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.

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.”

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:

Trillium nivale from North America

Pictures © Eric Jarrett

Behind the scenes at Allomorphic

There’s a palpable air of supressed stress when I arrive at Allomorphic. The final coat of earth brown paint is being applied to walls, boxes are being unpacked and carpet laid. It’s just days before the opening of Stroud’s newest horticultural venture and there’s still lots to do.

Stood in the middle of the maelstrom is designer Paul Hervey-Brookes answering questions from his team of helpers on prices, where to position pots, books and labels, and how to fill an awkward gap atop a cupboard filled with speciality teas. His quick, decisive solutions suggest he is working to some internal plan and already has a clear idea of the finished result.

Paul Hervey-Brookes
Paul Hervey-Brookes is launching Allomorphic with partner Yann Eshkol

It is, I venture, a little like being in the midst of a show garden build with the arrival of the judges looming.

“Yes, I feel like we will still be doing something just before the launch party guests arrive,” smiles Paul, although given his experience of hitting show time deadlines, that’s unlikely.

Allomorphic stocks many quirky items such as these scoop bowls

The first time we met it was to discuss gardening on a budget. Paul had just made his show garden debut and he enthusiastically explained how his design – which won silver-gilt at the Malvern Autumn Show – proved that it was possible to garden without spending a fortune by growing your own and using recycled materials.

Some eight years and numerous award-winning gardens later, including gold at Chelsea, the enthusiasm is undimmed but the project has come a long way from that low-cost start.

Plant supports based on an Edwardian design

Allomorphic, which Paul is launching with his partner, Yann, offers unusual and, in some cases, exclusive items inspired by gardens and wearing a price tag that’s heading towards the luxury end of the market.

“They are high quality,” says Paul, “but that’s simply because I grew up with the idea that you buy cheaply, you buy twice.”

Yet, although at the top end there are Sneeboer tools – included because they “will last a lifetime and are a joy to work with” – the stock also covers garden essentials, such as plant labels and string. What makes Allomorphic different to the average horticultural outlet is that even these are beautifully presented in labelled glass jars, while the design ethic extends even to the choice of till.

Labels and matches are beautifully packaged

It’s this creation of a beautiful space that is the driving force behind the project, which Paul sees as a natural extension to his work as a leading garden designer.

“People who come to us for gardens are looking for something beautiful, something they can escape into and so many of the things that are in this building are things that would naturally be incorporating into those spaces.

“It’s all part of what we already do and it just seemed really nice to offer these bits without a garden.”

Insect houses are designed to encourage wildlife into a garden

Among the items on sale and also available online are hedgehog houses that Paul first designed for Marks and Spencer, wooden seed trays fashioned from old railway sleepers, books – many out of print – and antiques, such as a 1950s’ rose support, that have been sourced from all over the country and abroad. There will be fresh flowers, floristry accessories, such as driftwood, and a range of speciality teas.

Exclusive items include a range of greetings cards that the couple have designed in collaboration with artist Roger Ellis.

“If you buy one for yourself, you should love it and if you buy one for somebody, they should feel like they’ve had a real treat,” says Paul.

He bristles at the word shop – “I don’t see it as another gardening shop” – and in a way he’s right as there is much more to Allomorphic than mere trade.

There will be flowers for sale and floristry workshops

The venture was born out of the need for new office space for the couple’s garden design business and discussions they’d had about running workshops and lectures. The property in the heart of Stroud seemed the perfect fit.

“A friend described Stroud as a blend of Brighton and Islington,” explains Paul, “and it’s got a really good broad mix of people and a really fresh vibe around it at the moment.”

Work began on the rundown building at the beginning of January and it now houses not only the design office but a space that will be used for workshops and plant-themed events such as an agapanthus festival; the monthly lectures will be held in a room nearby.

Vintage-style pots are available

It’s been a tough few months to get everything ready, made all the more difficult by having to also juggle three private design projects, a huge garden at this year’s Hampton Court show, mentoring RHS young designers, work on RHS plant trials, and judging at the Malvern and Tatton shows.

“I like to be busy,” explains Paul, when I question the wisdom of taking on yet another enterprise. “I’m not someone who likes to stand still and I’m constantly looking for new sources of inspiration and ideas. This just seemed very natural.

Corn cobs are strung ready for bird feeders

“I love making show gardens but I don’t particularly want to make four a year, as I have done in the past three years. This gives us the opportunity to say this is what we’re about without constantly being on that treadmill.”

Eventually, Paul and Yann will move into a flat upstairs. And it’s this sense of putting down roots after years of building show gardens across the world that appeals to them.

“Since 2012, we’ve had quite a nomadic existence. This feels like coming home and I really like that.”

Allomorphic, 11 Lansdown, Stroud, opened on Saturday March 12. Opening hours will then be Wednesday to Saturday, 10-4.30pm. Details:


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.


Get seed swapping

Vegetables are just some of the seeds swapped Pic: Kerry James

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

seed swap
Pic: Kerry James

Container gardening

Container gardening is one of the best ways to expand both what you grow and the space available. Pots, windowboxes and wall-mounted containers mean you can provide just the right growing conditions be they soil type or position, brighten up the dullest of patios and grow in even limited space.

It’s also a great way of keeping an ever-changing display as flowering plants that are past their best can be replaced with others that are just coming into bloom. And you don’t need dozens of expensive pots to achieve this: keep your plants in ordinary plastic and slip them inside something fancier. This is particularly good for bulbs, which can be hidden out of sight to die back.

container gardening
Pots are a good way of brightening up a path

I use pots a lot. Hostas, which would not survive the attentions of slugs and snails in my crammed borders, are grouped in a shady corner where I can keep a closer eye on them. Acid-lovers, such as camellias, would hate my Cotswold ground and putting them in a pot of ericaceous compost is far easier than making an acid bed and far better than going without their spring blooms. In the summer, containers of cheerful pelargoniums give the air of a Mediterranean holiday even if the weather doesn’t match.

A few simple rules apply to growing in containers. Make sure there is adequate drainage; few plants like waterlogged soil. I like to cover the drainage holes with pieces of broken terracotta pots to stop soil blocking them.

container gardening
Hostas are well suited to growing in containers

Match the pot size to the plant: a small shrub may eventually grow to be big but will look wrong starting off adrift in a large pot. It is far better to repot as it grows – beware though pots that narrow from the bottom as it can be difficult to get plants out.

Above all, remember to feed and water; use irrigation systems and slow-release fertiliser, if time is short or your memory poor.

When it comes to choosing the right container the range is vast and much is down to personal taste. Here is a sample of some of the things available.


Think of plant pots and chances it will be terracotta that comes to mind. From old-fashioned clay pots that are still my favourites for herbs and pelargoniums to those with fancy patterns, terracotta has long been a popular choice.

container gardening
Whichford produce a range of pots

In the Cotswolds, we are lucky enough to have Whichford Pottery on our doorstep. The family firm, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, sends its pots to gardens across the country, including National Trust properties, and they are sold in the Highgrove shop, suitably embellished with the Prince of Wales feathers.

Handmade, they come with a 10-year frostproof guarantee and range from traditional long toms to huge urns. Details:


From traditional galvanised steel and burnished copper to shiny contemporary pots, metal is another widely used material for containers.

New this year are a range of windowboxes by garden planter firm Arthur Jack & Co, whose water butt was shortlisted for the RHS Chelsea garden product of the year 2015.


Arthur Jack’s new windowboxes

Made of galvanised steel, they come in two sizes and have adjustable legs to allow for slanted sills, a fitted bottom tray to stop dirty water damaging paintwork and bolt fixings to allow them to be hung from railings. They can also be used as edging on terraces or decking. Prices start at £170. Details:

copper planter
Copper planters from Architectural Heritage

If you need something bigger, Cotswold-based Architectural Heritage has copper and lead planters. The pieces, reproduced from traditional planters, include large circular copper urns and a rectangular lead planter patterned with squares. Prices start at £800. Details:

At the other end of the price range, Crocus have some clever ideas to maximise your space. Galvanised wall planters can be used to liven up a dull boundary or house wall and are ideal for small plants that would be lost in a border. A set of three costs £18.99.

plant stand
A corner plant stand makes the most of awkward spaces

The same style of galvanised steel with a clear lacquer finish is used in the firm’s corner stand of three pots (£44.99), a great way of filling those awkward corners. Details:


container gardening
Suttons’ painted crate makes an eye-catching container

Reusing old crates has become very fashionable but they don’t have to be plain. Suttons have produced a range in green, pink, blue and whitewash as well as natural that can also have a personal message added. Prices start at £20. Details:


If you think plastic containers are a bit naff, think again. New colours and sleek lines can be the perfect foil to plants and they have the advantage of being lightweight.

container planting
Elho pots offer modern container planting

Dutch company Elho has been producing synthetic pottery for more than 50 years and uses around 45 per cent recycled material. The pots are UV resistant, have a useful water reservoir and come in a range of colours from clean white and soft blue to lime green and cherry. They are stocked at many garden centres ( for details of stockists) and online at Amazon and Crocus. Prices start at £4.09 for a GrowPot.

plant pots
Colourful pots from Hum

For a touch of fun in the garden, Hum Flowerpots have contemporary designs and sparkling colours. Made in the UK, they are frost and fade-resistant and come in a range of styles. The company, set up two years ago, makes just one 22cm-tall pot but further sizes are planned. They are priced at £10 and available at

Something different

Anything can be used as a planter, providing there’s adequate drainage. The only limit is your imagination.

Container gardening
An old kettle makes an unusual planter
Container gardening
An old wheelbarrow planted with snowdrops and muscari

Review: Shakespeare’s Gardens

Something that combined my love of Shakespeare with gardening was always going to appeal. What I hadn’t expected was that it would be informative as well as entertaining. Shakespeare’s Gardens by Jackie Bennett managed to surprise me by being both.

Shakespeare's Gardens

With the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death this year, a flurry of books about him was predictable. I had anticipated biographies, new interpretations of his plays, accounts of Elizabethan life but gardens? It seemed a tenuous link.

In fact, the book, published in association with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, manages to show how important they were. Bennett argues that to ignore Shakespeare’s houses and gardens is to miss out on a “very large body of visible evidence” about his world. She shows how from the gossiping gardeners in Richard II, comparing the state of the nation to a neglected plot, to the numerous references to plants and flowers, the influence of gardening is found throughout his work.

Mary Arden's Farm
Mary Arden’s Farm, photograph copyright Andrew Lawson

The book is based on the five Stratford-upon-Avon gardens now owned by the Trust. Of these, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is arguably the most famous and attracts visitors from all over the world. The Trust, which has its origins in a mid-19th century campaign to save Shakespeare’s birthplace for the nation, owns not only that house in Henley Street but also Mary Arden’s Farm, where Shakespeare’s mother grew up, Hall’s Croft, the house he gave to his daughter, Susanna, and New Place, his final home where he died in 1616.

Bennett uses these houses to take us on a journey not only through the biography of Shakespeare’s life from Stratford grammar school pupil to national poet but also through the development of gardens from “necessary food-producing plots to fashionable, flower-filled showpieces”.

Hall's Croft
Hall’s Croft, photograph copyright Andrew Lawson

She does not limit herself to Stratford but starts with a general overview of gardens at the time and touches upon London plots, such as those at the Inns of Court, that he may have visited.

Along the way, we learn about Elizabethan garden style with its ‘foot’ mazes and topiary; the influx of new plants, such as marigolds and nasturtiums; and the medicine of the time, and its use of herbs.

Much of this information is slotted into the chapters in the form of ‘standalone’ sections and they include passages on roses, daffodils, herbs and Tudor food.

New Place Shakespeare
New Place, photograph copyright Andrew Lawson

Understandably, little in the Stratford gardens has withstood the passage of 400 years and one of the challenges for the Trust is what style to adopt in each garden, whether to take them back to a more Tudor design or keep what has evolved; it will be interesting to see what course they follow in the future under the leadership of new head gardener Glyn Jones, formerly at Hidcote Manor Garden. In the meantime, the book charts their development from the plots Shakespeare would have known to the planting of today.

Trademark quality photography by Andrew Lawson and an easy-on-the-eye layout stop the book being merely an exercise in historical research, while the detail makes it more than just a brochure for what is already a popular tourist destination.

Shakespeare’s Gardens by Jackie Bennett, photographs by Andrew Lawson, is published by Frances Lincoln, 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 Frances Lincoln.

 Also available from The Suffolk Anthology

For more book reviews, see here

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 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: