Getting nostalgic at Gardeners’ World Live 2017

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The Nostalgia Garden recreates a 60s village

Sometimes it’s good to look back, to reminisce and say ‘Do you remember?’ It’s something this year’s Gardeners’ World Live delivers in spadefuls with many of the gardens taking the 50th anniversary of the BBC programme as their theme.

Crazy paving, the original Mini, brightly coloured bedding, it’s all there at a show that celebrates five decades of the nation’s gardening obsession.

For me, and I suspect for most of the visitors, the highlight is the Anniversary Garden which chronicles five decades of changing gardening tastes with ‘snapshots’ of gardens of the time.

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Crazy paving and a washing line

There’s the bedding and veg-planted 60s garden, complete with washing line – before the days of tumble driers.

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The 70s garden

The 70s garden is enclosed by a fancy breeze block wall – one of my childhood memories – and borders of heathers and conifers with a move away from ‘growing your own’ at home, something that doesn’t reappear until the last garden although only in the form of a container of strawberries.

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Who else remembers breeze block walls?
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An outdoor entertainment space was an 80s’ idea

With the 80s came the idea of the ‘outdoor room’ and a built-in BBQ and seating, while the 90s with make-over programmes brought us decking and more imaginative use of hard landscaping.

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Decking was a 90s’ trend

Finally, the garden of 2000 onwards is more geometric with clipped box and a smart stainless steel water feature.

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The sharper outlines of contemporary gardens

It’s an exhibition garden – so not eligible for the best overall garden award although it won gold from the judges – and has been designed by David Stevens, who agreed with me that the nostalgia is likely to be popular.

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A stainless steel water feature on the 2000 garden

“It is ‘I remember that. My grandmother had a garden just like that.’ It’s bringing back memories,” he said.

“You can see how gardens have developed and how plants have come in and styles have changed.”

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You can play ‘spot the presenter’ among the plants at the show

It’s been a nostalgic project for him; 25 years ago, he worked on the first Gardeners’ World Live show with the late Geoff Hamilton in the days when the entire show was under cover, even the gardens.

“We did gardens then but built them in two days, which was crazy.

“It’s brilliant to be back for the anniversary and it’s really good of them to ask me,” he added.

The five gardens have been built by Peter Dowle and his Howle Hill team, who, as he put it, started on “the rebound” from RHS Malvern, where he won gold, Best in Show and the construction award for a Japanese-style garden.

“It’s been a really good experience doing this,” said Peter, who is based near Ruardean in the Forest of Dean. “David was at Chelsea winning gold medals when we first started there and was always the one we aspired to.”

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The star of the show?

The star of The Nostalgia Garden by Paul Stone is likely to be the original 1960s’ Mini parked at the period petrol pumps; it certainly struck a chord with me, as my first car was a classic Mini though not quite that old.

The village shop and plant stands display prices from 50 years ago – look out for the Gardeners’ World team in plants – and there’s even a Flymo tackling grass by the bubbling stream; the electric mower was first sold in the sixties.

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Claudia de Yong’s garden

Claudia de Yong’s romantic garden amidst the ruins of a castle for Wyevale Garden Centres was a deserving gold and best overall garden.

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I particularly liked the benches!

Roses, a soft colour palette and a loose style of planting make the design live up to its name: Romance in the Ruins. I particularly liked the benches from Worcestershire firm Home and Garden Ironworks – I have an identical one in my own garden.

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There are ideas for soft planting schemes
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with others in vibrant colours

Show director Bob Sweet told those of us gathered for a special press preview that Gardeners’ World Live is an “accessible show” with plenty of take-home ideas.

“We want people to look at the gardens and say ‘I could do that in mine.’, he said.

One of the best places to do this is in the APL Avenue, a series of small gardens built on a limited budget as a collaboration between a designer and a member of The Association of Professional Landscapes.

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Reclaimed construction materials won the judges’ approval in the APL section

The judges picked Living Gardens ‘It’s Not Just About the Beard . . .’, designed by Peter Cowell and Monty Richardson, as their top APL garden but there were ideas to be found on all of them.

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I liked the mix of seating and water
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Moss used as wall art
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and put in the frame

If you’ve got a really tiny space, the Beautiful Borders section gives ideas on planting schemes, this year with the starting idea of celebrating 50 years of Gardeners’ World.

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This border inspired by Monty Don’s dog Nigel is bone-shaped
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and has a well-used tennis ball on it

They’ve nearly all been built by newcomers to the show circuit – another thing Gardeners’ World Live prides itself on with the floral marquee often a starting point for nurseries new to exhibiting.

I didn’t get a good look at the massive marquee – not this time due to the weather unlike Chatsworth – but because the more than 90 exhibitors were still putting the finishing touches to their stands ready for the first day of the show.

It was the first time I had been to Gardeners’ World Live for more than 20 years and I was struck by how relaxed it is compared to many other big gardening events.

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The programme’s presenters were in a relaxed mood

The judges or assessors weren’t cordoned off as they deliberated, with warnings from officials not to get too close or photograph them. The current presenters of Gardeners’ World wandered from garden to garden, filming clips for Friday’s programme or just chatting with the designers and contractors, and the awards were simply announced to a gathering of the garden teams, press and anyone else interested – no dawn run with certificates here.

I’m already planning a weekend trip to fully investigate the floral marquee and, somehow, I don’t think it will be 20 years before I return again.

Gardeners’ World Live is at the NEC Birmingham from June 15-18, 2017. For more details visit the website

Gardeners’ World Live goes back in time

There’s more than a whiff of nostalgia about this year’s Gardeners’ World Live. With the BBC programme celebrating its 50th anniversary, the show is looking back at gardening over the decades.

One of the displays I’m most looking forward to is the Anniversary Garden, which will show just how much gardening has changed over the 50 years.

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Designed by Professor David Stevens and built by Peter Dowle, who last week won gold and Best in Show for his meditation garden at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival a few weeks ago, it’s being billed as “a brief history of modern gardens” and will have five ‘vignettes’ from the different decades.

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Starting with the 1960s – who remembers colourful bedding and crazy paving? – it will move on to the 1970s and heather collections, outdoor rooms from the 1980s, growing environmental awareness and the garden ‘make-over’ of the 1990s, while the 2000s has a renewed interest in growing vegetables and herbs.

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It’s not just gardening trends that are being remembered, the changing Gardeners’ World line-up is also being commemorated. Plants named after presenters, including ‘Geoff Hamilton’, ‘Alan Titchmarsh’ and  ‘Percy Thrower’ roses, and ‘Monty Don’ sweet pea, have been woven into the planting in ‘The Nostalgia Garden’.

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Rosa ‘Geoff Hamilton’.

Designer Paul Stone has set it firmly in the 1960s with a village scene that has a classic Mini Cooper, period garage and even a Flymo – the first was sold 50 years ago.

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The Nostalgia Garden

And the party theme continues into the Floral Marquee with a three-tier birthday cake made of peonies and a garden party with British cut flowers. There will also be the chance to buy a piece of ‘Spiced Beetroot’ birthday cake made by Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain for the GWL show.

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There’ll be plenty of inspiration for grow your own

Meanwhile, ‘Gardeners’ Gold’ will be launched by Harkness Roses and Roses UK as part of the Rose Festival.

The Gardeners’ World anniversary is also the starting point for the popular Beautiful Borders feature. These small space designs show what you can achieve in the tiniest of plots.

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The Magnolias is a tribute to Percy Thrower

Among this year’s entries is ‘The Magnolias’, a homage to Percy Thrower by three Pershore College students, a modern-style rock garden for an urban site, and a garden that celebrates Monty’s dog Nigel that includes a raised border shaped like a bone.

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This border is inspired by Monty Don’s dog Nigel

More inspiration for those with limited space will come from the five designs on ’APL Avenue’ where landscapers and designers put forward ideas for either a small front or back garden – all built with a limited budget.

Jamie Langlands’ design has a magical folly

Among the entries is one by Jamie Langlands of Cotswold firm Pro Gardens. The ‘CLIC Sargent’ Garden has a magical folly at its heart and aims to inspire imagination and adventure for a young family.

The other designs range from a wildlife friendly urban plot and a “hipster back garden” with a floating lounging platform, to a modern back garden with an outdoor kitchen and a garden for art lovers with decking that converts to lounge chairs.

• Gardeners’ World Live 2017 is at the NEC Birmingham from June 15-18. There will be talks, growing advice, including how to grow veg in containers with Matt Biggs, nursery exhibits and free entry to the neighbouring BBC Good Food Show. For more details, see the website.

Ticket giveaway

I have six pairs of tickets to give away, valid for any day except Saturday June 17. See my Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram feeds for more details. (Click on the links at the top of the site.)

Plant sourcing for the pros

When we’re gazing at a medal-winning garden at one of the summer’s many shows, how many of us stop and wonder where they got the plants? Every designer knows that their ideas for a garden are only as good as the plants that go in. It’s something that RHS show gardens are marked on and the sort of detail that can make or break your reputation when it comes to private clients. Yet plant sourcing is like the foundations in a house: essential but rarely thought about once the structure is finished.

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Plants from one designer’s order

In the Cotswolds, Genus Plant Sourcing has turned finding the right plant in the best condition into a thriving business. Their well-oiled machine underpins the work of garden designers, landscapers and architects across the region and beyond.

Boss Matt Coles and his number two Pippa Haines hunt down everything from tiny bulbs to huge trees and everything in between.

Shopping lists and show stars

When we meet at their base just outside Cheltenham, they have just taken delivery of plants that will eventually have a starring role at BBC Gardeners’ World Live in Birmingham.

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Geraniums are one of the many plants they source

Sumptuous ‘Bowl of Beauty’ peonies, starry astrantia, sedum, calamagrostis and cirsium are all waiting on Dutch trolleys.

They will be used by Herefordshire designer Olivia Kirk for a garden she is creating with landscaper Andrew Ball of Big Fish Landscapes in a new contest at the show this year.

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Big Fish Landscape’s BBC Gardeners’ World Live entry

Run by the Association of Professional Landscapers, it features gardens that show what can be achieved in a small space for a specific budget and will be judged as much for the construction as for the design.

Andrew, who is also Herefordshire-based, and Olivia are building a £25,000 family entertaining space with an eye-catching water wall.

Olivia, a Chelsea medal winner, is a long-time client of Genus and, like other show designers, picked out the individual plants she wanted on trips to their suppliers rather than relying on what’s sent in, vital when the condition, size and even shape can affect the marks awarded. It’s more time consuming for the Genus team but something Pippa enjoys.

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Olivia’s 2014 Fresh garden for Cheltenham charity WellChild won silver gilt

“I like working on the show gardens,” says Pippa. “It’s a challenge and I like working one-to-one.”

Each customer is given a copy of the firm’s catalogue – a list of the plants they can supply – to help them make their choices. It covers commonly seen things and some more unusual varieties and has sections for herbaceous, shrubs, climbers and even aquatic plants.

Then their ‘shopping list’ is sent out to all firm’s suppliers to see who can supply and in what quantity. It’s not uncommon for an order to be sourced at several different nurseries, especially if large numbers of a particular variety are needed.

Often, clients are sent photographs of plants, particularly large, specimen trees, to make sure it’s exactly what they want.

Sometimes, the firm will be asked by a landscaper to draw up a planting plan and find the plants.

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Box topiary waiting to be delivered

Genus Plant Sourcing deal with growers all over the country, having found them through word-of-mouth, online research or even, in the case of one grower, by spotting their van and following it back to the nursery.

Only commercial, wholesale growers are used and each has been personally vetted by the Genus team.

Some suppliers are abroad: they deal with Dutch and Italian firms, often for things like box and bay, with a lorry-load from Holland every fortnight, made up of items for several clients. This ‘group ordering’ allows designers to get just one or two things from wholesalers.

Snags and changing fashions

Once the plants are delivered – or collected by the Genus team – from their growers, they are sorted into individual orders at the Cheltenham site.

Of course, it’s not always easy to find rare plants and every few weeks the ‘snagging list’ lands on Pippa’s desk. These are plants that their regular growers can’t supply and, having checked the client is determined to have that particular variety, Pippa begins painstaking research to find the right thing.

“We always strive to find what people want,” she says. “We don’t like to have to sub plants.”

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Roses brighten up the firm’s base

One of the biggest plant sourcing job they’ve had was for a hornbeam for a London garden. It was so large it needed an artic lorry to move it and the road had to be closed to allow a crane to hoist it into position. At the other end of the scale, designers will ask for quantities of bulbs.

With garden shows acting like the catwalks of London or Paris, plant fashions soon start to influence requests to the firm with Anemone ‘Wild Swan’ and ‘Invincibelle Spirit®’ hydrangea – a pink form of the white ‘Annabelle’ – both suddenly becoming popular.

Meanwhile, hard winters a few years ago have resulted in the popularity of ceanothus and escallonia tumbling.

“Plants definitely go in fashions,” observes Pippa, adding “I can look at a list and know who it’s from. People do tend to use the same plants.”

BBC Gardeners’ World Live runs from June 16-19 at the NEC Birmingham and includes show gardens, a display of ‘beautiful borders’, a rose festival, gardeners’ advice centre and nurseries from across the country in the floral marquee.

For more information visit

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