James Alexander-Sinclair talks Chelsea, design and some lucky falls

Rosa ‘Mutabilis’,” says James Alexander-Sinclair decisively when I ask for his favourite plant. He then adds that yesterday it was Salvia confertiflora while last week it was tulips that had stolen his heart. It is, of course, an impossible question for any gardener – my own choice changes like the weather – but it’s something I like to throw into the mix as you can learn a lot by the way people react.

James’ answer, given with barely a pause yet far from predictable, shows why he is in demand as a writer, compere and speaker while the gentle ridicule is typical of someone who doesn’t take himself or his achievements too seriously.

James
Tulips were James’ favourite last week – next week, who knows?

Despite his position as a noted designer, award-winning writer, RHS council member and judge, he describes his career as a “collection of fortuitous trippings” that has seen him fall into first landscaping, then garden design followed by writing and broadcasting; he’s a regular contributor to magazines and newspapers, presented Small Town Gardens and was a judge on the The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge.

It could have been so different if he’d followed up on early success as a waiter or selling trousers, or changed his mind about estate agency as a career.

“It was really what people used to do when they didn’t have any qualifications or any particular idea of where they were going.”

James
James’ is a regular compere at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival

Instead, a plea from his sister to get off the sofa and “dig the garden or do something useful” saw him turning over her tiny London garden and the realisation that it “was fun”.

Teaching himself how to pave, put up fence panels and lay turf, James started his own landscape business. Design came about when he decided “there must be an easier way to earn a living than through heavy lifting”.

As with the landscaping, he is largely a self-taught designer although his father sent him on a course at the Inchbald School of Design when he was starting out: “I didn’t turn up for most of it – which was unfortunate – because I had other things to do.”

James
An illuminated rill snakes through James’ design for a central London garden

His writing started because of ‘old rectory syndrome’: “Somebody would ring me up and say ‘Can you come and look at my garden?’ and I would say ‘Marvellous’ and it would be The Old Rectory and I would go ‘Oh God, not another one.’ I wanted to do something else.”

Broadcasting followed, giving him a career that embraces just a few of what he describes as the tentacles of gardening, a profession that can range from landscaping and photography to scientific research and raising plants.

James
James built one of the Radio 2 Feel Good Gardens at Chelsea this year

“It’s nice to be busy in as many of those different spheres as I can possibly manage.”

This opportunity is something he believes should make gardening an attractive career for school-leavers.

“Gardening when I started was considered the last refuge of the unemployable and it isn’t any more.

James
James used hostas, persicaria and thalia along the stream in this country garden

“It has enormous breadth to it and is something that can provide somebody not only with a satisfying life but also with a satisfying living.”

And he dislikes the idea that because it’s a popular hobby people underestimate the worth of professionals.

When to comes to designing, James works by three guiding principles: what the house looks like; what the views are; who’s going to live in it.

“It’s a matter of making sure you’re making gardens that are not only appropriate for the place but also for the people.

“You’re making a garden for people to use, to love and to enjoy and to make their lives better and happier so it has to work with the way that they live.”

James
Water was central to the Zoe Ball Listening Garden

It was this sense of fun that came to the fore in his BBC Radio 2 garden for Zoe Ball at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show where water in weathered steel troughs vibrated to the bass beat of music.

The five gardens celebrating the 50th anniversary of the radio station were a last minute addition by the RHS when show garden numbers fell short, thanks in part to post-Brexit referendum jitters. They proved popular with the public, partly James believes due to their size, and gardening on that scale is something that is likely to be repeated at the show.

James
Bass notes in underground music caused ripples in the pools

Yet, he believes there’s still a place for the “great big theatrical experience” of Chelsea.

“Chelsea always throws up something that’s exciting,” he says. “You go to Chelsea and you will be entertained, gobsmacked and educated. You will leave there inspired by something.”

As for his own Oxfordshire garden, it’s constantly evolving: “It’s a work in progress and always will be because that’s the way gardening is. Nobody in the world has got a finished garden.”

Allomorphic in Stroud is hosting a lunch and audience with James Alexander-Sinclair on Friday November 10, followed by a talk in Painswick on garden design hosted by Painswick Gardening Club. Tickets are £45 for the lunch and talk, limited to 24 places. Tickets for the talk only are £15. For details and to book, see the Allomorphic website.

Paul sets a growing challenge

There’s a new contest at the Malvern Festival this year. I’ve been talking to Paul Hervey-Brookes about his plans.

Cotswold designer Paul Harvey-Brookes may be well known for his award-winning show gardens but at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2017 he’s launching a contest on a much smaller scale.

Rather than large, carefully composed herbaceous borders he’s challenging gardeners to combine growing skills with display flair by showcasing just a few plants in an innovative way.

Although Malvern has always had amateur classes including for alpines and pot plants, Paul believes this contest offers something different.

“The Growing Challenge is about how you present things not just how you grow them,” he explains. “It’s about how you can do it creatively so it’s a thing of beauty and has a narrative story.”

growing challenge
A display of ferns and other shade-lovers is one category

The first of the five categories in the contest is for a collection of ferns or shade-loving plants, presented in a stylish way while the second is for a terrarium or group of plants that are growing in a sealed unit.

“It could be with soil or without,” says Paul, who is based in Stroud. “It could be ferns hanging from Kilner jars just with moss.”

Houseplants have seen a recent resurgence in popularity and the third category feeds into this trend. It asks for a trio of houseplants in an imaginative display.

“You can grow them in anything you like so long as it can get to Malvern. It could even be in an old grandfather clock or a tea plant growing out of a teapot.”

Paul’s hoping the fourth category in the Growing Challenge will appeal especially to younger gardeners. It asks for a fruiting plant, such as an avocado, grown from seed, and in a suitable container. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been grown, although the sowing date is needed to gauge the growth rate and condition.

growing challenge
Watering cans could be an unusual planting container

The final category is ideal for those with a small garden or no growing space at all. Competitors have to produce a collection of culinary plants that can be harvested in the kitchen, again with the emphasis on creativity.

“People don’t necessarily have a garden but it needn’t stop you growing things,” says Paul.

And to prove it can be done, Paul is taking the challenge himself and growing something for each of the categories, which he will exhibit at the show in May.

He’s hoping the innovative approach, which is looking for creativity as well as growing skills, will encourage newcomers to have a go.

“I’m really interesting the benefits of nurturing plants and how they can make you feel good about things.”

growing challenge
Prizes will include vouchers for Allomorphic in Stroud

He will be judging the entries with first, second and third prizes in each of the categories. Among the prizes are Sneeboer hand tools, tickets for a lecture and lunch with Paul, and £50 vouchers for Allomorphic, the gardening and lifestyle store he runs in Stroud; an Allomorphic concession is due to open later this month at Jekka’s Herb Farm in Alveston. The best in show winner will receive a £200 border fork.

It all makes for a busy few days as Paul will also be taking the RHS young designers he mentors to Malvern to pick up ideas and chairing the RHS judging panel looking at the Festival’s show gardens, the first time he’s headed a group.

“It’s a huge honour to be chairman of the judges especially as it’s only my second year as a judge,” he says.

“It’s rather apt that it’s at Malvern as it’s where my design career really launched.”

growing challenge
The Growing Challenge will be a new feature of the RHS Malvern Spring Festival

And it’s not the only show where he will be leading a judging panel as he is chair of judges for the Artisan and Fresh categories at this year’s Chelsea and will be chair at the Tatton show as well.

With a big show garden for the Institute of Quarrying at the new RHS Chatsworth Show and a Hampton Court garden for show sponsors Viking River Cruises, he’s also got a hectic design schedule.

“It is going to be a busy year,” he admits, “but I think it’s good to see a judge who’s active in the business of making gardens commercially and putting my money where my mouth is and making gardens at the shows.”

The deadline for entries to the Growing Challenge at RHS Malvern Spring Festival is Friday May 5, 2017. Details can be found here

• The Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 11-14 2017. Ticket details here

Cotswold gardening talks 2017

Gardening experts are heading to the Cotswolds this year offering advice on everything from early spring bulbs to the meaning of flowers.

Want to know how to build a pond and plant a bog garden, or perhaps pruning trees is a puzzle. Workshops, lectures and a garden festival will give gardeners ample opportunity to pick up tips and advice.

Here’s a round-up of the gardening talks on offer.

Allomorphic

Stroud-based home and garden shop Allomorphic is also the setting for a series of day courses and lectures with lunch.

Award-winning designer and RHS judge Paul Hervey-Brookes will be sharing his design expertise in three courses covering planting for winter, gardening in a small space and the basics of creating a show garden.

Cotswold talks
Paul Hervey-Brookes on his gold medal garden at Hampton Court

Other courses include how to make beautiful hand ties, summer door wreaths or arrangements to suit every celebration.

The ‘Queen of Herbs’, Jekka McVicar will be sharing her knowledge of plants medicinal and culinary while container planting expert Harriet Rycroft will explain how to have pots that look good all year-round.

Dates, details and prices here.

Gardens Illustrated Festival

The magazine’s second festival at Westonbirt School has a line-up of some of the gardening world’s best-known faces.

Designers Cleve West, Tom Stuart-Smith and Arne Maynard are among those who will be looking for paradise, exploring the health benefits of gardens and the use of beautifully crafted materials in gardens, while Sarah Raven will be showing how to combine colour in borders.

cotswold talks
Westonbirt School hosts the Gardens Illustrated festival

The roses of Sissinghurst, how to be a green gardener, and the canals and water gardens of Birmingham are just some of the subjects that will also be explored during the two-day festival.

The event on March 25-26 also has tours of the garden and a plant and design clinic alongside the gardening talks.

For details, see here

Highgrove

The Prince of Wales’ garden is hosting a lecture and lunch with Shane Connolly, floral arranger for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding.

cotswold talks
Highgrove is the setting for talks and workshops

He will show how to create arrangements that convey particular sentiments while explaining the historic symbolism of flowers.

The garden at Tetbury also has courses with Caroline Tatham and Kate Durr of the Cotswold Gardening School on planning and planting borders, container gardening and garden design.

cotswold talks
Caroline Tatham of The Cotswold Gardening School

For more details, see here

The Generous Gardener

The Generous Gardener near Cirencester is launching a new series of evening lectures alongside the usual daytime gardening talks.

Among those speaking at the evening events at The Coach House Garden are Bob Brown, of Cotswold Garden Flowers, with advice on new garden-worthy plants and Helen Picton talking about growing asters.

The lecture days, now in their fifth season, include two speakers and lunch. Among the double acts are Alan Street from Avon Bulbs talking about early spring treasures and Tony Kirkham, head of Kew’s arboretum, giving advice on everything to do with trees.

Cotswold talks
A series of lectures are being held at The Coach House

Leading designers Julian and Isobel Bannerman will take you through the making of their gardens while Derry Watkins, of Special Plants nursery, will tempt you to grow plants that are borderline hardy.

Designer Rupert Golby shows how to bring the garden indoors and writer and plantsman Stephen Lacey will suggest plants to introduce scent.

Bog gardens, ponds and how to create and plant them is explained by Timothy Walker, former director of Oxford Botanic Garden, while Telegraph columnist Helen Yemm will be choosing plants for a stunning summer show.

Plantsman Roy Lancaster shares his lifelong passion for plants and Helen Dillon will give an insight into the making of her famous garden in Ireland.

For dates, prices and more details see here

Cotswold Talks
Bob Brown is one of the speakers

Cheltenham Horticultural Society

Renowned plantsman Nick Macer, of Pan-Global Plants, will be the speaker at a special anniversary lecture in Cheltenham in October.

‘Things that turn me on – confessions of a plant freak’ is being organised by Cheltenham Horticultural Society as part of its 75th anniversary celebrations.

Nick, who is also on the BBC Gardeners’ World presenting team, will be talking at Balcarras School in Charlton Kings.

Tickets will be on sale later in the year. For details, see here

• Enjoyed this? Do leave me a comment and share this post via Twitter, Facebook or email. 

Mad about the snowdrop

Snowdrop expert John Grimshaw is returning to the Cotswolds to talk about these winter favourites at Allomorphic in Stroud.
I caught up with him to chat about his favourite varieties
and snowdrop mania.

With hundreds of new varieties being named each year, the snowdrop world is, says John Grimshaw, a “bit out of control” and he feels at least in part responsible.

He was one of the authors of the definitive work on the winter beauties, a monograph that for the first time looked in detail at each variety, comparing their differences and deciding which was which; some snowdrops had more than one name.

Yet the 2002 book had another unintended consequence as it brought the snowdrop to a wider audience, fuelling what has become an obsession with many.

snowdrop
John Grimshaw

“The book suddenly made it possible to learn. It was a big catalyst and I do feel partly responsible, I’m afraid.” says John, who until 2012 was Gardens Manager at Colesbourne Park, which has one of the country’s major snowdrop collections.

Interested in the snowdrop since childhood, his enthusiasm was really fired up as a student in Oxford when he met well-known galanthophiles (snowdrop enthusiasts) Primrose Warburg and Richard Nutt through the local Alpine Garden Society.

But the snowdrop world was, he says, very different in the 80s and 90s.

“A relatively small group of people were interested in snowdrops before the book came out and it was more manageable. You knew everybody and people shared material rather more freely and generously than they do now.”

In fact, the monograph detailed only 500 varieties, a far cry from the multitude that have been named since it came out.

snowdrop
‘Primrose Warbury’ is a vigorous yellow.

“Nowadays several hundred are named each year. It’s just a bit impossible to cope with.”

And snowdrops can be big business with a record £1,390 paid for a bulb of ‘Golden Fleece’ in 2015, though John is quick to stress that the average snowdrop sells for sensible prices.

Top five snowdrops

So, with hundreds of snowdrop varieties on offer, where should someone new to the galanthophile world start?

snowdrop
‘Three Ships’ is a reliably early variety

Top of John’s list is ‘Three Ships’, a pretty variety and one that flowers early, usually before Christmas.

“It is probably the most reliable pre-Christmas flowering snowdrop.”

snowdrop
‘Comet’ is a robust snowdrop

‘Comet’ is another recommendation and one that he describes as “very large, handsome and robust”.

Another favourite is ‘Diggory’, which has beautiful, big round flowers.

“It’s so distinctive, it stands out a mile away.”

snowdrop
‘Diggory’ is very distinctive

When it comes to yellow snowdrops, he suggests ‘Primrose Warburg’ because it’s robust and vigorous, unlike many of the yellow varieties.

And no collection would be complete without ‘S Arnott’.

“It has vigour, charm, beauty and scent.”

snowdrop
‘S Arnott’ has a lovely scent

Since 2012 John has been running the 128-acre Yorkshire Arboretum where he confesses he has introduced some snowdrops, although not on a grand scale.

“Much of the arboretum is very sticky wet clay which is very unsuited to them so the planting areas are quite limited but we’ve made a start.”

He also still has quite a collection of his own with around 350 different varieties in his private garden.

allomorphic
Allomorphic is hosting a series of gardening lectures

And he urges gardeners to ignore the hype surrounding the snowdrop and add them to their gardens.

“They’re charming winter flowers. You can’t not like a snowdrop.”

John Grimshaw will the guest speaker at an Allomorphic lunch on Wednesday February 15 when he will take a light-hearted look at snowdrops. Details here.

 John is one of two guest speakers at the Colesbourne Park snowdrop study day in February.

• Enjoyed this? Do leave me a comment and share this post via Twitter, Facebook or email. 

Rediscovering asters

Sometimes you think you know a plant only to find there’s far more to it than you realised. Asters – commonly known as Michaelmas Daisies – are such a plant.

To many gardeners they are those mauve daisy-like things that flower in autumn and grew in their parents’ garden. They have a slightly old-fashioned image and are generally seen as a filler in the border rather than a star.

Yet, the colour range is vast from cool white through to claret and it’s possible to have them in flower from early September to almost Christmas.

asters
There’s far more to asters than mauve

I was reminded quite how interesting asters can be at the Malvern Autumn Show where a display by Old Court Nurseries, holders of the National Collection, won gold.

It’s been some years since I visited Old Court and its display beds in The Picton Garden and I’d forgotten what a spectacle a mass planting of asters makes.

The display had a lightness and grace that is rarely associated with other autumn bloomers, such as rudbeckia, helenium or helianthus, and was something different to the usual yellows and oranges so often associated with the season.

Deciding it was time to rediscover asters, I attended at talk by Helen Picton hosted by Allomorphic in Stroud.

From the outset, it was clear there’s more to asters than mere mauve. A bucket of flowers, cut that day from the nursery, had white, pale pink, deep purple and some with a hint of red.

What’s in a name

And if the sudden realisation of the choice available wasn’t confusing enough, there’s the name. Work by botanists has led to many being reclassified and they are no longer called asters; nearly all the North American species are now Symphyotrichum or Eurybia.

Helen, who has a degree in botany, skipped through the explanation with ease but, perhaps realising that the switch is going to take some time among their customers, the nursery is still using the term aster as well as the new name for its plants.

asters
Flowers cut from the nursery showed the range of asters

She is the third generation of the Picton family to run the Colwall nursery, which was founded more than 100 years ago by Ernest Ballard, one of the first people to specialise in Asters.

The National Collection was started by her parents, Paul and Meriel, with many varieties owing their survival to two Bristol enthusiasts who collected them; their plants joined those at Old Court in the 1980s and today the collection has more than 400 varieties.

Growing asters

Asters do have a reputation for being prone to mildew that can turn their leaves an unattractive grey.

We were told that the novi-belgii group are the most susceptible, not least because they are shallow-rooted and therefore dry out quickly during the summer.

Helen suggested a garlic foliar spray was one method of treatment – though it is essential to cover all the foliage – and division every three years would help to keep plants vigorous.

asters
Helen is the third generation to run Old Court Nurseries

Varieties with smooth leaves were more likely to get mildew than those with rough leaves, she added.

The majority need open, sunny positions to flower well, although a few are tolerant of shade.

Other cultivation tips included hiding the “naked bottoms” of the New England asters.

“They are definitely back of the border plants. Give them a nice skirt of something more interesting.”

What to choose

If you’re looking for something that will be smothered in flowers, the compact ‘Gulliver’ is a good choice. It grows to around 45cm and has mauve blooms.

Another small aster is ‘Purple Dome’, which again gets to around 45cm high, and has large purple flowers.

“It needs as much sun as you can give it,” advised Helen.

asters
The Picton Garden displays the National Collection

For arching flower sprays, Helen recommended the species asters, such as ‘Photograph’, which has smaller, pale blue flowers

“It is more relaxed in habit and mixes better with other perennials.”

‘King George’ had a rapid name change after it was introduced as Kaiser Wilhelm in 1914 and is now a popular variety. Its large purple flowers are loved by hoverflies and butterflies. Upright growing, it is mildew-free but needs good winter drainage.

One of the blowsiest is ‘Fellowship’, which has masses of pale pink double flowers. It grows to around 100cm and is one of the more mildew-resistant of the New York asters.

asters
‘Fellowship’ produces a mass of double flowers

And, if you want something to tumble over a retaining wall, ‘Snow Flurry’, the only prostrate aster, might be the answer. It has long, horizontal flowering stems that are covered in tiny white flowers.

The Picton Garden and the National Collection of autumn flowering Asters and related genera is open until mid-October. For details and more information on Old Court Nurseries and growing asters see here

The next in the Allomorphic series of lectures is on November 11 when nurseryman Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers will be talking about his favourite plants. More details here

Be creative with shrubs

Gardeners are missing out on interesting shrubs because they are not easy to sell in a garden centre, says horticultural expert Andy McIndoe.

Plants that don’t have immediate pot appeal or won’t fit into a Dutch trolley are being sidelined, giving growers restricted choice.

“As gardeners we need to ask ‘What are those plants that are really good garden plants, rather than good garden centre plants?’” he says.

He cites Cornus ‘Porlock’ as an example of a garden worthy shrub with a long season of interest that is difficult to find because it looks insignificant when young.

“It shows how influenced we are by the appearance of plants.”

Rosemary is another underrated plant that is rarely sold outside the herb section and which he believes is better than lavender as a long term plant.

Rosemary
Rosemary is a good substitute for lavender

The former managing director of Hillier Nurseries, who led the firm to 25 consecutive gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, was speaking at the first lecture hosted by Allomorphic in Stroud. The talk was based on his book, The Creative Shrub Garden, and set out to show how shrubs could be used effectively.

“Shrubs are incredibly versatile plants and can shape and influence in a much greater way than any other type of plant material,” he said.

“Shrubs can provide colour and interest in all layers of the planting picture.”

When it comes to putting shrubs together, Andy advises keeping it simple and starting with the foliage.

“We’re all very much bewitched by flowers but they are very much an ephemeral pleasure.”

He outlined planting trios covering a green-and-white theme, one in sunset colours and another in classic pastels.

shrubs

Different seasons were also covered with autumn tints and shrubs grown for colourful winter stems.

“You can have just as much colour in winter, if you choose the right subjects.”

Woven through the good-humoured and lively talk were snippets of horticultural advice: using vinca or ivy under Cornus sanguinea as a foil to the stems; planting lavender slightly higher on heavy soil; feeding container-grown box, if it is turning coppery.

Pruning, topiary, what to grow in a pot and how to balance colour in a border were all covered and gardeners were urged to forget the idea that shrubs were something “that gets far too big for the space and challenging because you constantly have to cut it back”.

allomorphic
Allomorphic is hosting a series of gardening lectures

“It’s the bed that’s too narrow not the shrub that’s too big,” he observed.

Gardeners, he believes should be adventurous and not be afraid to replace or move things.

“If it pleases you, it’s right. If it doesn’t, do something about it and change it.”

The next Allomorphic lecture, The Working Garden, will be a practical look at gardening by Benjamin William Pope, head gardener at the privately owned Trotton Place in Hampshire. Details: Allomorphic

The Creative Shrub Garden by Andy McIndoe is published by Timber Press, priced £20.

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
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.

allomorphic
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.

allomorphic
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.”

allomorphic
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.

allomorphic
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.

allomorphic
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.

allomorphic
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: http://www.allomorphic.co.uk/

Allomorphic

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 http://www.allomorphic.co.uk/