RHS names designers

The RHS is to work with two of the country’s top designers on plans for its new flagship garden and a revamp of Wisley.

Tom Stuart-Smith will create the overall design for the new RHS Garden Bridgewater, while Christopher Bradley-Hole is to further develop plans for Wisley, including a new visitor hub and welcome area.

The Society’s fifth garden is being made in the lost historic grounds of Worsley New Hall, Salford. The 156-acre garden will include restoring the 10-acre walled kitchen garden and is due to open in 2019.

“There is amazing potential here to make something innovative, relevant and distinctly different,” said Tom Stuart-Smith, who has won eight golds at Chelsea.

Plans for Wisley include a new horticultural science and educational centre, while the improved entrance will encompass exhibition space, a bigger plant centre and shop and an area for specialist nurseries.

Award-winning Christopher Bradley-Hole specialises in contemporary landscapes with a focus on how buildings relate to their surroundings.

Both projects are part of the RHS’ 10-year £160m investment programme to achieve its vision of enriching life through plants and making the UK a greener and more beautiful place.

Westonbirt lights up

Walking around a wood on a cold winter’s night isn’t the most obvious way to launch the festive season, yet for thousands that’s exactly what Westonbirt’s Enchanted Christmas does.

Indeed, the spectacular light show, which opens on Friday, has become so popular – last year saw more than 33,000 visitors over the 12 nights – the arboretum has been forced to limit some evenings to pre-booked tickets only.

“It’s because of the sheer number of people who want to come,” explains Recreation Manager Simon Hough. “We were getting to the point we could not get any more in.”

Limiting the numbers on Saturdays to 3,500 pre-booked visitors will, he says, help to preserve the atmosphere.

“The great thing about this landscape is it soaks people up and even when it’s very busy you still feel you’re having a unique experience out there.”

westonbirt arboretum
The lighting creates a magical atmosphere © Forestry Commission

Now in its 19th season, Enchanted Christmas turns the world famous National Arboretum into a magical world of colour not due to the usual autumn foliage or spring blossom but with thousands of lights that pick out groups of trees or individual specimens.

Sometimes it’s the twisted shape of the leafless branches that are highlighted against the night sky, on others it’s the weeping form or intricate pattern of bark, while colours range from white, green and blue through to red, orange and yellow.

This year’s route is nearly a mile-and-a-half long around the Old Arboretum and highlights will include lights along Holford Ride towards Westonbirt School, some beautiful Scots pines and cedars on the downs.

“The big cedars lit up look magnificent,” says Simon.

Visitors are being encouraged to sing out in Savill Glade where sound-sensitive lights will respond to the volume and in Pool Avenue banging a base drum will bring on the illuminations.

westonbirt arboretum
The illuminated trail is through the Old Arboretum © Forestry Commission

This year, Father Christmas, dressed in a traditional green costume, will be joined by Mrs Christmas, who will be entertaining children with stories.

Other entertainment includes carol singing, stilt walkers, a children’s carousel and Christmas crafts.

“The Enchanted Christmas is our unique thing,” says Simon. “You cannot replicate a place like this. It’s magical.”

The Enchanted Christmas is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night between November 27 and December 20. Pre-booking is advised and is essential for entry on Saturdays. The trail opens at 5pm, last entry to the car park is at 7pm and to the trail at 7.30pm. Stout shoes, warm clothing and a torch are recommended. For more information and to book, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt-christmas

Get a taste for history

There’s nothing quite like the taste of a freshly picked apple, one that hasn’t been ferried miles and then sat on a supermarket shelf. Growing your own also means the chance to savour different varieties rather than just the commonplace Granny Smith or Braeburn.

In Gloucestershire alone there are 106 different apples and, thanks to work by the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust, many of these are now available to gardeners. 

One grower who has been promoting these ‘heritage’ varieties is Rob Watkins, who specialises in old varieties of apple, along with perry pears and plums. 

heritage fruit
Rob Watkins grows a range of heritage varieties

He launched Lodge Farm Trees 15 years ago when he gave up milking at his Rockhampton farm. Every year he raises around 1,000 trees with about 40 different apples and 20 perry pears at any one time. 

“At some point I’ve grown all of the apple varieties,” says Rob, who is a Trust committee member. 

Among the old apple varieties are ‘Margaret’, an early cropping, sweet, red dessert apple, ‘Severn Bank’, a dual purpose eater and cooker, and ‘Hens Turds’, a cider apple from Rodley. 

‘Rose of Ciren’ is another Gloucestershire variety and there is the delightfully named ‘Jackets and Waistcoats’, also known as ‘Jackets and Petticoats’, which comes from Ashleworth. 

“It’s a nice apple with a zingy taste,” says Rob, who also grows Christmas trees after collaborating for some years with neighbouring Mount Pleasant Trees. 

Some apples, such as the dual purpose ‘Arlingham Schoolboys’, have been saved from near extinction as the original trees have long gone and the variety lives on only through grafted trees grown from them. Some of these new generation trees have now been planted back in the village. 

Perry pears, which are found across the Three Counties, include the ‘Christmas Pear’, ‘Yellow Huffcap’ and ‘Merry Legs’, though whether the name has anything to do with the effect of the perry is unclear. 

heritage fruit
The ‘Worcester Black’ pear appears on the city’s coat of arms

The trees are grown on rootstocks that Rob buys in as two-year trees and plants out in January; these are used to determine the size and vigour of the mature tree. 

Budding starts in July using that year’s growth, some taken from his trees – he has planted an orchard of old varieties – the rest from trees across the county, including the Trust’s ‘mother orchard’. 

All the leaves are trimmed off the cutting, leaving a small ‘handle’ on the bottom one and a 45 degree cut is made behind a bud. This is then inserted into a similar slot in the rootstock behind a bud and the whole thing is bound together with special tape. Three weeks later the two should be growing as one tree. 

heritage fruit
A piece of the trimmed leaf is left

The following spring, Rob cuts the rootstock off to just above the graft, leaving the heritage variety as the leader. 

“In the first year the rootstock will shoot out of the bottom and I have to trim it off several times during the growing season.” 

Trees are sold bare-rooted from mid-November to March and a mini-digger is brought in to lift them to ensure a good root ball on each tree. They are then heeled into a bed of composted bark ready for sale. 

And Rob’s favourite? It’s the well-known ‘Ashmead’s Kernel’, which originates from Gloucester and dates back to 1700.

For more information, visit www.lodgefarmtrees.co.uk

Gloucestershire Orchard Trust: www.gloucestershireorchardtrust.org.uk

Planting tips

When it comes to planting, the process is simple. Choose a good, sunny site, that doesn’t get waterlogged and don’t replant where there’s been a fruit tree before; Christmas trees are used as a rotation crop at the farm. 

Dig a hole big enough to take the root ball. Rob doesn’t put compost or manure in as “It will act like a sump and the roots don’t like it.” Instead, he prefers to mulch well after planting. 

A stake may be necessary, depending on the size of the tree and the area around the tree should be kept weed-free. He also recommends fitting a guard if you have rabbits. 

Hans proves a winner

Gloucestershire florist Hans Haverkamp has wowed the judges at a national flower arranging show.

His entry in the ‘Indulgence – festive table’ class not only came first, he also won Best in Show and an award for his use of foliage.

Hans Haverkamp
Hans’ winning arrangement combined foliage and baubles

Hans, who is based at Twyning, said: “I was so surprised to get first I didn’t hear I had won the show prize for Best Use of Foliage.”

The contest in Blackpool was organised by the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies as part of a festive flower and food show.

Hans will be talking about Christmas flowers next month on The Chatty Gardener

Review: Paradise and Plenty by Mary Keen

So often, gardening books slot neatly into a pigeonhole. There are the coffee table tomes, low on content but packed with glossy pictures, ideal for daydreams on a wet afternoon. At the other end of the shelf are the how-to-do manuals, slightly dull but worthy, the sort you reach for when puzzled by something outside. Mary Keen’s latest book defies such easy categorising.

mary keen

‘Paradise and Plenty’, her first book for 20 years, explores the work that goes on behind the walls of Eythrope, the private garden of the Rothschild family. It’s somewhere that Keen knows well: she redesigned it 25 years ago and suggested Sue Dickinson for the position of head gardener, while Keen’s daughter, the poet Alice Oswald, worked there for a time.

Eythrope is a rare surviving example of the sort of all-encompassing, high quality gardening that was once the norm in large country houses across the country. The four acres of the Walled Garden keep the house almost self-sufficient in fruit and veg, and we are told “Cut flowers are never bought, even in winter.” despite the staggering size of some of the house’s floral arrangements.

The herbaceous borders in late summer

All this is accomplished using traditional methods that have been handed on down the generations, refined and strictly recorded; each of the six gardeners keeps detailed records of each day’s tasks, the performance of crops and the weather conditions. Some techniques, including using ‘manure water’ for potted trees or banning under-gardeners from the glass houses, have been abandoned but there’s the impression the garden would be familiar to any time-travelling Victorian.

Keen tells us that her intention is to “share the secrets and delights” of Eythrope, not least because cultivation in this style and on this scale is unlikely to continue for ever.

And this is where the book crosses boundaries. Alongside descriptive sections conjuring up images of the rose borders or the joy of an autumn walk past phlox and Michaelmas daisies are detailed explanations of the techniques used, ranging from how to double dig – a practice Keen admits is questioned by many – to the best way to grow auriculas. Some of the practices, such as pollinating cherries with a rabbit’s tail, are unlikely to be of much use to the average gardener but there are nuggets of wisdom: how to get rid of pollen beetles in cut sweet peas; the best way to protect brassicas from pigeons. At the back, are lists of varieties grown and when to sow.

Cherries are grown with a painstaking attention to detail

Surprisingly for a gardening book, it’s Tom Hatton’s black-and-white photographs rather than the colour pictures that are the most memorable, while the fold-out pages, sometimes showing the same area in different seasons, are a great addition.

In her introduction, Keen states that she believes that if readers take away only 50 per cent of the advice offered, they “will have better gardens”. What makes this book different is the way that advice is wrapped up in a celebration of what she describes as a “remarkable garden”.

Paradise and Plenty by Mary Keen, photography by Tom Hatton, is published by Pimpernel Press, priced £50 RRP. Buy now. (If you buy via the link, I receive a small payment. The price you pay is not affected.)

Review copy supplied by Pimpernell Press.

• Photographs © Tom Hatton.

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Paul invited down under

Gloucestershire designer Paul Hervey-Brookes will be taking a little bit of England down under next year.

The award-winning designer has been invited to create a large garden at the Melbourne International Flower Show in March, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.

Paul, who lives at Berkeley, was thrilled to be asked to take part in what is the largest horticultural show in the southern hemisphere.

“I was delighted to be invited and am looking forward to creating a modern classic English-styled garden.”

Paul Hervey-Brookes
Paul Hervey-Brookes on his 2013 Chelsea garden

He is planning to use a mix of cultivated plants and Australian natives in a natural-look herbaceous meadow. Alongside will run an avenue of large, containerised trees that sweep towards a modern wooden retreat.

“It’s great to be able to work with a local team in Australia who will help bring this garden to life,” he said. “It’s large and looks simple while actually being quite complicated.”

Paul, who started his design career with a garden at the Malvern Autumn Show in 2008, is no stranger to international events; previous successes include gold at the Gardening World Cup in Japan and The Philadelphia Flower Show.

This year, he took gold and Best in Show at RHS Tatton Park Flower Show and has also been awarded top medals at Chelsea and other RHS events.

The Melbourne International Flower Show runs from March 16-20.

Tortworth is treasure trove

I’ve always loved traditional nurseries, the sort where plants are arranged haphazardly, labels are handwritten and there’s not a Christmas decoration in sight. They are often the best place to discover something different and are second to none when it comes to giving out advice.

Yet, these small-scale specialist growers find life tough against the competition of big garden centres and new nurseries are rare.

One recent Gloucestershire arrival that’s bucking the trend is Tortworth Plants, which was started in 2013 by business partners Tim Hancock and Rebecca Flint.

Tortworth plants
Rebecca Flint and Tim Hancock

They have set up on land owned by Tortworth Estate, which has turned semi-derelict farm buildings, including a milking parlour, into a potting shed and office. Other work has seen drainage put in and nursery beds constructed.

“It was just a wet, muddy field,” recalls Tim.

“It was a complete mess but we could see the potential,” adds Rebecca.

The pair, who met while working at a big wholesale nursery, specialise in herbaceous perennials and alpines along with a few herbs and, while many of their plants are familiar, the varieties they offer are not.

One that was still full of flower when I visited was Salvia x jamensis ‘Nachtvlinder’, which was covered in deep purple-pink blooms. Equally striking was Crocosmia ‘Harlequin’ with vibrant, yellow flowers sporting orange and red outer petals.

Salvia 'Nachtvlinder'
Salvia ‘Nachtvlinder’

Other unusual varieties include Penstemon ‘Jeanette’, which has pure white flowers, Erysimum ‘Red Jep’ with deep purple-red blooms and E. ‘Fragrant Star, which has variegated foliage with scented, yellow flowers. There’s a red sea thrift, Armeria pseudarmeria ‘Ballerina Red’ and Sanguisorba ‘Lilac Squirrel’, whose flowers look like a squirrel’s tail.

They grow several different leucanthemum, or Shasta daisies, such as ‘Banana Cream’, a good stocky grower with similar colouring but not as tall as the more familiar ‘Broadway Lights’. Then there’s ‘Engelina’, with shaggy, double flowers, and ‘Victorian Secret’, a creamy double.

Leucanthemum 'Victorian Secret'
Leucanthemum ‘Victorian Secret’

Primulas are another staple with ‘Port and Lemon’, which has a sulphur yellow flower and Primula belarina ‘Valentine’ a deep red.

New plants are often sourced at rare plant fairs and the nursery also supplies larger retailers, who sometimes suggest different things to grow.

They produce their stock from seed and cuttings, buying in only some plug plants to grow on and produce around 1,000 different lines a year. All are raised in open beds and unheated polytunnels.

Armeria maritima 'Armada White' and Saxifraga x arendsii Touran (TM) 'White Imp'
Armeria maritima ‘Armada White’ and Saxifraga x arendsii Touran (TM) ‘White Imp’

“We like to grow everything outside really so it’s good and tough,” explains Tim.

It would be easy to believe that winter was a quiet time at the nursery but nothing is further from the truth. When we met, they were busy cleaning up pots, removing dying foliage from the herbaceous perennials and planning what they would need for next year’s round of rare plant fairs, flower shows and farmers’ markets, something that isn’t always easy to judge.

“You find you take something one week and sell out so the next time you take a few more and don’t sell one,” says Rebecca.

echinacea and chyrsanthemum
Echinacea purpurea ‘Green Jewel’ and Chrysanthemum ‘Beppie Bronze’

Winter is also a busy time for work with landscape contractors, who either buy plants from the nursery’s stock, or get Tim and Rebecca to source things for them.

With some things, such as cyclamen, taking years to reach flowering size, running a nursery is never a get-rich-quick enterprise but it does have its advantages.

As Tim says: “We’re outside working in the fresh air and on a nice summer day nothing could be better.”

Tortworth Plants, near Wotton-under-Edge, is open to the public but visitors are advised to ring before travelling. They also offer a mail order service. For more information, visit www.tortworthplants.co.uk

Anemone 'Honorine Jobert'
The back of Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ is flushed pink

Chelsea plans unveiled

An 80ft train carriage, a new centrepiece in the Great Pavilion and an eccentric design by Diarmuid Gavin are among the highlights for Chelsea 2016 unveiled by the RHS this week.

The world famous flower show will also feature plantswoman Rosy Hardy’s debut in show gardening with a design highlighting the threat to chalk streams, and the return of Chelsea favourite Cleve West, whose M&G garden is inspired by Exmoor and uses stone quarried from the Forest of Dean.

Likely to be the talk of the show is Diarmuid Gavin’s ‘The British Eccentrics Garden’ for Harrods, which will ‘perform’ every 15 minutes with rotating topiary, bobbing box balls and patio furniture that rises out of a trapdoor.

More traditional is the creation of Cheltenham designer Chris Beardshaw, who is celebrating the work of Great Ormond Street Hospital with a garden sponsored by Morgan Stanley. Featuring reflective water and a Japanese-inspired main structure, it will be rebuilt at the children’s hospital after the show.

chris beardshaw
Chris Beardshaw on his 2015 gold medal-winning garden

Meanwhile, L’Occitane will be hoping to repeat its gold medal success with the partnership of designer James Basson and landscaper Peter Dowle, who is based near Ruardean. They will be depicting the landscape of Haute Provence to mark the beauty firm’s 40th anniversary.

Peter Dowle
Peter Dowle is building the L’Occitane Garden

Stroud-based charity Meningitis Now is also looking back to its founding 30 years ago but also forward with a garden in the Artisan category that highlights its work saving lives and rebuilding futures.

And there will be a new look to the Great Pavilion where the central monument site, dominated by Hillier Nurseries’ stand for many years, will now be home to an exhibit by hosta and fern specialists Bowdens. The Devon-based nursery is planting up a station with a 1920s Belmond British Pullman carriage as the centrepiece.

More gardens will be confirmed in the next few weeks.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016 runs from May 24-28. RHS members’ tickets are on sale now, public tickets go on sale on December 1.

Talk gives peep at paradise

There’s a rare chance of a glimpse into the Rothschild’s private family garden at a Cotswold talk this month.

Gloucestershire writer and designer Mary Keen will explore Eythrope in Buckinghamshire in an illustrated talk at Sapperton.

The garden is renowned for its standards, use of traditional techniques and sheer scale that sees it producing year-round flowers and produce for the family’s country house.

Mary, who writes for The Telegraph and Garden magazine, has just published a book on the garden, ‘Paradise and Plenty’, which not only pays tribute to Eythrope but also outlines some of the cultivation methods used there.

Her talk, organised by the Yellow Lighted Bookshop, will be held in Sapperton Village Hall on Friday November 27 at 7pm. Tickets are £7.50 in advance, which gives £5 off purchase of the book, and can be booked on 01666 500221.

‘Paradise and Plenty, A Rothschild Family Garden’ by Mary Keen, photography by Tom Hatton, is £50, published by Pimpernel Press.

Review: 365 Days of Colour in Your Garden

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told a garden is planted for year-round colour. In truth, it’s something very few achieve. Wanting to fill a plot with interest in every season is a laudable ambition but one that’s rarely realised with any degree of confidence.

It’s a challenge that Nick Bailey, head gardener at Chelsea Physic Garden, squares up to in his new publication, ‘365 Days of Colour in Your Garden’. In it he shows how with careful plant selection it is possible to make borders noteworthy even in the depths of winter.

365 days of colour

He opens with an explanation of why colour is important, how it can make the senses sing, affect our mood and how it has evolved in gardens from the landscape movement of Capability Brown where form rather than colour held sway, through the painterly borders of Gertrude Jekyll to the often controversial plant partnerships of the late Christopher Lloyd.

The science of colour and how our eyes perceive it is briefly explained in easy-to-understand layman’s language and Bailey shows how the colour wheel can be used to plan striking combinations, although he warns against slavish adherence to rules, preferring to experiment.

It is choosing the right planting scheme that is vital for success. Putting together pairings where one plant enhances the other and then choosing a third to carry on the show not only results in memorable displays but makes the most of every available inch of soil.

365 days of colour
Salvia and Cordyline australis ‘Charlie Boy’ syn. ‘Ric01’

With this in mind, the picture-packed chapters offering ideas for the different seasons include a companion and a successor for every plant suggested. There are the usual suspects, among them Geranium ‘Rozanne’, but also some rarely seen performers, such as Chrysosplenium macrophyllum. Nor is Bailey a plant snob, recommending Forget-me-nots and Centranthus ruber, although he admits many consider it a weed.

Stopping the book degenerating into a mere list of plants are interspersed chapters on prolonging the seasons either by judicious use of the ‘Chelsea chop’, or by choosing varieties that are the earliest or latest to bloom. There’s advice on everything from soil improvement to staking, using containers to plug gaps and tackling difficult sites.

With an easy-to-read style – some evergreens are described as ending the summer with a “wet-dog-after-a-walk look – all damp and slumped in the corner” – this book is entertaining as well as informative. There’s a good balance between the basics and more specialist knowledge making it suitable for both the novice starting out and the more experienced gardener wanting to improve their plot.

365 days of colour
Nick Bailey

Adding to the temptation to rush out to the nearest nursery, are beautiful photographs by Jonathan Buckley of successful planting combinations, including those by Cotswold nurseryman Bob Brown and at the Gloucestershire’s world famous Hidcote Manor Garden.

365 Days of Colour in Your Garden by Nick Bailey, photography by Jonathan Buckley, is published by Kyle Books, priced £25. Photographs by Jonathan Buckley, supplied by Kyle Books.

Review copy supplied by  The Suffolk Anthology

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