit had a lot of cameras out.

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

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

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This is also a beauty – ‘Rose Ball’.

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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’.

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

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

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

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RHS Chelsea 2017 the show gardens in pictures

RHS Chelsea 2017: the gardens in pictures