RHS Malvern gets romantic

Weddings are preoccupying Jonathan Moseley when I call to chat about the Malvern spring festival. No particular wedding, you understand, but the whole paraphernalia surrounding them and in particular the flowers.

Forget traditional roses or lilies, the award-winning florist and judge on BBC’s Big Allotment Challenge believes brides should be choosing seasonal – and preferably British – flowers for the big day.

“There’s a whole host of things out there,” he says. “Every bride has got her own individual personality, so have flowers. Let’s marry those flowers to that bride’s quirky style.”

Malvern spring festival
Jonathan will be hosting floral workshops and demonstrations

It’s a message he will be promoting at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival where he is part of a move to reinvigorate the cut flower element – “I hate flower shows with competitive entries that look like they’re in a museum”.

It follows success at the autumn show where Jonathan hosted floristry workshops and demonstrations alongside the floral art displays.

“It had a real buzz, a real energy to it.”

‘Grow Your Own Wedding’ will have talks and demonstrations from florists, floristry colleges and British flower growers with advice on raising your own cut flowers, or sourcing something individual for bouquets and buttonholes.

To make sure it’s at the heart of the four-day event, it will all take place in one of the show gardens, ‘The Garden of Romance’, which will become a floral theatre. Designed by award-winning Jason Hales, of Villaggio Verde, it is based on an rustic Italian cloister garden.

It’s an unusual use of a space that is normally off-limits to the public and one that Jonathan believes will be a “real treat” for visitors and a natural setting for the floristry industry.

“A garden is the inspiration for any florist who is worth their salt. Certainly, for anybody who’s a supporter and user of natural material, a garden is the starting point for it all.”

And it’s these garden flowers that he believes should be used more in weddings: “I’m a great believer in bringing back some of the wonderful perennials.”

malvern spring
Jonathan believes brides should be adventurous when it comes to flowers

These include larkspar, and peonies, which he describes as “absolutely adorable, the most amazing flowers”.

Roses are not off the list, just the usual tight buds. Instead, he suggests opting for blousy, old-fashioned English roses to add a touch of romance and nostalgia.

Annuals, such as scabious and cornflowers, are another often overlooked area.

“They have that just picked look that’s so fresh, so energising and just like a wedding should be.”

And we shouldn’t be worried about them lasting, says Jonathan, who points out that the transience of flowers is part of their charm.

“If a wedding bouquet looks absolutely stunning for that day, does it matter if it’s going to be dead the following day? It’s done its job.”

More important is choosing flowers that fit with the season; an October wedding, he suggests, should make full use of dahlias, autumn foliage, seedheads, grasses and berries.

Indeed, flowers are only one part of a successful display.

malvern spring
Flowers don’t have to be exotic to make a striking arrangement

“It’s like watching a production. Flowers are the divas, they’re the star performers but no production exists with the orchestra, the choreographer and the make-up artist. All those things, like the grasses, the seed heads and the foliage, they’re all the back-up cast but they’re absolutely vital because they allow those few special flowers to really stand out.”

Among the experts on hand at the Malvern spring festival to offer advice on everything from successional sowing to flower combinations will be Georgie Newbury, author of ‘Grow Your Own Wedding’, South Gloucestershire-based Organic Blooms from South Gloucestershire, Far Hill Flowers, near Chepstow, Great British Florist, who raise cut flowers in Herefordshire, and Flowers from the Farm, a network of farmers and smallholders who together promote locally grown cut flowers.

“When I first started in floristry I could go down to my local wholesale market and there would be a whole load of British-grown flowers there and I think we should get that back,” says Jonathan, whose passion for plants began with the present of a greenhouse for his eleventh birthday.

malvern spring
The Malvern Hills make a spectacular backdrop to the show

“There is still a British flower market out there. It’s in its infancy but we want to see that grow from strength-to-strength.

“I want to see British flowers back in supermarkets, back on street corners, outside your local village shop. It makes people connect with nature and realise that sweetpeas are in summer, cornflowers are in summer, daffodils are this time of year. It’s bringing that seasonality back into people’s lives.”

And if the idea of growing your own is a step too far, Jonathan suggests asking a grower to produce them for you: “It can become a really personal experience where you’ve got a real bond, a real connection to those flowers.”

With a wedding often the first time some people really think about flowers, he’s hoping it could signal the start of more than one life-long relationship.

“What we are trying to do at Malvern is to make people realise that flowers are important, that they’re there for anybody to enjoy any age, any gender and that there’s no point in your life when you can’t get excited about flowers and get in touch with flowers.”

RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 5-8. For ticket details, visit http://www.threecounties.co.uk/rhsmalvern/

Jonathan will be taking questions about ‘Grow Your Own Wedding’ via Twitter @jpmoseley

British Red Cross open gardens season starts

Red Cross open gardens
Sezincote will be opening for the British Red Cross

The British Red Cross starts its open gardens season in Gloucestershire this week with The Old Rectory in Quenington.

Set on the banks of the River Coln, the garden of nearly five acres has herbaceous borders, a bog garden, sculptures and lovely views across countryside.

It is open on Sunday April 3 from 2-5pm. Admission is £4, children under 12 enter free.

Last year, the British Red Cross raised £220,000 nationally through its open gardens events and this season sees a wide range of gardens opening.

More water will feature on April 10 when Mill Dene at Blockley opens. The two-acre garden has a mill pond, herb garden and woodland.

On June 12, a collection of pretty village gardens will open in Nympsfield with cottage-style planting and vegetables.

British Red Cross
Rockcliffe opens for the British Red Cross on June 15

Rockcliffe, Upper Slaughter, which opens on June 15, has colour-themed borders, a rose terrace, walled kitchen garden and an orchard.

June 26 sees two events for the British Red Cross open gardens scheme. Ashley and Culkerton Village Gardens has four varied plots: Ashley Grange, with peonies and iris borders a particular feature; Ashley Manor Barn, where the garden is divided by pleached hedges with mixed borders; The Ox Barn, Culkerton, which includes an orchard and traditional vegetable garden; and Dillycot, Culkerton, a wildlife friendly plot with roses and flowers grown for cutting.

Also opening on June 26 is Sezincote, near Moreton-in-March. The gardens, which surround an Indian-style house, include stream-side planting and a Persian garden of paradise.

The final event of the season in Gloucestershire is on July 24 when Hilles House near Painswick opens. An Arts and Crafts garden, it has memorable views across the Severn Vale.

For more information and details of other UK gardens open for the British Red Cross, visit http://www.redcross.org.uk/OpenGardens

Spring goes on show

Cheltenham Horticultural Society members will be filling the town’s Pittville Pump Room with the scents and colours of spring this week.

Daffodils, hyacinths, alpines, tulips and primroses will be displayed at the annual spring show on Sunday April 3.

Classes cover container-grown plants, vegetables and cut flowers and there are also contest for photography, cookery and floral art.

Alongside the show, there will be plant sales, crafts and refreshments. The show runs from noon to 3.30pm and admission is £2, with entry free for children under 16.

The society was formed in 1942 as part of the Dig for Victory campaign and has been holding shows in the town for more than 75 years. Meetings are held on the second Thursday of the month at Century Hall, Shurdington.

 Details: http://www.cheltenhamhorticultural.co.uk/default.asp

Trench Hill lights up spring

Planting under trees is something that defeats many gardeners. The ground is often poor, generally in shade for a large part of the year and tree roots can make it nigh-on impossible to dig. Yet, get it right and the results can be magical, as Trench Hill garden proves.

It’s a display that for once fully justifies the cliché ‘a tapestry of colour’. Hellebores sport blooms of every shade, there are clumps of mauve and purple crocus, a few remaining snowdrop flowers, blue hyacinths, cerise cyclamen, pulmonaria in pink and blue, and flashes of yellow from narcissi, all bordering a long path beneath trees. What makes it more remarkable is that it has been created out of what was little more than scrub.

trench hill
The woodland walk is a mass of colour

The project, like so many in this varied garden of nearly three acres, began modestly.

“I thought it would be nice to have about a metre of garden near the patio, just a few flowers there,” explains Celia Hargrave, who has been developing Trench Hill for the past 23 years. “It was a mix of weeds and scrub.”

That was 10 years ago and the ‘few flowers’ now spread for some distance on either side of a chipped bark path.

Trench Hill
A porthole in a piece of artwork gives a glimpse of the garden beyond

Clearing the weeds, including ivy and nettles, was one problem, the stony soil was quite another: “Once you dig down there’s a huge amount of stone. It’s a big issue.”

The bigger pieces are now used to edge the two borders, giving an informality that suits the setting high up above Sheepscombe.

She was luckier with the soil itself as decades of falling leaves had left it in pretty good shape, and this has been further improved over the years with the addition of homemade leaf mould.

Trench Hill
Narcissus ‘Jetfire’

Much of the success of this area is down to the careful choice of plants. Not only will they cope with shade once the trees are in full leaf, they also flower early when light levels are at their best.

The borders start quietly in February with the white and yellow of snowdrops and aconites, are in full flower through March and early April before finishing softly with bluebells and wood anemones. A few fuchsias, lilies and cornus give interest at other times but it is really spring when the display demands attention.

It is particularly good this year after the addition of 1,000 ‘Remembrance’ and ‘Pickwick’ crocus, whose deep purple and lilac striped petals add a real zing to the show. Already, Celia is planning to plant hundreds more in the autumn.

'Pickwick' crocus are a new addition
‘Pickwick’ crocus are a new addition

The recent felling of some larch and a mature beech that had become unsafe has allowed her to extend the garden behind the woodland walk. Here, she has planted hundreds of bulbs, more cornus and a mix of trees, including lime, sorbus, red oak and another beech. Choosing smaller trees will, she hopes, keep the improved light levels. Meanwhile, the old beech has been transformed into a dragon seat that allows you to linger and enjoy the beautiful view across Cotswold countryside.

Elsewhere, a large ash that also had to be felled was in the process of being carved when I visited. The exact finish had not been decided but a green man and lizard were possibilities, yet another addition to the artwork and carvings that enhance this stalwart of the National Gardens Scheme – it has just celebrated 20 years of opening.

Trench Hill
Pussy willow and fiery Salix alba ‘Britzensis’ add interest to the main pond

It sits alongside another recently redeveloped area of small ponds, which have been enlarged, while curtailing a pair of nearby borders has allowed the creation of a better seating area.

Some alterations are less radical: removing an overlarge conifer in one of the foliage beds has given room for new plants, such as pittosporum and white hydrangeas; cowslips, primroses and fritillaries have been added to grass under the fruit trees.

Trench Hill
The garden has wonderful views

It’s typical of a garden where nothing is allowed to stagnate.

“Sometimes things just need refreshing,” comments Celia. “You say to yourself ‘It’s been brilliant but it’s had its day’.”

Trench Hill is a long way from being in that position.

Trench Hill, Sheepscombe, Gloucestershire, is open from 11-6 for the National Gardens Scheme on Sunday March 27 and Monday March 28, 2016. Admission is £4 for adults, children enter free. For details of other open dates, visit http://www.ngs.org.uk/

Trench Hill

Westonbirt goes sky-high

Visitors to Westonbirt will get a bird’s eye view of the arboretum when a treetop walkway, part of a £1.9m project, opens next month.

The 300m walkway is 13m high and is believed to be the longest of its kind in the UK. It will be unveiled by BBC Countryfile presenter Ellie Harrison before opening to the public the following day on April 27.

Built from larch and Douglas fir, the structure has been designed around the topography of land near the arboretum’s entrance, allowing easy access without the need for a lift or steps, and is supported by more than 20 pairs of timber legs, which range from 2.5m to 13.5m tall.

westonbirt arboretum
Pairs of legs support the walkway. Photo: Westonbirt Arboretum

It follows a serpentine path through trees into Silk Wood and is designed to educate as much as provide a unique view over the arboretum. Along the route there are interpretation boards giving tree facts and explaining woodland management, such as coppicing, a quiz game and telescopes that can be used to spot things placed in the trees, including fungi and insects.

The route also takes in a crow’s nest, a metal mesh-floored section and there’s the chance to divert down a length of rope bridge.

“People have been enjoying the views of Westonbirt from the ground for generations,” said arboretum director Andrew Smith. “The time has come to offer our visitors a new and exciting way to see the arboretum by getting up close and personal with the canopy, just like our tree team!”

Money for the walkway and a new tree management centre, which will include an interpretation area for visitors, has been raised by The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum.

Access to the STIHL Treetop Walkway will be included in the arboretum’s normal entry free.

More information: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt

Karcher window vac and spray gun product review

I’ve never been one for gadgets. The latest gizmo never really impresses and I embarrass my children by using long out-of-date equipment. Therefore, it was with a degree of scepticism that I agreed to trial Kärcher’s spray gun and window vac.

The battery-powered Window Vac 2 Premium is billed as the “essential tool for cleaning windows streak-free inside and outside the home” and described as lightweight and portable. It comes with two sizes of suction heads and a spray bottle with a microfiber cloth attachment.

The Window Vac

The Multifunctional Spray Gun Plus, to give it its full title, is the sort of ‘toy’ beloved of small boys with four spray patterns from fine mist to what was described as ‘horizontal flat jet’ and a rotating handle allowing it to be operated with either a push or pull movement.

The Multifunctional Spray Gun
The Multifunctional Spray Gun

A long damp winter had left my greenhouse less than sparkling and it seemed the perfect candidate for treatment.

The glass cleaning fluid that came with the kit was certainly up to ridding the glass of the gathering green and it came away without too much effort; the microfibre cloth is machine-washable but I have yet to test this.

The microfibre cloth was used to clean the glass

Using the spray gun within the confines of the greenhouse was potentially hazardous but the glass was rinsed without getting either myself or the seedlings wet, as the nozzle made it easy to direct the water.

The window vac was then applied to remove the excess. This proved easy to use, although some areas had to be done twice – possibly due to operator error – leaving the glass dry and clear. The water is collected in an easy to remove storage tank.

The spray gun was easy to direct inside the greenhouse

As an alternative test, I also got my teenage car-cleaner to test it out on my car. Her verdict: the hose attachment made getting soapy water off the car straightforward, while the window vac was much easier to use on the windscreen than a chamois and didn’t leave streaks.

Our only quibble was with the assembly instructions. This were in a picture format rather than written and it was difficult to distinguish between the different blades supplied. We got there, eventually, but it was not as straightforward as it could have been.

Admittedly at £79.99 for the window vac and £19.99 for the spray gun, it’s not a cheap way of cleaning a greenhouse. However, the spray gun would be ideal for watering borders or cleaning tools, and the window vac could well be the answer for condensation on house windows or cleaning shower glass.

For more information visit Kärcher home page

Cardiff flower show is magic

A 12ft willow giant, wheelbarrows brimming with plants and a bubbling chocolate lake will bring a touch of magic to the RHS’ Cardiff flower show this year.

RHS Flower Show Cardiff is celebrating the centenary of the birth of Roald Dahl in the city and from show gardens to a school competition his influence will be felt throughout the event.

flower show
Gardeners can stock up with plants at the show

Visitors will be met by a BFG (Big Friendly Giant) willow sculpture, there will be a ‘Danny Champion of the World’ gypsy caravan for storytelling and a ‘Golden Ticket’ family quiz trail around the showground.

The public can also vote for their favourite in a competition to plant up a Roald Dahl-themed wheelbarrow. Sixty schools in the area have taken up the challenge and there will be prizes for the top three in the visitors’ vote.

flower show
One of last year’s wheelbarrow entries

The three-day flower show will also have a programme of talks, hosted by Toby Buckland, the chance to buy from some of the UK’s top nurseries and stalls selling gardening sundries.

Last year, the show, which opens on April 15, attracted a record 25,800 visitors and organisers are confident of success again.

“We have so much planned for this year,” says flower show manager Katie Draper. “It’s set to be a truly spectacular event and a fantastic way to step into spring and get some outdoor inspiration.”

Show gardens

Show gardens are always a great way of getting ideas and the Cardiff flower show has a wide-ranging selection.

One of the most eye-catching promises to be ‘Pure Imagination’ by designer Tony Smith, named after a song in the film of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It will offer a ‘chocolate box selection of colours’ with dried seed heads and cut flowers set around a chocolate lake.

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A chocolate lake will be the focal point of Tony Smith’s design

The history of herbal healing and the Physicians of Mydfai are celebrated by designer Anthea Guthrie with a garden that is based on plants that have medicinal qualities while Jim Goodwin has created a space that highlights the work done by the George Thomas Hospice and the importance of gardens in palliative care.

That sense of tranquillity and escape underpins the entry by Lea Reynolds, which uses traditional Japanese garden design to take visitors on a journey. Minimal planting in shades of green with white highlights feature in this collaboration between students at Bridgend College and Pyle Garden Centre.

Art and horticulture are brought together in ‘The Alfresco Gallery Garden’ with picture frames pinpointing different elements of the garden. Paul Melvin has woven a series of spheres into the design from a round wall panel of sedums to a circular water feature.

Finally, Melinda Thomas and Fleur Porter will evoke a sense of nostalgia with their garden that blends elements of the past, seen with sections of ruins, and the need for a practical space for relaxation. Planting has been chosen as a wildlife haven and a sunken area offers a secluded place to sit.

Inspiring features

As well as show gardens, Cardiff will have feature designs that celebrate everything from gardening for wildlife to grow your own.

A basking willow shark and a dolphin created from beach litter are the focal points of ‘Surf our Turf’, which marks the partnership of Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre and the Wildlife Trust South and West Wales. Native coastal plants and a turf sofa will also feature.

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A basking shark is one of the features on ‘Surf our Turf’

Fossils and the evolution of plants underpin a display by the National Museum of Wales, with some of the fossils from museum’s collection on show and experts at hand to identify and explain them.

The RSPB and Cardiff Council have joined forces to promote gardening for nature with a display that shows how you can create a wildlife friendly garden with areas of wild flowers, woodland and wetland.

Meanwhile, Grow Cardiff is a kitchen garden that aims to promote healthy eating and growing your own fruit and vegetables and has been put together using plants grown by people across the city. Demonstrations throughout the show will give ideas on food that can be grown at home.

Specialist growers

Buying online is all very well but there’s nothing quite like talking to the grower and Cardiff offers the opportunity to quiz some experts.

The Floral Marquee and Plant Village will host 58 nurseries and specialist growers with everything from fuchsias and bonsai to streptocarpus and bougainvilleas.

flower show
The floral marquee hosts dozens of specialist nurseries

Among the award-winning nurseries will be Floyds Climbers & Clematis, Pennard Plants with vegetables and unusual edible plants, and The Botanic Nursery, with spring-flowering shrubs.

RHS Flower Show Cardiff runs from April 15-17 at Bute Park, Cardiff. Details and advance tickets http://www.rhs.org.uk/cardiff

Review: Garden ideas explored

Forget January, for most gardeners the calendar starts in spring and, like most new years, comes with a raft of good intentions. Top of those resolutions is finally sorting out that problem border – I’ve yet to meet a gardener who was totally happy with their plot. Yet like losing weight and going to the gym more, it’s often the one left unfulfilled. The biggest challenge is knowing where to start and it’s getting those garden ideas that Matt James tackles in his latest book, RHS How to Plant a Garden.


garden ideas

His aim, he says, is to “demystify the planting design process” and help anyone, from the novice to the old hand, transform their plot “from the ordinary to the extraordinary”. It’s a task for which he is well qualified: an established designer, he leads the degree course in garden and landscape design at the Eden Project and is a regular on radio’s Gardeners’ Question Time, while television viewers will remember him from The City Gardener on Channel 4.

So, it’s hardly surprising that this book is comprehensive, taking in not only how to choose the right plants for situations as varied as dry shade and the side of ponds, and what constitutes a particular style, such as formal or exotic but everything else you might possibly need to know.

Garden ideas
Seated Roof Garden © Garden Collection

Before a single plant is identified, we are invited to consider elements of the garden that are just as important to its eventual success. These range from the microclimates created by existing trees and shrubs or buildings, to the amount of time available for upkeep. “Honesty is essential,” he tells us.

James then moves on to an exploration of what he calls ‘The Plant Palette’, which is divided into easy to follow sections, such as trees, shrubs, grasses and herbaceous perennials. The chief characteristics of each are noted, there’s advice on their use and suggestions of possible varieties.

This thoroughness is evident in subsequent chapters, which cover garden styles, how to combine plants using colour and form, and finally how to draw up a planting plan.

Garden ideas
Grasses can be used to give privacy © Garden Collection

Woven through is advice from a warning to embark on a cottage-style plot only if you have time to tend it to how to adapt a new perennial planting scheme to a small garden.

Some of the advice – the colour wheel, types of roses and how to identify soil types – is fairly basic for anyone who has gardened for any length of time but this is acknowledged with a suggestion that only novice gardeners, or those wishing to understand the thinking behind professional designs, should start at the beginning. Others are given permission to skip to later chapters where common garden problems are solved and a designer’s plant calendar is explained.

Plenty of high quality photographs make this book attractive as well as informative, though the credits system makes it difficult to identify individual gardens pictured, which is important when some of them are ‘show’ rather than real gardens. Also irritating is the continual use of common plant names, presumably part of the ‘demystification’ process. It works up to a point but I’ve yet to come across anyone who routinely refers to a hosta as a plantain lily.

Garden ideas
Topiary adds interest to a deck © Garden Collection

But they are minor quibbles. Overall, this is an easy-to-follow insight into design, offering plenty of garden ideas, just the thing to kick-start those planting resolutions.

RHS How to Plant a Garden by Matt James is published by Mitchell Beazley, priced £25 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 Octopus Publishing Group.

For more book reviews, see here