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.
There’s the bedding and veg-planted 60s garden, complete with washing line – before the days of tumble driers.
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.
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.
Finally, the garden of 2000 onwards is more geometric with clipped box and a smart stainless steel water feature.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
Claudia de Yong’s romantic garden amidst the ruins of a castle for Wyevale Garden Centres was a deserving gold and best overall garden.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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