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Greenfields – a secret garden

One of the delights of the National Garden Scheme is that it gives you the chance to look around otherwise private plots. Occasionally, it is a ‘peep over a garden wall’ into a space that is otherwise completely hidden. Greenfields, Little Rissington, is such a garden.

I must have driven past on the road out of Bourton-on-the-Water countless times but thanks to hedges and gates there’s no indication of the garden behind.

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The garden has been created over the past 16 years

Not that 16 years ago when Diana and Mark MacKenzie-Charrington bought the old Cotswold house there was much of a garden. Grass, some trees and a lot of black sheds pretty much sums up what the couple took on.

Looking at the garden now, it seems hard to believe. Despite visiting on a less than perfect day – frequent showers, grey skies and a blustery wind that was scattering blossom like confetti and battering the remaining tulips – there was plenty of colour and interest.

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Wind and rain were scattering blossom

It’s obvious that this garden has been designed: carefully focussed vistas, colour co-ordinated borders and glimpses of garden through neat blocks of hedging.

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Carefully placed gaps in hedges allow views through

So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Diana had ‘phoned a friend’ for help. Katie Lukas is well known among Cotswold gardeners, the former owner of Stone House at Wyck Rissington (now called Laurence House) and a garden designer.

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The path weaves through mounds of plants

She in turn suggested calling in Sherborne Gardens and John Hill’s influence is obvious in the long snaking path through mounds of lavender, hebe and geraniums, topped by mop-headed Portuguese laurel. It’s similar to the Yew Walk at Littlefield and just as effective.

Against the wall alongside are roses, ceanothus and a golden hop, a reference to the family’s brewing history.

At Greenfields, the path forms the perfect view from Mark’s office to a white seat backed by yew.

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Alliums and ceanothus are the stars at this time of year

In fact, views from the house were high on the list of requirements when John drew up plans for the garden.

“What I always wanted and always liked is that you can see the garden from every single room in the house,” says Diana. “We’re so lucky because not many people have that.”

Near the house, a sunken area is used for al fresco meals while what was originally intended to be a herb garden because of its proximity to the kitchen is now used for annuals: tulips and anemones followed by cosmos and gaura, which is lifted every year and overwintered in the greenhouse.

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Hebe is used instead of box to give structure

“It’s at the bottom of a hill on heavy clay and it rains a lot in England so everything died,” says Diana with a wry smile.

Beyond, the edges of what would have been a large rectangular lawn have been rounded off by borders filled with roses in pink and cream, and perennials, including phlox, aconitum, hostas and, at this time of year, masses of white and purple alliums. The planting is punctuated with mounds of hebe, an interesting variation on the traditional box balls.

“It’s quite a flowery, pretty garden,” comments Diana.

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Crab apples add height to the front garden

It’s a theme that continues into the garden in front of the house, which Diana has created with Katie’s help. Crab apples pruned to a neat goblet add height to borders of peonies, exochorda, and frothy Alchemilla mollis.

Against the house itself is a beautiful Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ and – when your own wisteria has been hit by frost – an envy-inducing display of pale lavender blooms.

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Wisteria cloaks one wall

Throughout Greenfields, Cotswold stone walls and hedges – beech, hawthorn and laurel – have been used to divide and create smaller, more intimate areas or to hide the ‘working parts’, including chickens, compost and a neat vegetable garden.

A recent addition has been the creation of a wildlife pond – the spoil has been used to make a ‘viewing mound’.

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Cow parsley is allowed its head on the edges of the garden

Diana says she didn’t want a garden that was too structured and, towards the edges, the style softens with cow parsley and mown paths through long grass, giving a gradual movement into surrounding fields.

There is, however, just enough structure to give it shape and interest – even on a gloomy day.

Greenfields Little Rissington is open for the National Garden Scheme on Sunday May 28, 2017, from 2-6pm. Admission is £5, children’s entry is free. The event is part of the NGS Anniversary Weekend marking 90 years of the scheme and more than 370 gardens will be open across England and Wales. For more details, see the NGS website.

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

How to grow vegetables in containers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Peas and mangetout are ideal for growing in containers

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

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

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

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

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

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Chard is a colourful crop for a container

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

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

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

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Try putting strawberries in a hanging basket

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

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

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

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

Ticket giveaway

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

Cotswold gardening events

There’s plenty going on in the Cotswolds next month with village gardens open and a display by specialist cacti growers.

Succulents and cacti are enjoying a rise in popularity as houseplants become fashionable again.

There’ll be the chance to see a wide range in Cheltenham when enthusiasts stage their annual cacti and succulents show.

Agave, aloe and euphorbia will be among the wide range on display with classes for individual plants or groups.

The event, held by the Gloucester and district branch of the British Cactus & Succulent Society, is at Shurdington Social Centre, Shurdington, Cheltenham, on June 3, 2017. It runs from 11-4pm and admission is £1.

There will be plants for sale, growing advice and refreshments available. More information on the website

There’s a few chances to combine a day out in the Cotswolds with a bit of garden-visiting.

Gardeners in Bisley are planning to open around 10 plots on Sunday June 4, 2017.

There will be a range of size and styles and entry is £1 a garden, or a combined entry fee of £5.

The event, from 2-6pm, is raising money for Bisley WI Village Hall and there will also be refreshments and live music.

There will be gardens of all sizes open in Prestbury, Cheltenham, on June 17 and 18, raising money for St Mary’s Church and The Butterfly Garden charity.

The event runs from 2-5pm on both days and includes plant sales, nursery stands and cream teas.

Admission is £5 for adults, accompanied children enter free. You can pick up a passport for the gardens at St Mary’s Church or at any garden with the Prestbury Open Gardens sign.

Chedworth is holding an open gardens and flower festival on June 24 and 25, 2017 from 11-5pm on both days.

As well as around 13 gardens to wander around, there will be cakes, plants and produce for sale, and refreshments. Admission to the gardens is £5 for adults and there will be a shuttle bus from the village hall.

The money raised will go to the Friends of St Andrew’s and other village charities.

In the frame – RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2017

RHS Malvern Spring Festival – a sneak preview

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

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Peter Dowle’s best in show garden

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

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

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The hills are a backdrop to the gardens

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

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

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

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

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The festival seems to blend in with the hills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The flowers are always a favourite with me

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

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

The gardens

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

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Part of Villaggio Verde’s garden

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

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

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Jane Furze (right) chats with Jekka on her garden

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

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

Edible borders

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The Incredible Edible Bristol border

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

The flowers

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The lupins are beautiful

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

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Fibrex Nurseries is the featured Master Grower

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

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

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I loved the peonies

British Flowers

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Jonathan Moseley is celebrating British-grown flowers

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

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The floral fountain is spectacular

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

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Some of the glass holders

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

For show garden results see here