RHS Chelsea 2018 – the Cotswold connection

With the announcement of a new gardens section, show debuts and the return of familiar faces, the countdown to RHS Chelsea 2018 has begun.

Initial plans for RHS Chelsea 2018 have been unveiled and the Cotswolds will be there with gardens by leading designers Chris Beardshaw and Paul Hervey-Brookes.

Chris is celebrating 20 years of making show gardens with a design highlighting the work of children’s charity the NSPCCC, while Paul, who is marking 10 years of show garden design, returns as an exhibitor after a four-year break, although he’s been a judge at Chelsea in the intervening years.

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The Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC

The Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC is the fourth show garden that Staverton-based Chris has made for the firm and aims to raise awareness of its current charity partner.

Based upon the idea of the emotional journey a child goes through when the charity helps them, the garden starts with a woodland where the path is unclear before moving on to a more open space filled with perennials and finally ending at a sheltering pavilion by a reflective pool.

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Chris on the first Morgan Stanley garden in 2015

“We want to raise awareness for the charity with a garden that is intrinsically a beautiful, healing and restorative space and which celebrates how a garden can make us feel,” explains Chris, who built his first show garden at the Malvern Show in 1998.

Among the plants he’s hoping to use are azaleas and rhododendrons along with specimen trees and perennials in a palate of purple, pink and blue.

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Chris won the People’s Choice award for his 2017 garden.

As part of his research, Chris visited the NSPCC to find out more about its work, which includes running the children’s helpline Childline.

“It was extremely humbling to visit the NSPCC and to learn more about their incredibly challenging and broad ranging work with children.”

Paul, who also built his first show garden at Malvern, is exploring the link between mental wellbeing and the landscape in a garden for Viking Cruises in the Artisan section of RHS Chelsea 2018.

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The Viking Cruises Garden

He’s taken his inspiration from a Norwegian spa, and a wooden sauna and a Brutalist-style concrete plunge pool are at the heart of the garden.

“The Norwegians are much more in tune with the landscape than we are,” says Paul, who is based in Stroud. “I’ve taken the Norwegian spa and the cycle of interaction between the water, the landscape and the mind as the wellbeing point.”

Wooden platforms will ‘float’ over rocks and planting with a semi-wild feel that will include many herbs; most of the plants are being grown by South Gloucestershire herb specialist Jekka McVicar.

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Paul is returning as Chelsea exhibitor after a four-year absence

Paul’s last appearance at RHS Chelsea as an exhibitor was on Main Avenue when he got a bronze medal for an Italian-inspired garden for BrandAlley.

Four years on, Paul says he has put that disappointment behind him: “I think I’m a very different person. Back then I felt that I had everything to prove and now I’ve been chairman of judging at Chelsea and I’m quite a few gold medals on, it’s much more about the idea and not about reception.”

It’s his second garden for Viking Cruises – he won gold at RHS Hampton Court last year with a travel-inspired garden just weeks after getting gold and Best in Show at Chatsworth with his Institute of Quarrying Garden, the biggest RHS show garden ever created.

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Paul’s 2017 RHS Hampton garden for Viking Cruises won gold. Photo: RHS/Neil Hepworth

Exhibiting in the Artisan Gardens rather than making a show garden was, he says, a deliberate choice.

“Most people don’t have large gardens. They want solutions for small spaces and Artisan fits that, it’s an average garden size. On a personal level, I haven’t really got anything to prove – I made one of the biggest gardens. It’s much more about what interests me.”

Other features at RHS Chelsea 2018 include Space to Grow gardens, a new section of smaller gardens with take home ideas that replaces the Fresh garden category, and the first ‘Chelsea Late’ with Ranelagh Gardens open from 8pm-10pm.

The RHS will be unveiling more about the show in the New Year. Tickets are now on sale via the website.

IQ Quarry Garden lives on after RHS Chatsworth

Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brooke’s award-winning IQ Quarry Garden has found a new home at the National Memorial Arboretum. He talks about the challenge of moving a garden and the responsibility of designing for the future.

Paul Hervey-Brookes’ re-imagined IQ Quarry Garden may not be facing the scrutiny of RHS judges but he is just as nervous about how it’s received.

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The IQ Quarry Garden won top honours at RHS Chatsworth

The garden, which won gold, Best in Show and Best Construction at RHS Chatsworth, has been re-designed for a site at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, giving it a life span far beyond the norm for a show garden.

“It’s one thing to win the medals we did at Chatsworth but it’s another thing to have a garden that you know has the potential to be there for two or three generations,” he says. “There’s a weight of responsibility knowing generations of designers will be judging my work.”

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Paul Hervey-Brookes

The move to the NMA is fitting as the garden was commissioned to celebrate the centenary of the Institute of Quarrying and the arboretum is on the site of a former sand and gravel quarry. Yet, despite the move being planned from the outset, the garden’s future use did not influence Paul’s design for the inaugural Chatsworth show.

“What I wanted from the start was that we would re-purpose it rather than just plonk it down brick by brick.

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The new garden occupies a long, narrow site.

Indeed, the two sites could not be more different. The Chatsworth garden was a large rectangle – one of the biggest RHS show gardens ever built – whereas the new space is a long, narrow and sloping piece of land.

“I was really keen to use a site that nobody else wanted,” explains Paul, who was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the IQ for his work, the first person not involved in the industry to be given the Institute’s top honour.

Taking key elements of the original garden, including paving, seats and the striking rusted wall by Stroud sculptor Ann-Margreth Bohl, his aim was to create something that gives an emotional break between memorial gardens.

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The striking sculpted wall is one of the elements that has been reused.

“It’s so that it’s not one very emotionally consuming garden space after another. It is much more an area to sit, think and rest or just walk through.”

While the planting follows the same semi-naturalistic style of the Chatsworth project, there is far more of it, and wide grass paths and level hard landscaping mean it is accessible for those with reduced mobility.

Reusing show gardens is preferable to their otherwise rather brutal demise in skips but it does come at a cost.

“It makes it really expensive,” says Paul. “Once you know things are going to be re-purposed you’ve got to be as careful taking them out as you were putting them in, which is time-consuming and costs a great deal more.”

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The IQ’s motto: ‘the fruits of the earth for the children of men’.

Much of that cost has been looking after the plants since the Chatsworth show in June. The hard landscaping was stored near the NMA but the trees and plants went back to their original nurseries to be repotted and grown on.

“The nurseries don’t really like doing it simply because they know the stress the plants go through. They really need to go in the ground after the show and be allowed 18 months to recover. Trying to nurture them back into looking good at the end of the year is quite a challenge but it was all part of the deal.”

Meanwhile, Paul called in the same construction team, headed by Gareth Wilson, to rebuild the garden: “I thought it was important to have the same contractor who understood the lifting and shifting the first time around to see the project through to the end.”

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It’s not the first time the Stroud designer’s work has found a new home. His first Chelsea garden was won in a competition and is now installed at a house in Hemel Hempstead while plants from his two Chelsea gardens for online fashion retailer BrandAlley were sold for charity and the hard landscaping given to community projects.

“I don’t think the physicality of a show garden is important at all but it’s really important that stuff is reused because otherwise it’s an incredibly wasteful kind of journey.”

Get some show garden style

A little bit of show garden magic will be coming to the Cotswolds this weekend as leading designer Paul Hervey-Brookes sells plants from his gold medal-winning design at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show (pictured top).

Hostas, beautiful blue chicory, Verbena bonariensis, asters, myrtle and some large shrubs that last week were being admired by the Hampton show crowds are among the plants on sale. The Garden of Discovery, for Viking Cruises, won Paul his ninth gold medal, six of them consecutively.

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Chicory will be on sale

The plant sale is raising money for the Dogs Trust in memory of Paul’s husband, Yann Eshkol, who died a year ago.

“Yann was always very keen on animals and them being cared for and our dogs are all rescue animals,” says Paul, who is based in Stroud.

The Dogs Trust was chosen because Yann died just weeks after last year’s Hampton show where Paul won gold with a dog friendly garden for the animal charity.

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The 2016 Dogs Trust garden

Slad Valley House in Stroud is hosting the plant sale as part of two National Garden Scheme open days on Saturday and Sunday July 16 and 17.

The one-acre informal garden is set around an 18th house and is gradually being restored by the owners, Debbie and Michael Grey.

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The garden is being restored

“The garden is interesting because it’s turning what was a mill owner’s house back into a home after being used for a variety of different things over the past 40 years,” says Paul. “It is bringing a garden back to life.”

What was a lawn at the front of the house is now a flower garden, there are mature trees and shrubs.

“It also has some challenging terraces to garden on.”

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Slad Valley House is hosting the sale

Some of the Hampton Court plants have been added to the garden this week and it also features elements of Paul’s earlier work, namely two sculptures by Andrew Flint that were used on his 2013 Chelsea show garden for Brand Alley.

While some plants were sold in the traditional end of show sell-off at Hampton, many have been brought back to the Cotswolds.

“It seems right to bring them back to where we made our home and where people have been so supportive over the past year,” says Paul, who runs garden and home shop Allomorphic in Stroud. “The whole thing feels right, not as though we’re doing it for the sake of it. It has got a good purpose.”

Slad Valley House, Stroud, GL5 1RJ, is open for the National Garden Scheme from 2-4.30pm on Saturday and Sunday July 16 and 17, 2017. Admission is £3.50. There will be homemade teas for sale.

Colour-fest at RHS Hampton

There’s simply no getting away from colour and – thankfully – plants at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Many of the show gardens seem to have made a welcome return to putting plants rather than hard landscaping first while there are take-home ideas aplenty from pretty pastel combinations to in-your-face primary colours.

Now, I must admit to a bias towards Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes. I’ve followed his career since his first show garden – in a tent – at the Malvern Autumn Show back in 2008 but his gold medal-winning exhibit this year is one of his best.

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Colours in the border echo those of the hard landscaping

Paul is known on the gardening circuit for his skill at planting up a border but even so he has excelled with his Viking Cruises garden. There’s a sense of movement in the planting that drifts under trees, with variations in height and some beautiful combinations.

How’s this for a mix of blue?

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Campanula lactiflora ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ with Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’

Or pink – the bees were loving it.

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Oregano and perilla

Who says green is dull?

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Alchemilla mollis with the vertical lines of Liatris spicata ‘Alba’

Simple but really effective.

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Nicotiana sylvestris adding height to the planters

I really loved these Achillea ‘Summer Berries’.

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They come in a mix of colours that Paul had carefully separated out to give different effects. Here is the cream with bronze variant.

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Cream and terracotta achillea with Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black’ and Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldschleier’

And Persicaria bistorta is given a whole new feel when combined with carex.

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I was glad to see I’m ‘on trend’ as I’ve just planted up an old wine box with this erigeron.

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Another Cotswold success at this year’s RHS Hampton is Martyn Wilson, who also started his design career at the Malvern show. He has won his first RHS gold medal with a celebration of the regeneration of brownfield sites.

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I really liked the colours in this garden – rusted steel, oranges, creams, yellows and the odd touch of purple from buddleia.

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The attention to detail was superb.

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While my Cotswold neighbours are using refined colour combinations, two of the show gardens are unashamedly brash.

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Bright, primary colours dominate the ‘Journey of Life’ garden by Edward Mairis, which has an acrylic wall in rainbow colours.

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Charlie’s garden is all about colour

In Charlie Bloom’s ‘Colour Box’ garden it’s the plants that sing out. Built with donations of time and products rather than financial sponsorship, it is dominated by plants in every colour.

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“I think the public want to see plants at a horticultural show rather than lots of impressive hard landscaping,” explained Charlie. “The idea was to rebel against the concrete and box ball fraternity and go mad with colour.”

That said, it’s a garden that has plant combinations you could try.

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I also liked the peep-through architectural wall from Stark and Greensmith.

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And the way the plants were set off against it.

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Here are some of the other things that caught my eye.

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Beach huts on the ‘Fun on Sea’ garden

There was more than a touch of the seaside.

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Southend Council’s ‘By the Sea’ garden

And some boats.

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Hoyland Plant Centre’s Floral Marquee exhibit

It was good to see vegetables weren’t forgotten. Here on the gold medal-winning Blind Veterans UK garden by Andrew Fisher Tomlin and Dan Bowyer.

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A nifty way to grow strawberries on the RHS Kitchen Garden by Juliet Sargeant.

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And an edible green wall.

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Finally, at the end of a long day . . .

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Plants, Shoots and Leaves’ stand

there are some tempting places to sit and rest . . .

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Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants’ annuals display

or even lie down.

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‘A Bed of Roses’ by Fryer’s Roses

RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2017 runs until July 9. For more details, visit the RHS website.

* Flower-filled Mini (pictured top) is part of Primrose Hall’s Floral Marquee display.

RHS Hampton 2017: roses, butterflies and melting ice

Roses, butterflies and how to garden in the face of climate change are just some of the features at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

There are nearly 100 specialist nurseries in the Floral Marquee – six of them, ranging from cacti to daylillies, new to the show – and there will be four new roses launched, including ‘Lovestruck’, the 2018 Rose of the Year.

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Rosa ‘Lovestruck’

Wildlife is a major theme and the popular Butterfly Dome will be surrounded by a wildflower meadow, with plants that provide food for butterflies and caterpillars.

Show Gardens

Naturally, top of my list of ‘must-sees’ is Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes’ garden for show sponsors Viking Cruises.

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Paul’s garden is inspired by travel

Just weeks after winning Best in Show at the new RHS Chatsworth, Paul is making his third appearance at RHS Hampton; he won gold and best in show in 2012 for ‘Discovering Jordan’ and gold last year with a garden for the Dogs Trust.

He’s creating a small, urban garden for a couple who have travelled widely and incorporated ideas from those journeys into their plot. These include a triple arched feature wall based on Rome’s Arch of Constantine, a large Malaysian pot and paving that has an arabesque pattern.

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The Manzano paving has an intricate pattern

The planting will also echo their travels with motherwort, found growing along the Danube, Italian alder and a species of mint from the Lebanon.

Herbs grown by Jekka McVicar will be woven into sweeping mixed borders in a white, yellow, mauve and blue colour scheme.

“Being influenced by travel is at the core of English gardens historically and this modern day interpretation is no different,” says Paul. “I hope people will see the various different influences and feel excited by that exchange of knowledge and ideas.”

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A willow vine sculpture will enclose the Blind Veterans UK garden

Other show gardens include Andrew Fisher Tomlin and Dan Bowyer’s design for Blind Veterans UK, which explores the work of the charity and the sense of community it provides, represented by a willow vine sculpture that wraps around the garden.

Emma Bailey looks at dealing with depression in ‘On the Edge’ and the benefits of a sensory garden for children with autism is explored by Adam White and Andree Davies in the Zoflora Caudwell Children’s Wild Garden.

Designer Charlie Bloom is celebrating the people within horticulture with a garden built on co-operation and gifts.

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The Colour Box garden is being built with donated products and help

‘Colour Box’ is being built with no financial sponsor, relying instead on donations of time and products from the horticulture industry following a social media appeal.

“I wanted to create something that credited ‘the team’ and not the designer or the sponsor’s wants,” explains Charlie. “I asked the different trades involved to be an equal part of the process and given appropriate credit, not forgotten sub categories.”

Bold, bright planting and limited hard landscaping are the key features of a garden that Charlie describes as “a celebration of people helping people”.

Tackling climate change

‘Gardens for a Changing World’ is a new category for 2017, designed to show how gardening is becoming more sustainable in response to changing weather.

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Will Williams’ garden uses natural flood prevention measures

Among the entries are a natural solution to flood prevention by designer Will Williams using trees and leaky dams and another by debut RHS designer Rhiannon Williams showing how to manage rainwater in a garden with storage systems and planting.

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Managing rainwater in a garden

Perhaps the most unusual will be ‘The Power to Make a Difference’ by Joe Francis, which will have an ice block at the centre. The ice is intended to melt during the show, filling a pool below.

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There’s ice at the heart of Joe Francis’ design

Tom Massey has interpreted the title as “finding sanctuary in a storm” in his garden for Perennial.

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The Perennial garden

The charity provides support for people in the horticulture industry who are facing difficulties and the garden shows movement from chaos to sanctuary with the planting colours from reds and orange through to blues and greens echoing the journey.

I will be heading for Martyn Wilson’s design ‘Brownfield – Metamorphosis’. Worcester-based Martyn made his show garden debut at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival in 2014, having studied at the Cotswold Gardening School, and designs gardens for private clients across the Cotswolds.

Inspired by post-industrial gardens, such as New York’s High Line, his garden looks at what happens when a former industrial site is reclaimed by nature.

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Martyn Wilson’s design

“What interested me initially was the changing nature of urban landscapes which are so often are in state of flux,” says Martyn. “There’s the process of demolition and reconstruction but between the two, before building work starts, you often find nature moves back in and a new, temporary landscape is created. “

Twisted steel monolithic structures suggesting decaying industry will be set against a mix of plants, including many that naturally self-seed on brownfield sites, such as ferns and grasses.

Conceptual Gardens

There’s also Cotswold interest in the category that sees designers push the boundaries of what constitutes a garden.

Cotswold Wildlife Park & Gardens have joined forces with wildlife charity Tusk to sponsor a conceptual garden that aims to highlight the illegal trade in ivory.

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Mark Whyte is putting the spotlight on the plight of elephants

Designed by Mark Whyte, it will feature an arch of 200 tusks – the average daily tally of elephants killed by poachers in Africa.

Visitors will walk through the arch to the sounds of the African savannah, there will be African-style planting, and the bones of an elephant at one end will symbolise the risk to the elephant population.

Finally, the World Gardens will take visitors to Oregon, Northern Spain, Charleston and Florida.

RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show runs from July 4-9, 2017. For more details, see the RHS website.

RHS Chatsworth 2017: a soggy start

There’s no way of softening the conclusion that yesterday’s press day at RHS Chatsworth was quite simply a washout. Torrential rain was bad enough, turning parts of the ground into a swamp but high winds forced organisers to close the show early.

Was it the right decision? Yes, definitely. The Floral Marquees – split into two either side of an inflatable replica of Paxton’s Great Conservatory – closed just hours after the event began, such were safety concerns. Big wooden signs were laid on the grass as a precaution, the press tent was shaking ominously in the wind and I saw a large metal barrier blown over.

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Dressed for the weather – the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire talking to designer Paul Hervey-Brookes

Still, on the first day of this new RHS show it was hugely disappointing for everyone involved and meant I saw but a small part of what is on offer. Like many others, I had opted to walk around the show gardens first, as the forecast for later in the day was worse. I did get to all of them but it meant that with only three hours at the show I saw little of the experimental Free Form installations and nothing of the nursery stands, well dressing or RHS exhibition on gardening in a changing climate – ironically named in the circumstances. It was also difficult to fully appreciate or photograph the gardens when they were being battered by the wind and rain.

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The IQ Quarry garden has stark lines . . .
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. . . set against soft planting

Obviously, in such circumstances it’s difficult to fully assess this latest addition to the RHS line-up. However, there seems little doubt that it has potential.

The setting with the backdrop of Chatsworth House and its parkland is beautiful, although there was a feeling it hadn’t been exploited to the full, possibly due to restrictions on what could be dug up.

Many of the show gardens are difficult to photograph as any shot seems to include the bright white marquees, trade stands or food outlets; this is something that RHS Malvern has finally got right in recent years with the gardens sited on the showground so that the hills form a natural backing.

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The hot end of the Palladian Bridge

The Palladian Bridge, stunningly dressed by celebrity florist Jonathan Moseley and his team, frames not the house, but looks towards what seems to be a rear entrance at one end and the ‘Great Conservatory’ at the other; the latter divided opinion on press day with one person describing it to me looking like an overgrown bouncy castle. Having not managed to get inside, I couldn’t really decide its worth but pictures I’ve seen suggest it is striking.

So, what of the things I did see? Naturally, I headed first for the garden of Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes who heard this morning that he had won gold, Best in Show and Best Construction.

Designed for the Institute of Quarrying, it was envisaged as a garden for a professional couple and inspired by the life of a quarry.

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The IQ Quarry garden is one of many with a water feature

As such, it is a garden of contrasts: soft planting, so typical of Paul’s style, set against angular rock and concrete.

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Cool grey set off many plants on the garden . . .
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. . . including foxgloves

Foxgloves and elder, are framed against grey, rocks are set into planting and a striking sculpture by Stroud artist Ann-Margreth Bohl, makes a dramatic end piece.

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A dramatic end to the IQ Quarry garden

Indeed, plants silhouetted against hard landscaping seemed to be a theme of the show as did water – and not just from the sky.

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Stone sets off aeonium in the Wedgwood garden
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More water this time on the Cruse Bereavement Care garden

The Cruse Bereavement Care garden is set around a central wall-enclosed seat area, with a long rill running through the garden.

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The sheltered seat was welcoming

On a grey day, the yellow lupins stood out and the curved seating area offered a welcome retreat.

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For me, the highlight of the Wedgwood Garden was the ‘windows’ that gives glimpses of the garden. There’s loose planting in shades of blue and yellow with splashes of red, and a long canal of water. It is just a shame that the main window also ‘looks out’ onto a restaurant.

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One of the ‘windows’ on the garden

There are good ‘take home ideas’. Tanya Batkin’s Moveable Feast garden cleverly showcases how mobile planters can be used to create a garden anywhere.

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Moveable containers and a great green roof on a store cupboard

Aimed at ‘Generation Rent’, it demonstrates how fruit, veg and flowers could transform an area of paving, while the large containers are on wheels to make them easy to move around.

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Meanwhile, Butter Wakefield has produced a dreamy idyll with the Belmont Enchanted Gardens with wild flowers and vegetables, grown at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

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Butter Wakefield’s idyllic retreat

Jackie Knight has created an informal water and rock garden to celebrate her silver wedding and the 25th anniversary of her first show garden. Aptly, given the conditions at Chatsworth, it was called ‘Just Add Water’.

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Jackie Knight’s garden
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I liked the way Jackie picked out the colour of the hammock in the planting

And Jonathan Moseley follows his success at RHS Malvern with another stunning display of how fresh flowers can transform a space. The Palladian Bridge takes visitors from cool greens and whites through a rainbow of colour to fiery shades of red and orange, while a willow snake – based on the Cavendish coat of arms – slithers through the display.

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RHS Chatsworth 2017 runs until Sunday June 11. For more details, visit the RHS

RHS Malvern Spring Festival – a new direction

Several months into her new role heading up the RHS Malvern Spring Festival Jane Furze still seems surprised at her good luck. It is, she explains, a perfect job.

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Jane Furze

“I’m a keen gardener and I’ve been coming to Malvern for nearly 25 years. It’s a dream job for me, turning a very loyal visitor into running the show.”

She’s putting her first-hand experience to good use in shaping Malvern’s future course. It has, she believes, the potential to be somewhere that can offer something different to the other RHS events.

“I want Malvern to be increasingly a place where you walk around and think ‘Gosh, I couldn’t have seen that anywhere else’,” says the former head of Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Key to achieving this is the introduction of features that go beyond the show gardens, expert talks and nursery stands for which RHS Malvern Spring Festival is well known.

Running as a unifying thread through this year’s show is a spa theme, harking back to the town’s heritage as a Victorian spa resort.

“We have a number of people who have produced key horticultural features based on that theme,” says Jane. “These are very new and very much an addition to any sort of content we’ve done in the past.”

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Jekka McVicar’s garden will be a permanent feature

Herb expert Jekka McVicar is building a garden that explores the use of herbs in health and well-being. A permanent feature, it will be used after the show by a day care service working with people with learning difficulties.

“They will be the main caretakers of the garden so it has a longevity to it.”

British flower growers will again have a big presence. Growers and florists from across the region will put on displays and talks in the Wye Hall, which is being decorated to resemble a Victorian arcade by award-winning designer Peter Dowle.

At its heart is what Jane hopes will be a show-stopping spectacle by top florist Jonathan Moseley. The ‘Floral Fountain’ is a 7m-high cascade of flowers, greenery and crystals that will flow down from the roof into a fountain and lily pool.

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The Floral Fountain will celebrate British flower growers

“I’m just looking forward to walking in and that scent just hitting me. It will be amazing.”

The Floral Marquee will also have a central display, this time designed by Joe Swift who has drawn inspiration from Victorian plant hunters. His Plant Finder Parlour has a central space for hosting talks and what Jane describes as ‘window displays’, including an auricular theatre, showcasing plants that were brought back to this country.

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The Plant Finder Parlour will be used for talks

The marquee itself, which will house nearly 70 nurseries, has been redesigned following several years where it drew criticism from growers and visitors who found it difficult to navigate. Now it is a simple rectangle with a vista down its 190m length.

“It makes it easier for visitors and for the nurseries because they are not in a corner that people might miss.

“It will be a really stunning feature in its own right.”

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The Wye Hall will be designed by Peter Dowle who won gold with this garden last year

And it’s not just flower-growing that Jane wants to promote. Grow your own is also high on the RHS Malvern Spring Festival agenda with the Grow Zone hosting a country and wildlife garden designed by Jon Wheatley and ‘edible beds’ produced by a range of organisations, including Incredible Edible Bristol. Meanwhile, designer and RHS judge Paul Hervey-Brookes is hosting a Growing Challenge to encourage novice gardeners.

It fits well with RHS Malvern’s image as a launchpad. It has long been the place for young designers – Chris Beardshaw, Diarmuid Gavin and Paul are among those who started their design careers at the show – and Jane believes it’s an important part of the Malvern ethos.

There will be an international flavour to the new Spa Gardens with the start of a three-year link to the Moscow Flower Show. Top designer Jo Thompson will mentor a Russian design duo building a garden at Malvern and one of the Malvern designers will be given the chance to show in Moscow. There will also be a Russian school taking part in the school garden contest.

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Show gardens are one of the highlights of Malvern

“I would love more of that in the future,” says Jane. “Cultures do have different perspectives, different ways of thinking about design and as a visitor that’s interesting.”

There are 10 show gardens this year among them one celebrating the millennium of Buckfast Abbey, spa-themed designs by Peter Dowle and Villaggio Verde, and a garden highlighting the plight of refugees by Painswick designer Sue Jollans, 10 years after she won Best in Show at Malvern.

Jane has kept their location the same with the Malvern Hills as a backdrop: “I see no reason to change that as it’s really good location.”

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The Malverns make a stunning backdrop to the show

What she has done is tweak the layout elsewhere to ensure visitors encounter garden features as soon as they arrive; feeling she sometimes had to walk a long way to find the gardening was something she disliked as a visitor in the past.

Changes are also planned to ease congestion that has resulted from more visitors: “I think one of the joys of Malvern is the space so I’ve just been keen to open up areas.”

With a month to go until the four-day show Jane is quietly confident except for one thing: the weather.

“I’m just praying for sunshine. It’s the one thing I want.”

The RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 11 to May 14 2017. For more information and ticket details, see here

I’ve been looking at what’s planned for gardens at the festival.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Hampton Court reflections

If Chelsea is the grown-up, sophisticate when it comes to flower shows then RHS Hampton Court Palace is definitely the fun-loving younger sister.

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Dogs both real and sculpted stole the show on Paul Hervey-Brookes’ garden

The atmosphere is more relaxed: there are fewer celebs, last minute preparations and even parties of schoolchildren being shown around on press day.

The show gardens more accessible both in terms of design – these are gardens you can imagine making –  and literally, thanks to Hampton’s generous site size compared with the space restrictions at Chelsea.

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The Squire’s 80th Anniversary garden would be easy to achieve
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Simple colours and design make the Inner City Grace garden easy to copy

And when it comes to making you stop and think this year’s Hampton has the edge for me.

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Abandoned lifejackets on the Border Control garden are an unsettling reminder of the fate of many refugees

Aside from Paul Hervey-Brookes’ gold medal-winning design that drew universal admiration – and not just for the very cute dogs from The Dogs Trust that kept visiting – there were several other gardens that caught my eye.

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The Dogs Trust garden won gold
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One of the many dogs on Paul Hervey-Brookes’ garden

I loved the simplicity of idea and execution of the World Vision garden. Undulating ribbons of green represent the difficult lives of children caught up in war or disaster-hit countries while the delicate wild meadow planting underneath gave a glimpse of hope.

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The World Vision Garden was a favourite

The Cancer Research UK Life Garden takes garden design right into the 21st century with a virtual garden for visitors alongside the more traditional planting of echinacea, hemerocallis and alliums.

Don the special headset and you are transported into a bigger version of this garden, as I discovered, complete with birdsong and the sound of bees. Each of the 100,000 flowers pictured represents one of the legacies that have helped the charity.

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Visitors will be able to book a virtual tour of the Cancer Research UK garden

It was a novel twist on the usual garden experience and great fun – apart from the sensation of being high up above a sunken area, as I discovered when I ‘looked’ down. Not great when you don’t do heights.

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I loved the colours of The Drought Garden

My favourite among the smaller gardens, was the Drought Garden, which won the well-deserved Best in Show for this category.

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A beehive was just one of the wildlife friendly features

It was a clever mix of drought tolerant planting and wildlife friendly features, such as a bee hive, and well within the capabilities and budget of the average gardener; designer Steve Dimmock used reclaimed stone and old pebbles for the hard landscaping.

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Herbs around a bench on the Witan garden

Other easily copied ideas included a herb-enclosed seat in the Witan Investment Trust Global Growth Garden, which also featured colourful vegetables among the planting. Who says borders can’t be productive as well as pretty.

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Veg added colour to the borders

And the Wildfowl and Wetland Garden showed how simply using the run-off from our homes could help stop flooding and provide an attractive wildlife friendly element to our gardens.

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The WWT garden won a Best in Show award

Here are some other things I liked.

There was plenty of colour.

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Dahlias on Pheasant Acre Plants’ stand
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Orchids from Dave Parkinson Plants added some zing

Some of the gardens were also very colourful.

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The New Horizons garden was inspired by Art Nouveau designs

The Rose Festival is always a highlight.

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The scent of roses filled the marquee

‘Scent from Heaven’ was announced as the 2016 Rose of the Year.

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Peter Beales Roses’ stand had a ruin at its centre.

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There were also some lovely clematis. On their own . . .

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. . . or mixed with roses.

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This penstemon ‘Craigieburn Taffeta’ from Green Jjam Nurseries caught my eye.

hampton courtVehicles were a popular addition to displays.

hampton courtHere, a Fiat 500 was used on Italian seed firm Franchi’s display.

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There was water in a lot of gardens.

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The Viking Cruises Scandinavian Garden
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A floating display of blooms
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Reflections in the Dogs Trust garden