Chelsea change welcomed

Hospice to get inside view of flower show 

When I catch up with Royal Horticultural Society judge Richard Sneesby, he’s feeling a little jaded after two long days at the Chelsea Flower Show but upbeat about what he saw there. The show seems, he declares, to have turned a corner.

“It was nice to see something different. There was a move away from the usual blue and white planting.

Richard Sneesby
Richard Sneesby

“For a long time we’ve had a kind of herbaceous mix of very feminine planting, of quite muted colours and lots of things at the same height.”

Richard is on the Chelsea selection panel and was part of the team, made up of designers, journalists, constructors and nursery experts, who judged this year’s Artisan and Fresh gardens. He will be talking about the process and how Chelsea influences design at a fundraising talk this month for Cheltenham’s Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice.

chelsea flower show
Leckhampton Court Hospice

He’s well qualified to spot changes in thinking having taught on design courses in Sheffield, Cheltenham and Falmouth over the past 25 years; he numbers Chris Beardshaw, Hugo Bugg and Sam Ovens, who all exhibited at this year’s Chelsea, among his former students. He is also senior judge for the Society of Garden Designers’ annual awards.

There was, he says, no dramatic shift this year but subtle changes: a rediscovery of shrubs and evergreens and some unusual plants.

“What was so wonderful about Andy Sturgeon’s garden was that I had no idea what probably 60 per cent of the plants were.”

chelsea flower show
Andy Sturgeon’s garden was awarded Best in Show

Yet, novelty alone won’t make a design work.

“It does not need to be whacky. It has got to be magical, it’s got to transport you for a moment to something different,” explains Richard, who now lectures at the Eden Project, alongside his Cornwall-based landscape architecture business.

However, doing something different is far from straightforward.

“It is getting harder and harder to do something new. It’s extremely easy to copy, it’s reasonably easy to adapt, but it’s incredibly difficult to find something genuinely new.”

chelsea flower show
Richard judged the Artisan Gardens

And only those designers who are confident are likely to take the risk of doing something that’s not tried and tested at the world famous show.

“If you get it wrong you have absolutely put your head above the parapet and there are not many people in the world who have got the guts to do that. People who have should be celebrated even if they get it wrong.”

When it comes to the RHS, gardens are marked out of four in nine separate categories, including construction and fulfilling the brief, with a threshold that has to be passed for each medal. Among the pitfalls are what Richard describes as ‘miniaturising’ things, such as making paths that are too small or seating areas that will take only one person, stuffing plants in too close together, or having poor specimens. Generally it is mistakes that make the difference to the medal awarded.

“Anyone who is offered a place at Chelsea has an equal chance of getting a gold medal.”

Richard will be talking at Cotswold Farm one of the area’s Arts and Crafts gardens. It was, he says, a period that saw collaboration between gardeners and architects and the sort of broadening of ideas that could be seen at the Chelsea Flower Show, with many gardens featuring bespoke works of art.

chelsea flower show
Cotswold Farm Gardens are the setting for the fundraising evening

“We’re starting to see gardens that are a collaboration of more than just the designer and a contractor. There are serious crafts people and very skilled artists, all sorts of people involved in these gardens.

“The more interesting ones are the ones that have come from the minds of more than one person.”

Richard Sneesby will be talking about the Chelsea Flower Show at Cotswold Farm Gardens, Duntisbourne Abbots, on Friday June 24 in aid of Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice. The event begins at 6pm with a drinks and canape reception and tickets, costing £15, are on sale from Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice on 01242 246285, email Leckhampton.fundraising@sueryder.org or visit the Sue Ryder website

• My reflections on this year’s Chelsea Flower Show are here

Enjoyed this? Do share via Twitter, Facebook or email

Nursery holds garden contest

Young gardeners are being encouraged to have a go at creating their own garden in a competition run by a Gloucestershire plant nursery.

Tortworth Plants, at Tortworth near Wotton-under-Edge, is hosting the miniature garden competition as part of Tortworth Estates open day on Sunday June 5.

Gardens have to be created in a standard sized seed tray and there are three categories: six years and under, 7-11 and 12 and over. Entries need to be handed in to the nursery at Old Lodge Farm between 9.30am and 10.30am on the day.

The event is part of the national Open Farm Sunday and will include tours of the estate’s dairy farm, tractor rides, a farmers’ market and plants for sale.

Tortworth Nursery specialises in herbaceous perennials and unusual alpines and also has a range of herbs and classic favourite garden plants.

For a full feature on the nursery see here

For more information on the Open Farm Sunday event visit Tortworth Nursery

Plant sales plug gaps

With the weather finally getting warmer, now’s the time to plug gaps in borders and start thinking about summer containers and plant sales are a great place to start.

If you haven’t raised annuals and vegetables yourself, fundraising sales offer the chance to buy plants grown locally at reasonable prices.

plant sales
Vegetable plants will be on sale

In the Cotswolds, gardeners have two sales to visit on Saturday May 14 that will help fill those gaps while supporting local groups.

Cobalt sale

Cancer charity Cobalt is holding its annual Big Plant Sale and coffee morning with bedding plants, shrubs, fruit bushes and hanging baskets.

There will also be willow craft and metal art stalls at the sale, which runs from 10am-1pm at Linton House, Thirlestone Road, Cheltenham.

Charlton Kings in Bloom sale

Also on Saturday, from 9am to 1pm, Charlton Kings in Bloom, which works to ‘green up’ the village on the edge of Cheltenham, has its annual plant fair.

There will be annuals, perennials and vegetable plants as well as mushroom compost for sale at The King’s Hall in Charlton Kings, Cheltenham.

Gardening for butterflies talk

gardening for butterflies

Gardeners can learn how to encourage butterflies into their gardens at a talk in Cheltenham.

Sue Smith, from the Gloucestershire branch of Butterfly Conservation, and Sue Dodd will explain which plants to grow to provide the right nectar for butterflies and moths.

The Gardening for Butterflies and Moths talk, hosted by Charlton Kings in Bloom, is on Thursday April 28 at 7pm in The Stanton Room, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham. Admission is £6, to include refreshments. Tickets are available from The Forge newsagent in Charlton Kings and from 01242 521917.

Charlton Kings in Bloom will host its annual plant fair on May 14 outside the King’s Hall in Charlton Kings, Cheltenham.

Perennials, vegetables, herbs and bags of mushroom compost will be available at the event, which runs from 9am to 1pm.

Rare plant fair at Quenington

An open garden event with plants to buy is most gardeners’ idea of a good day out. Add the chance of cake and the knowledge that you are helping a good cause and it becomes even more attractive. Perfection is the possibility of picking up some unusual horticultural treasure so combining a Rare Plant Fair with an open garden has masses of appeal.

The Old Rectory in Quenington is the ideal place for a gathering of horticultural enthusiasts. Not only does it have the space – important when you’re hosting around 20 nurseries – it is also a garden with a long history, not least in charity openings; it notches up 70 years with the National Gardens Scheme this year and opens regularly for other charities, this week for Cobalt.

rare plant fair
The couple commissioned this gate

Bought from the church in the late 1920s, it has been passed down through generations of gardeners and is currently run by Lucy and David Abel Smith, who took over in the early 1980s. They inherited a site with good bones: old yew hedges and some magnificent trees, including copper beech and sycamore. While they have added some features, the layout has remained largely unchanged with the more formal areas nearer the house, gradually moving out into more naturalistic planting.

Not that the formal areas are all clipped topiary and regimented planting. This is a country garden and the atmosphere is relaxed: the main lawn does have a wisteria, rose and clematis-covered pergola but it is bordered on one side by neatly mown lawn and on the other by longer grass, studded with tulips and snake’s head fritillaries.

quenington
The rustic pergola is in keeping with the country style

What makes it memorable though is its setting alongside a mill race, a feature that has been exploited to the full with bridges allowing access to an ‘island’ of garden set between the mill race and the River Coln, and sweeps of narcissi and Anemone blanda that enhance views across to the house in one direction and countryside in the other.

Within this framework, Lucy has concentrated on revitalising the planting, helped at first by Esmé Bradburne, one of the founder members of the Soil Association, who in turn trained the current gardener Robert Wyatt; the garden is still run organically.

rare plant fair
The waterside setting is memorable

“I have new ideas constantly,” she says, “just little bits, nothing dramatic.

“I think you have to keep thinking otherwise one’s garden does get very stale.”

Recently, these new ideas have included adding to the spring show by planting lots more bulbs, such as tulips.

“I just felt it need a bit of refreshing. We should have a show of tulips until the end of May.”

Quenington
Tulips add spring colour

Some of these have gone into the long herbaceous border, others are beginning to colour up at the foot of the yew hedge, mingling with daffodils and muscari.

More drastic was the overhaul of the sunken garden, originally designed by Lucy’s mother-in-law. Here, she has taken out all the planting – “It had got too shrubby” – and replaced it with different varieties of thyme and Allium shubertii.

Nearby, a lily pond, designed to give the still conditions beloved of waterlilies, is a reminder of Lucy’s Scottish childhood home.

quenington
Daffodils are naturalised in the grass

Elsewhere, a shady area has been revamped with a winding path and the addition of shrubs, including cornus and cotinus, underplanted by drifts of hardy geraniums.

“I just wanted to make more of this wild bit.”

Every two years Fresh Air, an exhibition of sculpture, is held at The Old Rectory and some of the pieces have found a permanent home there, giving a modern twist to what is otherwise a traditional garden.

quenington
Artwork is found throughout the garden

Lanterns made from cupcake cases hang from the branches of a weeping silver lime in front of the house; the stations of the cross are marked out in lettering on stone that forms a trail through the garden, a quote from Goethe is a memorial to Esmé. Even one of the bridges doubles as art: made by Richard La Trobe-Bateman, it splits in the middle.

“It makes it very dramatic,” observes Lucy.

The Rare Plant fair at Quenington will feature 20 independent nurseries specialising in unusual plants. Those attending include Edulis, with a range that includes edibles, Shady Plants, The Cottage Herbery,  Whitehall Farmhouse Plants, with mainly herbaceous perennials, and Tortworth Plants, which is featured here

The Old Rectory, Quenington is open on Sunday April 10, 2016 from 11-4pm. Admission is £5 per adult, which includes entry to the garden. Admission is free for children under 16. Some of the proceeds will be donated to Cobalt.

quenington
Swans have made the garden their home

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

Alpines on show

Alpine enthusiasts will be putting on a colourful display when they stage their annual show in the Cotswolds.

Members of the Cotswold and Malvern branch of the Alpine Garden Society will be exhibiting everything from primulas and saxifrages to dainty species narcissi and fritillaries.

alpines
The dainty blooms of Iris sinpers

Among the most colourful will be dionysia from Iran and Afghanistan.

“They make almost a perfect hemisphere of concentrated jewel-like colour,” says show secretary Eric Jarrett. “The are difficult to grow but so beautiful everybody wants to try.”

alpines
Dionysia tapetodes ‘Kate’ is challenging to grow

As well as the competition classes, there will be plants for sale, photography and botanical art. Growers will be available to give tips on growing alpines.

The show is on Easter Monday, March 28 at Maisemore Village Hall, Maisemore, near Gloucester. Plant sales start at 10am and the show is open to the public from noon to 4pm. Admission is £3 and refreshments will be available.

 For more details visit: http://www.alpinegardensociety.net/groups/Cotswold-and-Malvern

alpines
Trillium nivale from North America

Pictures © Eric Jarrett

Top nurseries visit Cotswolds

Top nurseries and specialist growers will be visiting the Cotswolds for a series of plant sales offering everything from bulbs and herbs to climbers and shrubs.

The first, from 10-1pm on March 11, will feature hellebores from Kapunda Plants, unusual perennials from award-winning Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, rare bulbs from Avon Bulbs and edible perennials from Edulis.

On April 29, from 10-1pm, shrubs and woodland plants will be the stars with Green’s Leaves Plants, DK Plants and Springhill Plants among the visiting nurseries.

The sale on June 3 from 10-2pm will include The Botanic Nursery, holders of the National Collection of Digitalis, Gloucestershire-based Tortworth Plants and Lyneal Mill Nursery with native wild flowers and alpine aquilegias.

Finally, the September 9 sale, from 10-3pm, has late flowering perennials from Phoenix Perennial Plants, hardy herbaceous from Whitehall Farmhouse Plants and Marcus Dancer Plants with climbers. There will also be specialist suppliers with goods ranging from smoked foods and garden antiques to silk cushions and children’s toys.

The sales are held at The Coach House, Ampney Crucis, near Cirencester, pictured above, and admission is £5, with a donation from the sale going to The James Hopkins Trust. It includes entrance to the garden. Refreshments will be available.

Details: http://thegenerousgardener.co.uk/

Get seed swapping

seeds
Vegetables are just some of the seeds swapped Pic: Kerry James www.atalllongleggedbird.com

There’s the chance to pick up some unusual seeds, swap gardening tips and talk to the experts at Seedy Saturday this week.

Gardeners can take along a packet of home-saved seed to swap or make a small donation for seed. There will also be onions, garlic, seed potatoes and plants for sale, and nurseries Pennard Plants and Beans and Herbs will have stands. Talks include how to growing potatoes and squashes.

The event is held at Timsbury Conygre Hall near Bath on Saturday March 12 from 10am to 2pm. Entry is £1. Details http://www.seedysaturday.org.uk/

seed swap
Pic: Kerry James www.atalllongleggedbird.com

Highgrove gets Cotswolds help with Festival

Cotswold gardening expertise is being used to ensure success at Highgrove’s first festival, which will see celebrity talks, workshops and special tours of the Royal garden.

The Garden Celebrated is being masterminded by Kate Durr, a former pupil at the Cotswold Gardening School, while the school’s principal, Caroline Tatham, is designing the stage and will be giving one of the demonstrations.

Highgrove

“Highgrove is really good about supporting local businesses,” says Caroline, who set up the gardening school at her home in Gossington five years ago.

Meanwhile, other Cotswold gardeners involved in the six-day festival are award-winning designer Chris Beardshaw, herb queen Jekka McVicar, and author and journalist Val Bourne. They will be taking part in talks and demonstrations at the event, which will also have a retail pavilion with stands from invited companies.

Television presenter Kate, whose first show garden won gold and Best Festival Garden at Malvern last year, has been appointed as the Highgrove Festival’s creative director.

It is she says “Thrilling to be involved with the celebration, which is set to become the gateway to spring.”

Kate Durr
Kate Durr

Kate is designing and creating plant displays for the spring plant fair marquee.

“They will be exuberant, echoing iconic areas of the gardens. The plant fair will offer a distinctive range of beautiful plants and seeds for sale so that visitors can recreate the spirit of Highgrove in their own gardens.”

Among the areas that will be featured are the Kitchen Garden, Wildflower Meadow and Stumpery.

Caroline’s association with Highgrove, home of The Prince of Wales, began two years ago when she received an unexpected email asking if she was interested in giving a talk on sustainable flower arranging using only biodegradable material.

“I didn’t know if the email was real,” she recalls.

Staff from the Highgrove team visited the school – “the idea of it was really frightening, although they were lovely” – and saw Caroline’s garden, nine acres which she is gradually developing.

Caroline Tatham
Caroline Tatham

“They loved the idea of flowers for the talk coming from an organic garden.”

For the festival, which runs from April 11 to 16, she will be giving a talk on professional planting, drawing on her experience as a garden designer and lecturer.

She is also creating a flower-filled stage where celebrity gardeners, including Alan Titchmarsh, Carol Klein and Bob Flowerdew will give talks.

Highgrove walled garden
The Walled Garden at Highgrove

The main colours will be burgundy and primrose – echoing the theme of the Festival’s publicity – although other tones will be introduced.

“I’m going for a slightly more colourful palette with fresh greens and pinks. I’m planning a range of shrubs, perennials and bulbs influenced by the Royal garden.”

She stresses though that it will not be a replica of aspects of Highgrove but something that encapsulates “the spirit of the garden”.

“It’s really exciting to be involved in the first of what promises to be a whole series of festivals. It’s always lovely to be right at the beginning of something.”

For details and to book: http://www.highgroveshop.com/festival.html