Florists go to Chelsea

Gloucester florist Katherine Kear will be celebrating the Victorians’ influence on gardening at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

The British Master Florist has been asked to stage a display for the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies (NAFAS) in the Great Pavilion.

Each year, NAFAS asks a different membership area to be responsible for the entry and Katherine will lead a team of eight flower arrangers from across The Three Counties and South Wales.

“It’s a bit of an honour,” says Katherine, who is a NAFAS national demonstrator, speaker and teacher.

Chelsea Flower show
Lavender is one of the many scented plants in the exhibit

With a completely free hand in deciding the theme, she has chosen to spotlight how the Victorian era of plant-hunting and conservatory growing changed the role of women in horticulture and influenced today’s style of flower arranging.

Gardening was not considered suitable for Victorian ladies but growing plants in a conservatory was acceptable and eventually led to more women arranging flowers for the house rather than leaving it all to the head gardener.

The exhibit, entitled ‘Victorian Revival, The Past Returns, will highlight this influence.

“It tells of a change in a lifestyle,” explains Katherine, who also runs a designer floristry business. “It kick-started women being accepted as gardeners and as flower arrangers.”

Chelsea flower show
Terracotta pots will be filled with herbs

The exhibit, which is 20sq feet and 17ft high, has three main elements, although the team are keeping exact details under wraps to maximise its impact; they are currently building a mock-up at a secret location in Gloucester.

Part of it will give an impression of the large scale arrangements that were common in grand Victorian houses.

“They were very full, very blousy with lots of strong colours together.”

This ‘drawing room’ will include roses, carnations, palms, and the inevitable aspidistra. Attempts to use another Victorian favourite, the monkey puzzle tree, proved too difficult and instead they have made a ‘fantasy tree’ from Muehlenbeckia complexa, a natural material often used to make hanging baskets, which will be hung with flower-filled glass tubes.

chelsea flower show
The team have been collecting begonias

Another area will showcase individual plants, such as fuchsia and begonia, representing those brought back by the great plant-hunters, and there will be old-fashioned perennials in a box-edged garden, including delphinium, larkspur and sweet peas.

Katherine is determined that Chelsea visitors will get “the whole experience” and the exhibit is designed so that they can touch and smell some of the plants; a collection of herbs will be clustered along one edge, a small fernery will line another.

“We want to be able to engage with people,” explains Katherine, who is a member of Churchdown and District Flower Club.

Throughout there will be hints of Victorian life from a collection of old tools and a gardener’s waistcoat hung on a fork to a dainty cup and saucer.

The other members of Katherine’s hand-picked team are: Jenny Bennett from Charlton Kings Flower Club; Elizabeth Graham, Newport; Pat Crane, Hereford; Kath Lee, Carmarthen and Pershore; Judy Aldridge, Ledbury; Adrian Cook, South Pembroke; Donald Morgan, Carmarthen.

chelsea flower show
Plant material has been used to create a fantasy tree

Members of the 75 flower clubs in the region have been fundraising for the project and their contribution will be recognised with leaves they have pressed being added to the display.

Meanwhile, the team have been busy sourcing props and plants, while the cut flowers will be purchased just before the show.

Katherine is no stranger to exhibitions having been a regular at the Malvern shows and as a past member of the Hereford Cathedral Flower Festival team. However, the prospect of being judged according to RHS rather than NAFAS rules is, she admits, “quite scary”.

But she adds: “You cannot do this and worry. You just have to get on with it.”

The Chelsea Flower Show runs from May 24-28 2016. Details:

More about the show:

Highgrove garden festival

Highgrove is holding its first garden festival this spring with talks by celebrity gardeners, tours of the Royal garden and a special plant fair.

Alan Titchmarsh, Jekka McVicar, Raymond Blanc and Sarah Raven are just some of the speakers at the event, which runs from April 11 to 16. Topics range from growing food organically and plant care to garden history and topiary.

Alan Titchmarsh
Alan Titchmarsh will be talking about Royal gardens

Cheltenham-based Chris Beardshaw will discuss making a show garden, designer Bunny Guinness will talk about transforming a garden and award-winning Andy Sturgeon will explore how to create a contemporary garden.

There will be two evening events with a talk and supper: Carol Klein will present one on her latest book, Making a Garden, Successful Gardening by Nature’s Rules, and Bob Flowerdew will host the other on the perfect garden.

Other events are for a lunch, a talk and a tour of the garden while special hour-long tours of the Highgrove grounds include afternoon tea.

Events will include tours of the Highgrove garden

“We’re hoping there’s something for everybody,” explained marketing manager Nikki Chee.

Highgrove: The Garden Celebrated is billed as a celebration of one of Britain’s favourite pastimes and is based on the principles behind the Prince of Wales’ organically run private garden, which has been created over the past 35 years.

One of the main features is the wildflower meadow and BBC Gardeners’ World presenter Rachel de Thame will present a joint talk with botanist Trevor Dines on growing wild flowers.

Topiary is another important element and this skill will be discussed by cloud pruning specialist and topiary expert Jake Hobson.

Other speakers include Highgrove’s head gardener Debs Goodenough, TV gardener and broadcaster David Domoney, Caroline Tatham from The Cotswold Gardening School, and designers Julian and Isabel Bannerman.

David Domoney
TV gardener David Domoney is one of the speakers

“The festival truly captures the essence of Highgrove,” said Chris Prescott, chief executive at Highgrove Enterprises. “It will be a unique insight into the ethos and sustainable approach behind the gardens, as well as a reflection of the horticultural interests and enthusiasms of HRH The Prince of Wales.”

Running alongside the talks will be a spring plant fair and a retail pavilion with exhibitors hand-picked by Highgrove.

All profits from the event will go to The Prince of Wales’ Charitable Foundation, which supports a wide range of causes.

“If it’s successful, we would love to make it an annual event,” added Nikki.

Tickets, which range from £17.50 to £95, go on sale on Thursday February 18. For details and to book:



Designer plans luxury shop

Award-winning Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes and sculptor Yann Eshkol are opening a luxury garden shop in Stroud next month.

Allomorphic will stock up-market gardening accessories, one-off pieces and bespoke items designed by Paul, who has previously produced a range of gardening products for Marks and Spencer.

Paul Hervey-Brookes
Paul Hervey-Brookes, left, and Yann Eshkol

“The current retail model is a little stale and increasingly consumers are looking for personalised style and pieces which stand out as unique,” said Paul, who has won top awards at shows across the world including Chelsea.

The store will also host a series of monthly lectures by leading garden experts, including Rosemary Hardy of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants and Cotswold Garden Flowers founder Bob Brown.

There will also be workshops covering floristry, outdoor dining and garden design and the shop will offer a floristry service for weddings and events.

Review: ‘Making a Garden’ by Carol Klein

If there’s one thing that gardening teaches you it’s that it is far better to work with Nature than against her. The most successful plots match plants to the conditions that exist. Trying to artificially alter what you’ve got or planting something unsuitable and praying rarely pays off.

So far, so good but how do you know what conditions you have? In her latest book, Making a Garden, renowned plantswoman Carol Klein explains how looking closely at natural sites can show us how to deal with our cultivated spaces. Nature, she insists, is “the best of teachers”. Follow her lessons and “we stand a good chance of creating beautiful gardens”.

Carol Klein

Six basic types of habitat are explored ranging from woodland and wetland to seaside and meadow. Most gardens, Klein insists, will include at least one, if not several, of these habitats and they can be adapted to more urban settings. Thus, woodland can be just a few trees, or shade-casting shrubs or buildings, while hedgerow plants may be equally at home at the foot of a wall or fence.

The chapters cover the particular challenges of the aspect be it the thin soil of a seaside plot or the permanent damp of wetland, and some of the ways that plants have adapted to them. Case study gardens are explored and the secrets of their success explained.

Each chapter ends with a list of suggested plants for that situation, chosen not for any reasons of fashion but purely on their suitability for the job. There is, observes Klein, “a lot of snobbery when it comes to selecting plants”.

Carol Klein
Carol Klein’s own garden is used as a starting point for much of her advice

It is an approach typical of the BBC Gardeners’ World presenter who is well known for her enthusiastic and down-to-earth approach to gardening. Both shine through in this book. There is sheer joy in some of the descriptions: honeysuckle scent has “an element of spice – of nutmeg, perhaps, or cloves – and a sweetness that makes you want to bury your nose into its crimson and cream flowers, over and over again” while scattered through are nuggets of practical advice from how to sow foxglove seed and where to plant primroses, to the St Valentine’s Day massacre tip on pruning clematis.

All this is brought to life thanks to photographs by Jonathan Buckley that beautifully capture both plants and gardens.

Klein states that the book will not “offer foolproof solutions or quick-fix formulae to solve all your horticultural woes”. What it does give is inspiration for both the novice and experienced gardener.

Making a Garden (Successful Gardening by Nature’s Rules) by Carol Klein, photography Jonathan Buckley, is published by Mitchell Beazley and priced at £25.

Review copy courtesy of  The Suffolk Anthology

For more book reviews, see here

Snowdrops add sparkle to Cotswold Farm

Snowdrops’ obliging nature makes them ideal for most gardens. Happy to naturalise through grass or under trees, they can also be tucked under shrubs or hedges to add sparkle to the winter scene. At Cotswold Farm this versatility has been exploited to the full and come February every nook and cranny is tinged white.

The collection was begun in the 1930s when the house was enlarged in the Arts and Crafts style by Sir John and Lady Birchall. The sloping site was divided into ‘garden rooms’ with a terrace designed by Norman Jewson and long vistas out into the Cotswold countryside; the garden is 700ft above sea level and the ‘borrowed views’ are an important element.

Galanthus 'Hill Poe'
Galanthus ‘Hill Poe’

Snowdrops permeate every corner of the garden, now owned by Iona Birchall. The beech wood is gradually being colonised by drifts of the scented ‘S. Arnott’ and the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis; varieties including ‘Ransom’s Dwarf’ and ‘Anglesey Abbey’ are conveniently placed at eye-level in the rock border; even the Bog Garden has clumps of white.

Most of the ‘special’ snowdrops are found in the shrub borders and the range is wide from the rounded blooms of ‘Hill Poe’ and the double ‘Hippolyta’ to the dark green leaved ‘Woronowii’ and the yellow ‘Wendy’s Gold’.

Cotswold Farm
Galanthus ‘Hippolyta’

Some have connections to the garden: ‘Mary Biddolph’ is named for the woman behind another great Gloucestershire garden, Rodmarton Manor, who was originally a Birchall.

“She is flourishing here and doing very well indeed,” says Iona of the snowdrop that she refers to as ‘Aunt Mary’.

Galanthus 'Mary Biddulph'
Galanthus ‘Mary Biddulph’ is flourishing

Then there’s ‘Ruth Birchall’, called after one of the many women who have shaped the Cotswold Farm garden, ‘Daglingworth’, a tall, statuesque snowdrop, which was discovered in that Cotswold village by Ruth, and ‘Cotswold Farm’ itself.

Another tall variety, ‘Benhall Beauty’, is slowly spreading through the island beds on the terrace, part of a deliberate plan to enhance what is predominantly a summer display that includes lavender, penstemon and roses.

It’s not just snowdrops that are brightening the garden. On the cold winter day I visited, Cornus mas was in full flower, a yellow cloud above leafless shrubs, burnished red bark on a Prunus tibetica was set against the white and gold of snowdrops and aconites, and the Step Garden was glowing with red and orange-stemmed dogwoods.

Cornus mas
Cornus mas adds colour to the shrub borders

There are hellebores throughout: simple singles, frilly doubles, cool cream, pale pink and sultry purple. The paper-like blooms of Iris unguicularis nestle in beds of strappy foliage and the scent of daphne, sarcococca and winter honeysuckle are carried on the cool air.

Hellebores are a big part of the display

The stripped back season also exposes the fine bones of this garden from hard landscaping, including old Cotswold stone walls and a gazebo in the Step Garden, to the living structures of clipped box and gnarled trees.

Cotswold Farm
Norman Jewson designed the main terrace

February belongs to the snowdrops though and their ability to lift the spirits in the depths of winter is eagerly awaited.

“They’ve been twinkling in the dark evenings and dark mornings,” says Iona. “It’s always special.”

Cotswold Farm at Duntisbourne Abbots, Cirencester, is open from 11am to 3pm on Saturday and Sunday February 6 and 7 in aid of Cobalt. It is also open on Mondays February 8, 15, 22 and 29. Admission is from 11-3pm and costs £5, children under 16 enter free.