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.)

RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2017 – the results

Top honours at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival have gone to Peter Dowle’s tranquil Japanese-style retreat.

‘At One with . . . A Meditation Garden’ has won gold and the coveted Best in Show award.

Peter, who runs Howle Hill Nursery in was delighted with the win – his second best in show at RHS Malvern.

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Peter Dowle on his award-winning garden

“It’s absolutely fabulous news and great for all the team – it was a huge team effort as always.”

And despite it being his 12th RHS gold, the thrill has not diminished: “Every gold is special,” he said.

“We’re looking forward to a fabulous festival.”

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Sue Jollans won gold

There was gold also for Painswick designer Sue Jollans on her second time at Malvern and after a gap of 10 years.

The Refuge highlights the plight of refugees and the journey they take in search of sanctuary.

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Villaggio Verde’s garden

A Mediterranean retreat by Villaggio Verde picked up a silver-gilt. There was silver for Buckfast Abbey’s Millennium Garden by Maia Hall and the Treehouse Garden by Mark Eveleigh.

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The Treehouse Garden by Mark Eveleigh
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Buckfast Abbey’s garden celebrates its millennium

A Garden Framed by Tim Lawrence, inspired by the idea of gardens as art, won bronze.

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A Garden Framed won bronze

In the Spa Garden category, gold and Best in Show went to Russian duo Denis Kalshnikov and Ekaterina Bolotova. They were invited to exhibit at Malvern as part of a collaboration with the Moscow Flower Show.

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A Russian design duo created the Molecular Garden

Annette Baines-Stiller got silver for her garden inspired by the poetry of Ted Hughes.

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The poetry of Ted Hughes inspired this garden

There was bronze for The Ocean Garden by Damien Michel and Keith Browning’s eye-catching Bubble Drops.

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The Ocean Garden by Damien Michel
The brightly coloured Bubble Drops by Keith Browning

The RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 11-14. For details, visit the website.

RHS Malvern Spring Festival gardens 2017

One of the joys of the RHS Malvern Spring Festival is the chance to get some design and planting inspiration from the show gardens.

Their new site at the festival gives them a beautiful Malvern Hills backdrop while plenty of space on the Three Counties Showground means they are easy to navigate.

This year, there’s the added bonus of the new Spa Gardens contest, which is billed as the perfect forum for up-and-coming new talent.

RHS Malvern Show gardens

Meditation, gardens as art and the plight of refugees are just some of the themes behind the show gardens at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival.

There are six gardens in the contest with designs from several former gold medal and Best in Show winners.

The Refuge

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The current refugee crisis has prompted Gloucestershire designer Sue Jollans to return to Malvern for the first time since winning a gold medal and Best in Show in 2008.

Designed to celebrate Britain’s history as a refuge for those in need, the garden features a boardwalk over wildflowers and corten steel pools with a ripple effect in the water. Moving through the garden over the boardwalk symbolises the journey across water many refugees make.

At its heart is a Middle Eastern-style bread oven and a communal area.

“It is a space that is intended to feel safe, grounded in the British countryside,” explains Sue, who is based in Painswick. “The oven was inspired by Help Refugees UK distributing bread griddles in the Greek refugee camps, which brought people together to make bread.”

Sue is hoping the garden will be relocated after the show at an organisation that helps refugees.

Tree House Garden 

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Last year’s Best in Show winner, Mark Eveleigh, is bringing a tree house and hot tub to the show with a garden inspired by Malvern’s history as a spa town.

Using the nearby Victorian St Ann’s Well as his starting point, he has given the theme a modern twist with an octagonal tree house and a wood-fired hot tub.

Although the garden is being judged by the RHS, it will be kept as a permanent feature at the showground.

“The fact that this will live on and evolve does appeal to me,” says Mark.

At One with A Meditation Garden 

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The theme of spa is also behind this year’s design by Peter Dowle, which is designed to be a quiet retreat within a larger garden.

There will be three stone pieces by sculptor Matthew Maddocks, a 16m-long water feature and huge rocks from the Forest of Dean while planting will include Peter’s trademark acers and other large “statement” plants from his Howle Hill Nursery.

“We’re hoping for something quite dramatic,” he says.

The Retreat 

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Olive tree specialists Villaggio Verde are regulars at RHS Malvern but this year sees a move away from their usual recreation of a Mediterranean scene.

Instead, they are using the spa theme to create a modern private garden designed for well-being and health.

Olives and planting associated with aromatherapy, including lavender, bay and rosemary, will surround a salt water hydrotherapy pool while a lounging area will be cooled by mist.

“It’s a step out of our comfort zone,” admits Villaggio’s owner Jason Hales.

Buckfast Abbey Millennium Garden

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Devon’s Buckfast Abbey is making its flower show debut with a garden to celebrate its millennium in 2018.

Designed by Maia Hall, it allows visitors to look through a Gothic arch ‘windows’ onto a tranquil garden where a stag, echoing the abbey’s logo, drinks at a pool.

A meandering path, suggesting a river bed, a glade of silver birch and a planting scheme in blue and white contribute to the feeling of peace.

Head gardener Aaron Southgate says the idea was to combine a sense of spirituality and naturalness.

He explains that the gardens – which total 35 acres at the Benedictine monastery – are often used by local people.

“The gardens are a tranquil, peaceful space for prayer and reflection.

“We felt we wanted to tell the world about them a bit more.”

A Garden Framed

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Designer Tim Lawrence is planning a something different for RHS Malvern with his exploration of gardens as art.

More an art installation than a typical show garden, it is a series of four framed ‘pictures’ of plants, rocks and wood set around large tree sculpture.

“This is a garden for people to find some peace and space to reflect,” he says. “It’s not necessarily a garden to walk around or go through but a garden where you sit and are still.”

It’s the first time Bristol-based Tim has made a show garden and he says the garden has been inspired by his love of not only plants but also Japanese art and design.

RHS Malvern Spa Gardens

The new Spa Gardens contest not only gives designers the chance to take part in an RHS show, the winner will also get the opportunity to exhibit at Russia’s top horticultural event.

A link with the Moscow Flower Show means the Malvern winner will be invited to build a sponsored garden in Russia in June.

Meanwhile, as part of the exchange, one of the four gardens in the Malvern contest has been created by two Russian designers, who are being mentored by top UK designer Jo Thompson.

All the contestants have been asked to give a modern interpretation of Malvern’s Victorian spa heritage and were given a busary to help fund their entry.

Molecular Garden

RHS Malvern

Design duo Denis Kalashnikov and Ekaterina Bolotova are creating a garden for relaxing in after spa treatments at a Russian resort.

While it is enclosed to give seclusion for guests, the hilly landscape beyond is suggested in the curved shapes of loungers while a timber panel symbolises the rising sun.

Ocean Garden

RHS Malvern

The Art Deco architecture of Miami has inspired designer Michel Damien’s entry to RHS Malvern.

There are strong lines and sinewy curves throughout the garden, which is seen as a modern spa garden with links to the past, as well as water in pools and as ‘tram lines’.

To counterbalance the hard landscaping, Michel is using blocks of colour, with plants that have an architectural quality.

I Follow the Waters and the Wind

RHS Malvern

The poetry of Ted Hughes lies behind Annette Baines-Stiller’s garden, which explores the experience of countryside walks, such as those in the Malvern Hills, with the feel of the wind and sound of water.

Designed to look as though it is floating, the garden has undulating paths and water collecting in a rock pool.

The planting will include one ‘cool’ area of pink, lilac and spring and a ‘hot’ area of red, orange and yellow.

Bubble Drops

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One of the most eye-catching designs that this year’s RHS Malvern looks set to be Keith Browning’s entry.

He’s hoping to encourage visitors to think about shape, materials and structure with a colourful structure made of laminated timber.

Designed to be perplexing, it celebrates water, which is essential for life, and is inspired by natural Jurassic rock formations.

The RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2017 runs from May 11-14. For more details, visit the website.

Find out what Jane Furze, the new head of the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, has planned for 2017 here

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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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Acers fire up for autumn

Winter bedding and bulb-buying aside, autumn can be a quiet time for nurseries. There’s a sense of winding down, taking stock and starting to prepare for the next season. Yet for one independent nursery, October is the pinnacle of the year.

Howle Hill Nursery specialises in acers and autumn sees it explode into colour. Butter yellow, crimson, scarlet and orange are beginning to work their way across the nursery, near Ross-on-Wye, culminating in a fiery show.

‘Chitose-yama’ is turning a rich, dark red that glows in the sun, ‘Sango-kaku’, the coral-bark maple, is golden with pink tips, ‘Aoyagi’ is a pure yellow, while one of the best reds is ‘Osakazuki’.

The nursery was started by landscaper and designer Peter Dowle, who began growing the autumn stars when tracking them down for his garden projects proved difficult.

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‘Sango-kaku’ is a fiery mix of red and gold

“I could never find trees of any size,” he explains. “It started out being driven by what we wanted to use in schemes but couldn’t get. Now other people in that situation come to us.”

The choice at the nursery is huge – the firm prides itself on having the widest selection in the South West with many hard-to-find varieties.

They range from dainty dwarf trees suitable for containers to others so big that they will make an immediate impact on a garden; some of the trees are up to 40 years old.

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Acers were a key part of Peter’s gold medal-winning garden at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival

The stock is grafted for Howle Hill by a British specialist and the nursery takes delivery when the trees are around four months old. The acers are then grown on to be sold at the nursery, through its online arm Acers Direct, or used in clients’ gardens; Peter designs four or five Japanese-style gardens a month.

How to grow acers

But even if you don’t want a true Oriental garden, Peter believes you should make space for an acer.

“They are such a fabulous genus. You get a huge amount of variation and seasonal interest from them.

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Blazing reds are lighting up the nursery

“They are suitable for a very wide range of soils including clays to chalky and sandy soils.”

And he dismisses as a myth the commonly held view that acers need acid soil to thrive or that they can’t cope with windy spots, although he advises against planting on the top of a hill or as the first line of defence in a seaside garden.

“Average wind conditions are not an issue with maples so long as the soil preparation is correct,” explains Peter, whose landscaping business has built many RHS gold medal-winning gardens.

Instead, he believes brown edges to leaves, often blamed on wind burn, is more likely to be poor soil without enough humus.

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The nursery has a wide selection of trees

“The important thing for gardeners is to mimic their natural habitat on the fringes of deciduous woodland.”

Adding lots of leaf mould, well-rotted farmyard manure or composted bark would give acers the conditions they need.

Peter also says you shouldn’t be afraid to prune an acer to get the best shape – just be careful when you do it to avoid the plant ‘bleeding’.

“The golden rule is to prune from late June to the end of December.”

Spoilt for choice

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‘Garnet’ makes a small tree

Acers can be grouped as dwarf, small, medium and large, making them suitable for any garden, even courtyards.

A good dwarf for containers is ‘Little Princess’, which grows up to 1.5m in height, while ‘Garnet’, which has purple, dissected foliage is classed as a small tree.

Among the medium acers is ‘Osakazuki’ and ‘Bloodgood’ is a popular large tree, which has a strong red colour.

If it’s orange tones you want, Peter suggests ‘Orange Dream’, which has a golden orange autumn display.

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‘Orange Dream’ is starting to live up to its name

Yet acers are not just for autumn with many having beautiful colour early in the year.

“Spring is such an underrated window for maples. There’s a whole range of spring fizzlers that are just knockout.”

A top choice is ‘Deshojo’, whose new leaves are cerise pink.

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‘Deshojo’ has a wonderful cerise spring colour

“When it’s pink in spring and you’ve got sunlight through that it’s just unbeatable.”

Planting companions

Among the nursery’s top choices for planting companions with acers are Hakonechloa macra and Mukdenia rossii, which has a white flower, glossy leaves and good autumn colour.

And a favourite partnership is Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ underplanted with winter aconites, the tree with its aconite-like foliage opening just as the yellow blooms are fading.

Howle Hill Nursery is hosting an Acer Week from October 17-22 open 9am to 5pm daily, with the preview week from October 10. There will be trees for sale and advice on growing acers. More details here

Growing a sense of peace

A recent report by the King’s Fund for the National Gardens Scheme has linked gardening to better health but it also has a role to play in end of life care as shown at the Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice.

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Gardening at Leckhampton Court

It’s the view that’s most surprising. An almost panoramic vista across the Gloucestershire countryside with the Cotswolds and Malverns visible in the distance, it seems at odds with the hospice’s location just on the edge of town. At odds, but also somehow fitting: if anywhere should have the benefit of a close link with nature, it’s here.

Then there’s the garden: nothing fancy but carefully tended and filled with colour, adding to the sense that this is just a well-loved family home rather than a modern, specialist centre for palliative care.

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The hospice is housed in a listed Elizabethan manor house

It’s an impression the team at Leckhampton Court are keen to foster: not only does it help to humanise what is often a distressing experience, the garden and indeed gardening have been shown to help in their work.

“It’s an important part of the care we provide here,” says Hayley Clemmens, the hospice’s spokeswoman, who stresses that the hospice is not just somewhere people go to die.

“Fifty-four per cent of our patients come in and go home again,” she explains.

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There’s a restful quality to the garden

Most are day patients – Leckhampton Court has just 16 in-patient beds – and many are being helped with long-term, life-limiting conditions such as multiple sclerosis and dementia.

As well as providing soothing, peaceful surroundings for patients, their families and the hospice staff, the gardens have been used in assessment and treatment, while difficult conversations are often eased by walking around the grounds or sitting on one of the many benches.

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Lavender lines one of the paths

A new feature that is proving particularly helpful is a raised vegetable bed near the day hospice room.

Tall enough to be accessible to even the frailest patient, it is filled with a delightful mix of colourful flowers and veg: celeriac, curly kale, purple sprouting broccoli, beans and sweetcorn rub shoulders with sunflowers, petunias and marigolds. Meanwhile, tomatoes are being grown in pots alongside.

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The new vegetable bed is brimming with produce

The mini veg plot is popular with patients, some of whom are distressed at no longer being able to care for their own gardens, and many take home bags of produce.

Tending the plants can also help with those in pain, says Senior Staff Nurse Katherine Grace.

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Flowers are grown among the veg

“I did a lot of planting with one MS patient who was struggling that week. It really took her out of herself.”

Her colleague, occupational therapist Anna Primrose-Wells, uses the raised veg bed when assessing patients, such as those with dementia.

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Colourful plants fill the borders

“One voluntarily picked up the courgette plant label and read it, which was massively informative for me to understand the level of his perception.”

The plants have all been donated while the bed itself was built by volunteers. Indeed, Leckhampton Court is reliant on volunteer gardeners as, along with the rest of the hospice’s work most of the costs have to be met through fundraising by the local community.

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Roses are one of the summer’s stars

A small team meets weekly to care for around five acres of garden in the total of just over 14 acres of grounds; there’s a sizeable wood as well as a lake and even the car park has planted boundaries.

There’s also an area of donated trees on the site of a former orchard, although tools rather than trees would be a more welcome gift today with wheelbarrows top of the list.

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Even the car park has flower borders

As well as tending borders filled with lavender, spiraea, hollyhocks, hemerocallis, leucanthemum and roses, the team also raise cuttings from existing plants to help fill spaces; penstemon are being targeted when I visit.

Pride of place is a new border by the main entrance created by Peter Dowle, a Chelsea gold medal-winning designer who donated the plan to the hospice.

“The bed was full of roses that were about 40 years old,” explains John Millington, who organises the team of volunteers. “We couldn’t replace them and had to go for something different.”

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Erigeron has settled well into the new border

Planting for the raised bed was funded thanks to the Farrell family, who raised the money with a charity golf event.

The new border was still being finished when I visited but already perennial wallflower, thyme and Erigeron karvinskianus were settling in around old stones from the manor house that have been carefully placed so that initials chiselled into them can be seen.

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Some of the stones have the original stonemasons’ initials

“It’s such an important bed as it’s the first one people see going up to the front door,” says John.

It’s also an important part of the ‘home from home’ feel that the hospice tries to create and the sense of peace that is so apparent.

“Lady Ryder believed that healing was helped by the environment,” says John. “This environment has healing properties because it’s peaceful and tranquil.”

For more information about Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court hospice see here

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Chelsea Flower Show: rocks and reflections

Chelsea is all about rocks and colour this year. Stone features on many of the gardens and there are vibrant, paintbox shades in every part of the Great Pavilion.

Cleve West’s celebration of the rugged landscape of Exmoor manages to combine huge pieces of Forest of Dean stone with soft, easy-on-the-eye planting without making either look out of place.

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Rocks on Cleve West’s M&G garden have a sense of permanence

Rosy Hardy has circular gabions filled with stone that mimic a dry chalk steam bed; Hugo Bugg creates bold geometric shapes in shades of black and grey; and in the Fresh gardens, Propagating Dan has balanced a five-tonne boulder on the roof of a pavilion in ‘The Garden of Potential’.

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Stone is in evidence across the show

A talking point among visitors though is Diarmuid Gavin’s nod to British eccentricity. The strains of ‘In an English Country’ garden float over the show as window boxes go up and down, topiary twirls and plants process around the garden’s house. It ticks few boxes in terms of inspiration for home gardeners but as a spectacle it is unbeatable and won silver-gilt.

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Not content with bells and whistles, Diarmuid Gavin had musicians on his garden

In the Great Pavilion, Marks and Spencer introduces a carnival atmosphere with vibrant blocks of colour in a display that is high on impact.

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The startling M&S garden won gold

Heucheraholics are bringing a sense of fun to the humble garden shed, repainted in primary shades and festooned with heucheras, there are hyacinths and tulips in lipstick shades, and the New Covent Garden Flower Market has a nod to the Queen’s birthday with a display that combines cool green and white on one side with 3D colour on the other.

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The cool side of The New Covent Garden display
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The other side of the flower market’s display

And this year, the usual splashes of scarlet from the Chelsea pensioners are dwarfed by the great swathe red poppies in front of the Royal Hospital.

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Just some of the thousands of poppies remembering commemorating fallen soldiers

It’s been a different Chelsea: the sun shone – a welcome relief after last year’s deluge; press day was quieter due to fewer passes being issued; the Main Avenue gardens showed a welcome individuality. What hasn’t changed is the buzz around the showground and the crowds pouring in as soon as the gates opened this morning.

Key results and the Cotswolds 

Best show garden: The Telegraph Garden by Andy Sturgeon

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Chris on his gold garden

Cheltenham’s Chris Beardshaw added to his gold medal tally with his garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital, sponsored by M&G. Peter Dowle saw the garden he built for L’Occitane win gold, while Lichen Antiques supplied the Forest of Dean stone for Cleve West’s gold medal-winning garden and Westmorland stone for the Royal Bank of Canada Garden, which got silver-gilt. Avening sculptor Giles Rayner supplied a water feature for The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, which won silver-gilt.

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Peter Dowle in a tiny piece of France transported to London

South Gloucestershire herb queen Jekka McVicar got silver-gilt with her first show garden and the Meningitis Now Futures Garden for the Stroud charity won silver-gilt in the Artisan Garden awards.

For a round-up of the Cotswolds’ input into the Chelsea Flower Show see here

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Florist Katherine Kear was dressed for the part

In the Great Pavilion, Gloucester florist Katherine Kear led her team of florists from the Three Counties and South Wales to gold medal victory. Their display for the National Federation of Flower Arrangement Societies showed the influence of the Victorians on gardening. More details here

Here are some of my snapshots of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016.

chelsea flower show
Rosy Hardy’s first show garden won silver
chelsea flower show
Plants from Raymond Blanc’s kitchen garden were used in the hospitality village
chelsea flower show
Jo Thompson’s Chelsea Barracks Garden was wrapped around a lawn – rarely seen at Chelsea
chelsea flower show
Jekka McVicar’s Modern Apothecary garden
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Colour is everywhere at Chelsea
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One of two striking sculptures on Chris Beardshaw’s garden
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Detail on the NAFAS display
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Naturalistic planting on the L’Occitane garden
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I loved this lavender ‘With Love’ on Downderry Nursery’s stand

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Chelsea Flower Show 2016

The Cotswolds go to town

The Cotswolds are well represented this year at a Chelsea Flower Show that promises more than a touch of theatre with an 80ft train, an acoustic garden and spinning topiary.

Visitors will be greeted by floral arches over the Bull Ring and London Gate entrances, created to celebrate The Queen’s 90th birthday. The tunnel by Rock Bank Restaurant will be hung with more than 5,000 roses, and part of the Royal Hospital grounds will be carpeted in nearly 300,000 hand-crocheted poppies, a tribute to those who have served in war.

chelsea flower show
Floral arches will welcome visitors

Those with a pass for the Hospitality Village will see ‘Le Jardin Blanc’, created by Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes and former Hillier boss Andy McIndoe, using veg grown at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

Cleeve West returns with a garden inspired by Exmoor, the plight of modern day slaves is highlighted in an Fresh garden by Juliet Sargeant, and Diarmuid Gavin is again set to be a talking point with a garden for Harrods celebrating British eccentricity that will have bobbing box balls, patio furniture emerging from a trapdoor and twirling bay trees.

Elsewhere, hosta and fern specialists Bowdens are planning a display around a 1920s Belmond British Pullman carriage, disability charity Papworth Trust has worked with percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie to produce a garden of sound and award-winning Great Pavilion exhibitors Jekka McVicar and Rosy Hardy are both making their show garden debuts.

Jekka’s A Modern Apothecary explores the links between herbs and well-being with a palette of plants that will include fennel and chicory, which aid digestion, wild celery for treating gout and several red-leaved herbs, important in preventing heart disease. A herb lay – a mix of grass and plants such as sorrel and chicory – will be used instead of a traditional lawn.

chelsea flower show

She’s growing 90 per cent of the 15,000 plants needed at her South Gloucestershire herb nursery.

“I really want to show how fantastic herbs are as garden plants. They are the one group of plants that look good, smell good and do you good.”

After the show, the garden will be rebuilt at St John’s Hospice, London, which is sponsoring it.

Rosy’s garden highlights the fragility of chalk streams, under threat from climate change and pollution, and, if the pressure of her first garden wasn’t enough, she is also putting together the display for Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, the nursery she runs with her husband, Rob.

chelsea flower show

Catching up with her at the recent launch of Allomorphic in Stroud, I questioned the wisdom of building two exhibits simultaneously at Chelsea and just weeks after exhibiting at Malvern.

“I try not to think about it all,” she admitted, adding that while husband Rob would put in the hard landscaping for the nursery stand, only she did the planting.

“Nobody else can put it together. It has to be me.”

Partly, this is because she has no detailed planting plan and there’s no ‘dry run’.

“I just go and paint with my plants.”

Here are some of the Gloucestershire designers, growers and artists taking part in this year’s show.

A life-changing disease

Designer John Everiss’ garden celebrates the 30th anniversary of Stroud-based charity Meningitis Now.

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The Artisan Garden depicts the life-changing effect of the disease with 3D wooden sculptures, modelled on real children, seen travelling across the garden from health, through a wall of disease to life after meningitis. One of the figures is seen reaching for help through the wall, another fails to reappear.

John explained: “It’s important that those who have lost children or young adults are represented in this garden as well.”

Country-style planting in pastel shades will be shot through with orange, the charity’s colour, while its Gloucestershire roots are suggested by the use of Cotswold stone for walls and a folly.

A garden for GOSH

There’s also a children’s health theme to Cheltenham designer Chris Beardshaw’s show garden, which is for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, sponsored by Morgan Stanley.

chelsea flower show

Designed to be relocated to a rooftop at the hospital, it relies on texture to create a soothing, green space for patients and their families.

There’s a central water feature and an interlocking Japanese-style pavilion with woodland planting, including acers, cornus and epimedium.

“The flowers are deliberately small and hidden within the garden and not blousy and ostentatious,” said Chris.

More colourful will be fabric on the seats, which is based on leaves drawn by some of the hospital’s young patients.

Bringing France to Chelsea

A small piece of Provence will be created at the Chelsea Flower Show with the help of contractor Peter Dowle, who runs a nursery near Ruardean in the Forest of Dean.

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He is working with designer James Basson to mark the 40th anniversary of beauty firm L’Occitane, founded in Haute Provence by Olivier Baussan. Last year, the same team won gold at Chelsea for their depiction of a perfumer’s garden.

Plants native to the region, including sage, small-leaved holly and thyme, will be used to recreate a scene looking across a lavender field to the rolling hills and woodland of the area.

Earlier this month, Peter won gold at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival with a Japanese-style garden.

Forest plays its part

Stone from the Forest of Dean will underpin Cleeve West’s nostalgic look back at the landscape of Exmoor where he spent his teenage years.

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Nearly 90 tonnes of undressed stone, including one piece of nearly nine tonnes, will be used along with polished pieces.

The stone has been sourced by Cotswold firm Lichen Antiques, who supplied gates and paving for Cleeve’s 2014 gold medal-winning garden.

“We’ve spent days and days in the quarry choosing the right pieces of stone,” explained the firm’s owner, Darren Jones.

The firm is also supplying Westmorland stone for Hugo Bugg’s Royal Bank of Canada Garden which celebrates the importance of water.

chelsea flower show

Influenced by a trip to Jordan, it will show how arid landscapes can still have beautiful flora.

Westmorland is no longer quarried and Darren was lucky enough to have the 15 tonnes needed in stock.

“It’s beautiful,” said Darren, “and works absolutely perfectly in this garden.”

Both designers had a ‘dry run’ at positioning the stone at a yard in Gloucester before it was transported to the Chelsea showground.

Inspired by pineapples

The number sequence that underpins nature has inspired a Cotswold water sculptor’s Chelsea Flower Show commission.

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Giles Rayner used the Fibonacci sequence as the starting point for a copper water vortex sculpture that will feature on The Winton Capital Beauty of Mathematics Garden.

“It was inspired by pineapples,” explains Giles, from Avening. “It’s got quite a complex shape.”

More of Giles’ work will be on show at his own stand, set into a garden designed by a student from Inchbald School of Design. It will feature a freeform hedge of Ilex crenata as a backdrop to the copper sculptures.

Florists head for Chelsea

Gloucestershire flower arrangers are also taking part in this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

Katherine Kear is leading a team building the NAFAS display in the Grand Pavilion, full story here

Meanwhile, in the floral art contest, Jayne Morriss is hoping to delight judges with a surprise.

The theme is ‘Garden Delight’ and Jayne, from Brimscombe Hill, has subtitled her arrangement ‘Twas Around the Corner I Beheld’.

“I think every garden should have a surprise as you turn the corner and this will be a beautiful planted urn”

For her ninth time at Chelsea, Jayne is planning an arrangement in pale pink, lavender and purple using delphiniums, peonies, roses and stocks.

Peacocks, pots and watering cans

Several Cotswold firms will be among the trade exhibitors at the Chelsea Flower Show among them garden antiques firm Architectural Heritage from Taddington.

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Their stand will feature period sundials and lead urns alongside their reproduction copper planters.

Cheltenham sculptor Christopher Lisney will be unveiling his twist on a traditional garden roller at the Chelsea Flower Show with a 7ft-high piece complete with a butterfly landing on the handle.

He has also reworked his popular watering can sculpture, adding a bird perching on the handle. The original watering can was shown at his first Chelsea visit in 2003 and is the only piece to have been on the stand every year since.

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Meanwhile, wire sculptor Rupert Till will be unveiling a new 8ft-high peacock on a hoop at the show. It’s part of a new range that has seen cockerels and parrots balancing on rings.

It is, he says, a way of putting a dramatic piece of art into even the smallest town garden.

In a nod to The Queen’s birthday, he will also have a fell pony’s head, while his popular boxing hares will be the centrepiece.

chelsea flower show

For information about the show, visit the RHS

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Leckhampton Court gets garden makeover

Part of the garden at Cheltenham’s Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice is being revamped with the help of Chelsea gold medal-winning designer Peter Dowle.

Work begins today on planting a centrepiece flower bed in the courtyard at Leckhampton Court, which will mix trees, shrubs and perennials to provide year-round colour.

Peter Dowle
Peter Dowle on the L’Occitane Garden at Chelsea 2015

Funding for the plants has come from a donation by Cleeve Cloud Golf Club 2015 Charity Tournament and Peter, who owns Howle Hill Nursery near Ruardean, has donated his time and expertise.

“Sue Ryder Homes have always been very close to my heart and it was a fabulous opportunity to share some of the inspiration that plants can bring to such a special place,” he said.

“The Sue Ryder foundation looked after my grandmother with so much dignity and it has been a pleasure to give something back. It has been also very humbling seeing the tremendous work that the team of volunteers bring to the outside space.”

The design has 45 different species, including an olive, Scot’s pine, iris, lavender, ferns and grasses. Providing a link to the hospice’s history, will be pieces of stone from the original 13th century manor house, many of them still showing the marks of the stonemasons who crafted them.

Leckhampton Court
The design features 45 different species

John Millington, Head Gardener at Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice, said: “We wanted to create something for our patients and visitors to look at and enjoy throughout the year, with colour in every season and the use of grasses creating something to hear too.

“It is fitting that we have been able to incorporate some original stone from the manor house into it which will ensure the new garden has a connection to the hospice building and those who built it.”

Leckhampton Court
Original stone will be used in the new bed

Peter has designed a show garden for next month’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival and will be building the L’Occitane Garden, designed by James Basson, at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

Leckhampton Court is the only specialist hospice care inpatient unit in Gloucestershire and has to raise £1.6 million every year to fund its work.

Chelsea plans unveiled

An 80ft train carriage, a new centrepiece in the Great Pavilion and an eccentric design by Diarmuid Gavin are among the highlights for Chelsea 2016 unveiled by the RHS this week.

The world famous flower show will also feature plantswoman Rosy Hardy’s debut in show gardening with a design highlighting the threat to chalk streams, and the return of Chelsea favourite Cleve West, whose M&G garden is inspired by Exmoor and uses stone quarried from the Forest of Dean.

Likely to be the talk of the show is Diarmuid Gavin’s ‘The British Eccentrics Garden’ for Harrods, which will ‘perform’ every 15 minutes with rotating topiary, bobbing box balls and patio furniture that rises out of a trapdoor.

More traditional is the creation of Cheltenham designer Chris Beardshaw, who is celebrating the work of Great Ormond Street Hospital with a garden sponsored by Morgan Stanley. Featuring reflective water and a Japanese-inspired main structure, it will be rebuilt at the children’s hospital after the show.

chris beardshaw
Chris Beardshaw on his 2015 gold medal-winning garden

Meanwhile, L’Occitane will be hoping to repeat its gold medal success with the partnership of designer James Basson and landscaper Peter Dowle, who is based near Ruardean. They will be depicting the landscape of Haute Provence to mark the beauty firm’s 40th anniversary.

Peter Dowle
Peter Dowle is building the L’Occitane Garden

Stroud-based charity Meningitis Now is also looking back to its founding 30 years ago but also forward with a garden in the Artisan category that highlights its work saving lives and rebuilding futures.

And there will be a new look to the Great Pavilion where the central monument site, dominated by Hillier Nurseries’ stand for many years, will now be home to an exhibit by hosta and fern specialists Bowdens. The Devon-based nursery is planting up a station with a 1920s Belmond British Pullman carriage as the centrepiece.

More gardens will be confirmed in the next few weeks.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016 runs from May 24-28. RHS members’ tickets are on sale now, public tickets go on sale on December 1.