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

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

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:

Experts head for Cotswolds

Shrubs, so often part of the supporting cast rather than the star of a garden, will be thrust firmly into the spotlight at a Cotswold lecture in April.

Chelsea gold medal-winning designer, author and plantsman Andy McIndoe will be showing how choosing the right shrubs can transform your plot.

Andy McIndoe
Andy McIndoe will be talking about shrubs

Andy, who masterminded Hillier Nursery’s 25 gold medal displays at the world famous show, is giving the first in a series of lectures by celebrity gardeners and experts.

The talks are being run by luxury garden shop Allomorphic, which opens in Stroud in March. There are also workshops on offer covering everything from garden design to how to draw.

The business has been set up by award-winning designer and RHS judge Paul Hervey-Brookes who says the opening talk promises to be a lively affair.

“Andy is known to many for his colourful shirts when interviewed on the RHS Chelsea coverage,” says Paul. “I am anticipating his talk to be as wild and flamboyant with a good dose of humour.”

In May, the secrets of the head gardener will be revealed when Benjamin William Pope from Trotton Place discusses ‘The Working Garden’. Trotton, a private estate, was designed by Chelsea gold medalist Arne Maynard and features stunning perennial planting and a large walled, working kitchen garden.

Benjamin William Pope
Head gardener Benjamin William Pope

“Ben will share his passion for getting the very best from a garden with us and revealing his top secrets to glorious success,” says Paul, who is busy planning a show garden for Hampton Court Flower Show in July.

Other speakers in the series include Bob Brown, of Cotswold Garden Flowers, Michaelmas daisy expert Helen Picton, and Rosie Hardy, of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, who is building her first show garden at Chelsea this year. The talks, priced at £12.50, include wine and nibbles, and a series discount is available.

Bob Brown
Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers

Running alongside the monthly lectures are day and short courses including DIY wedding flowers and floral arrangements inspired by woodland, how to revamp your border, and the basics of drawing using the techniques of the old masters.

Full details and booking are available at

Barnsley leads flower hunt

Barnsley House’s head gardener will be leading the hunt for a rare seasonal flower this Easter.

Richard Gatenby will head a morning trek in search of the meadow Pasque Flower. Extremely rare in the UK, this delicate purple bloom is found in only a few places, including a spot a few miles from Barnsley.

pasque flower
The pasque flower is found near Barnsley House

The trek is open to guests on a special package at Barnsley House, the former home of garden designer Rosemary Verey and now a hotel.

The package, includes an evening screening of ‘Greenfingers’ in the hotel’s private cinema, and use of the spa facilities. Provisional dates, subject to flowering, are April 12/13 and 19/20.

For details and to book call 01285 740000 or email

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:



Grow rainbow potatoes

There’s no doubt that when it comes to grow your own, spuds have an image problem. Potatoes may be a staple of many diets but for the average vegetable gardener they are seen as space-greedy and suitable only for allotments. Why devote time and effort to something that’s cheap to buy and, frankly, a bit dull?

The answer, as with so many crops, lies in the taste. There’s nothing quite like newly dug potatoes and growing your own gives you the chance to try varieties ignored by the supermarkets. They can also be raised in containers, so even balcony gardeners needn’t miss out, while choosing one of the colourful varieties means you could be harvesting rainbow nuggets of gold.

Potatoe 'Red Emmalie'
Try ‘Red Emmalie’ for some different mash

The start of the potato growing season is one of the highlights of the year at Dundry Nurseries. The Cotswold business hosts an annual Potato Weekend that sees thousands of seed potatoes sold to customers who travel from all over the country for the event. As little as one tuber can be bought, making it the ideal way for beginners to start, or for old hands to try something new.

This year, the 19th event, there will be around 135 different varieties on offer with coloured spuds set to steal the show.

Dundry Nurseries
Thousands of tubers will be sold over the weekend

“We like to be a bit different,” says Steve Mercer, manager at the family-owned nursery. “As with everything we do, it’s a bit of fun.”

Unlike varieties such as ‘Red Duke of York’, it’s not just the skin that’s coloured on these spuds but the flesh as well. Some are Heritage varieties, others newer introductions.

‘Violetta’ and ‘Salad Blue’ are both a deep blue-purple, ‘Red Emmalie’ is a glorious pink-red, while ‘Highland Burgundy’ has almost all red flesh with just a narrow band of white under the red skin. ‘Shetland Black’ has dark blue skin and creamy flesh with a distinctive purple band.

potato 'Shetland Black'
‘Shetland Black’ has a distinctive purple ring

When it comes to more mainstream varieties, ‘Charlotte’ is still the bestseller.

“It’s because everybody knows it and it always grows well. Why change a good thing?” says Steve.

There has been a trend though for growers to move over to ‘Annabelle’, which crops earlier than ‘Charlotte’ and with more uniform tubers. In the same way, ‘Mozart’, which Steve describes as “bombproof”, is gradually becoming the spud of choice among former ‘Desiree’ growers. Meanwhile, ‘Jazzy’, a popular waxy spud with great flavour, sold out on the first day at last year’s event.

“We’ve tripled the order this time,” says Steve.

Steve Mercer getting reading for the Potato Weekend

Last year, around 1,800 people visited over the two days of the Potato Weekend with many more calling in during the run-up to be sure of getting a particular variety.

“Around eighty per cent still come back for the weekend to talk to fellow growers. It’s really a social gathering.”

Dundry Nurseries, Bamfurlong Lane, Cheltenham, holds its Potato Weekend on Saturday and Sunday January 16 and 17 from 9am to 4.30pm. Tubers are 20p each; £1.75 a Kg; £4.50 3Kg. Nursery owner Chris Evans will give cookery demonstrations using coloured potatoes on the Saturday. Gloucestershire gardening groups will have stalls, there will be advice about growing potatoes, antique tools on display and a potato-themed play on the Sunday. Refreshments will be available. For more details, visit

How to grow spuds

Always use certified disease-free tubers.

Tubers should be chitted to develop shoots before planting. Place, eyes uppermost, in a light, frost-free place, such as a conservatory or porch. Old egg boxes are an ideal container.

Ground should not be freshly manured – prepare it in the autumn. Pelleted chicken manure is a popular fertiliser when planting.

Plant around the end of March for first earlies; early to mid-April for second earlies and mid to late April for maincrop.

First and second earlies are planted 1ft apart, 5ins deep with 2ft between rows. Main crop: 18ins apart, 5ins deep.

As shoots start to grow, earth up by drawing earth around them to protect from frost and stop light turning the tubers green. Keep well-watered.

Harvest first and second earlies from June, when the potatoes are egg-sized. Harvest main crop from September when the flowers go over.

Allow potatoes to dry before storing in a dark, frost-free place in sacks. Do not store damaged tubers and check remainder regularly.

A 35L bucket can be planted with three tubers. Keep well watered and either fill the bucket immediately or earth up as the tubers grow.

Potatoes are an underrated crop

Westonbirt lights up

Walking around a wood on a cold winter’s night isn’t the most obvious way to launch the festive season, yet for thousands that’s exactly what Westonbirt’s Enchanted Christmas does.

Indeed, the spectacular light show, which opens on Friday, has become so popular – last year saw more than 33,000 visitors over the 12 nights – the arboretum has been forced to limit some evenings to pre-booked tickets only.

“It’s because of the sheer number of people who want to come,” explains Recreation Manager Simon Hough. “We were getting to the point we could not get any more in.”

Limiting the numbers on Saturdays to 3,500 pre-booked visitors will, he says, help to preserve the atmosphere.

“The great thing about this landscape is it soaks people up and even when it’s very busy you still feel you’re having a unique experience out there.”

westonbirt arboretum
The lighting creates a magical atmosphere © Forestry Commission

Now in its 19th season, Enchanted Christmas turns the world famous National Arboretum into a magical world of colour not due to the usual autumn foliage or spring blossom but with thousands of lights that pick out groups of trees or individual specimens.

Sometimes it’s the twisted shape of the leafless branches that are highlighted against the night sky, on others it’s the weeping form or intricate pattern of bark, while colours range from white, green and blue through to red, orange and yellow.

This year’s route is nearly a mile-and-a-half long around the Old Arboretum and highlights will include lights along Holford Ride towards Westonbirt School, some beautiful Scots pines and cedars on the downs.

“The big cedars lit up look magnificent,” says Simon.

Visitors are being encouraged to sing out in Savill Glade where sound-sensitive lights will respond to the volume and in Pool Avenue banging a base drum will bring on the illuminations.

westonbirt arboretum
The illuminated trail is through the Old Arboretum © Forestry Commission

This year, Father Christmas, dressed in a traditional green costume, will be joined by Mrs Christmas, who will be entertaining children with stories.

Other entertainment includes carol singing, stilt walkers, a children’s carousel and Christmas crafts.

“The Enchanted Christmas is our unique thing,” says Simon. “You cannot replicate a place like this. It’s magical.”

The Enchanted Christmas is open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night between November 27 and December 20. Pre-booking is advised and is essential for entry on Saturdays. The trail opens at 5pm, last entry to the car park is at 7pm and to the trail at 7.30pm. Stout shoes, warm clothing and a torch are recommended. For more information and to book, visit

Talk gives peep at paradise

There’s a rare chance of a glimpse into the Rothschild’s private family garden at a Cotswold talk this month.

Gloucestershire writer and designer Mary Keen will explore Eythrope in Buckinghamshire in an illustrated talk at Sapperton.

The garden is renowned for its standards, use of traditional techniques and sheer scale that sees it producing year-round flowers and produce for the family’s country house.

Mary, who writes for The Telegraph and Garden magazine, has just published a book on the garden, ‘Paradise and Plenty’, which not only pays tribute to Eythrope but also outlines some of the cultivation methods used there.

Her talk, organised by the Yellow Lighted Bookshop, will be held in Sapperton Village Hall on Friday November 27 at 7pm. Tickets are £7.50 in advance, which gives £5 off purchase of the book, and can be booked on 01666 500221.

‘Paradise and Plenty, A Rothschild Family Garden’ by Mary Keen, photography by Tom Hatton, is £50, published by Pimpernel Press.