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Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Press Day at RHS Chelsea in the Grand Pavilion

Even though it was hot outside at Chelsea, it was beautifully cool inside the Great Pavilion. Less densely packed than previous years, there was an unusually airy feel and individual stands were easier to find.

Mind you, you couldn't miss the Hillier Nurseries stand which dominated the pavilion, and no wonder it won another gold from the judges, just as the Hillier stand has done so for the last 72 consecutive years.. What looked like a cool grey, giant, helical spring slinky toy, provided an usual bower to sit and ponder.

The surrounding planting of trees, shrubs, climbers and perennials was lush and plentiful and there were two paeonies which I wanted to dig up and take home. "Sarah Bernardt", with the palest of pink blowsy charm was really showing off and I also liked this "Krinkled White.

The Burncose Nursery stand is always worth a good look and this year proved no exception.

My favourite stand however was the David Austin Roses rose garden which also was awarded a gold medal. A delicious drift of the scent of hundreds of roses  on the air wafted my way, drawing me to the stand....

So cleverly designed and planted, seeing so many roses at the peak of their perfection was an absolute delight. I wanted to sit awhile, to inhale the heady scent and feast my eyes on the pretty pinks, the calming whites and creams and the pale yellow and apricot shades .

But no, there was far too much to do - I did manage to catch Alys Fowler, one of my favourite gardening columnists, for a quick interview under the rambling roses on the stand though.

I adored the Guernsey Clematis Nursery stand too. Beautiful waves of clematis cascaded at shoulder height as I walked through the stand. The pink streaked "Corinne" and the deep lavender "Parisienne" from the Boulevard collection caught my eye.

It was there that I met the delightful Rosemary Powell and her son Tony, who were admiring the clematis. Apparently Rosemary has been a customer of this nursery for many years, and cross bred some clematis creating new plants, naming them after her grandchildren.

Apparently this is Rosemary's 84th visit to the Chelsea Flower Show...the only years she didn't visit were during the Second World War when Chelsea was cancelled. Now I'm not one to ask a woman's age...after all, it should be classified information. But I did have to ask Rosemary how old she was, and the answer was 102.

Rosemary and I have agreed to meet up next year.

So, these were my highlights from the Grand Pavilion this year, but I didn't see it all in detail unfortunately. There was simply to much to do workwise - I couldn't even look at the trade stands let alone do any shopping. Literally, there was time for a 20 minute break to have something to eat and go to the loo. And that was it!

I'm not complaining though, because being at RHS Chelsea is a delight, an inspiration. For one week, this is the horticultural hub of the world, it's dynamic, it's packed with such creative and passionate people  and I couldn't miss this amazing annual experience.

Above all, it's fun! Where else could I have a chat with some walking and talking trees?

Friday, 26 May 2017

Press Day at RHS Chelsea 2017

Every time I've been to Chelsea, it has always been hot. Driving through the countryside on Monday  to an early train, I could feel the promise of a scorcher. I was right.

They say the sun shines on the righteous, and it was true. The garden designers and plant growers and  The Royal Horticultural Society were all blessed with a beautiful day which enhanced their beautiful creations and created an almost holiday vibe to what is the greatest Flower Show in the world.

But it wasn't a day off by any means. I was with my friends Dave Andrews, garden designers Chris Gutteridge and Karen Gimson ,to provide live content for four radio programmes on air, and pre record an hour long programme for Sunday...the longest running gardening programme on local radio in the country.

Our first port of call was the Linklaters Garden for Maggies which was designed by Darren Hawkes. This was attracting a lot of attention, being a sunken garden and also a secret garden., surrounded by a ten foot high hedge. Once inside, you view the garden from above, a contemplative garden, a sanctuary..designed for cancer patients , but being Press day it was rather busy....

Main Street here at the Chelsea Flower Show in some ways reminds me of the Champs Elysee in Paris. Stylish, expensive, the place to be and the place to be seen, this is where the main show gardens are and where the celebrities can be seen posing for countless photographs.

 You couldn't miss The Silk Road Garden, Chengdu, China which was created by architect Laurie Chetwood and garden designer Patrick Collins. Big, bold and vibrant, it celebrated the culture,  history and plants of the area.

I was really taken with the viburne pragense bruns see so many on one stand was glorious, and I did like the epimediums......Wudang Star, Fire Dragon and Mandarin Star, just as exotic as their names.

Oh and there were a couple of animatronic pandas too!

Further up Main Street was James Basson's design for the M&G Garden. Now this was awarded Best in Show, which has really ruffled the foliage of many visitors .
 Malta, a limestone quarry, and grasses. Mmn, I usually like his designs, but this one didn't get me oohing with delight. There again, I don't like grasses.  I never have, never will....I'm just the same with Abba songs. I've loathed them a passion since "Waterloo", and I wince when I see their songs on a programme's playlist, and I have to say "Here's Abba and ....."

So leaving the ( at least for me)  horticultural equivalent of Abba, Karen and Chris were in raptures ...they were really appreciating the terrace, the woodland, the delicious planting of the Morgan Stanley garden. I coveted the oak and limestone pavilion, and then as I interviewed and shared a glass of prosecco with Dewi, a delightful Chelsea pensioner, I was entranced by the playing of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.

Certainly  the Welcome to Yorkshire garden fulfilled its brief, featuring a beach, a cliff, a shoreline and an abbey ruin. Tracey Foster has designed one of the biggest gardens, with over 3,000 plants and tonnes and tonnes of sandstone and chalkstone. I liked this.

And do you know, I rather liked the 500 years of Covent Garden designed by Lee Bestall. I loved the arches, the apple trees, the delicate palette of planting to reflect apple blossom, all reflecting  such an iconic place and how it developed.

So, those were the show gardens which caught my eye . There's fewer of them than usual,  but there were more artisan and fresh gardens which are always a source of pleasure. They're far more accessible than the Show gardens, with more affordable ideas and inspirations, so I din't feel short changed at all.

Now, you may call me biased because I work for the BBC, - you'd be wrong, but I really appreciated the Radio 2 Feelgood gardens featuring the five senses. For me, the two that worked the best were the Anneka Rice Colour Cutting garden and the Chris Evans Taste garden.
 First of all , the cutting garden. This was an absolute delight, a feast for the eyes with the wonderful colour combinations. Gold, pinks, magentas, all packed so cleverly and artistically into the space. So many plants in nine square beds...loved, loved , loved....

This is a collaboration between Sarah Raven and Tricia Guild, two women who have done so much to bring colour and joy into our homes and gardens.

It was also so good to see vegetables take pride of place in The Chris Evans Taste Garden. Mary Berry knows all about the best and freshest ingredients for her recipes, and these were really celebrated here.

The glossy red stems of the chard and the sheer crispness of the lollo rosso made me want to hop over the piece of string and go and pick, pick, pick to my hearts content.

There were so many other gardens I only caught glimpses of, we were running to such a tight schedule. One of the last ones we recorded was a thought provoking one which I'm so pleased won gold.

Mind Trap, sponsored by idverde is the creation  of Ian Price. It's the first time he has exhibited at Chelsea, and it definitely won't be the last.

From the outside, you can see what it's like to be trapped in the centre of the garden, the four metal walls almost closing in. Ian has been living with depression for the last fifteen years, and this garden is a manifestation of his feelings when the black dog looms.  Yet there's hope too, with much more vivid coloured planting outside the walls showing that there is hope, and colour can come back into your life.

Ian is such a good interviewee...not slick and glib, but honest, personal and sincere. His garden spoke to so many people including the judges .I look forward to seeing more of his designs.

So, with so many gardens to see at Chelsea, this is merely a personal memoir of some of them.

 Next time here on the blog...the Floral Pavilion, with planting perfection!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

An arty afternoon at an open studio

I was up early last Saturday. Shopping - tick. Washing and ironing - tick. Gardening -tick.

By three o clock, I was feeling virtuous, the afternoon was bathed in glorious sunshine, and a friend was opening her art studio as part of the Harborough Artists Cluster trail which took place all weekend. So off I pootled....

I've known Lisa Timmerman since our boys were small, in the years when she didn't paint. Although she'd trained at Loughborough and Bristol College of Art, it was at the age of 48 that she decided she would make up for lost time and produce 50 paintings in the two years before she hit the big 50.....

Such an inviting door beckoning me into the coach house where she and four other artists were exhibiting.

Immediately, there was an award winning combination of beautiful paintings and cake, including a rather good lemon drizzle cake, which I couldn't resist a slice of.

Lisa paints in acrylics and oils  - still life, portraits, the English countryside and chickens. I think it's fair to say , she loves painting those.

 I do like her use of colour and shadows

Janet Alderson Smith was also exhibiting ...she likes to paint in acrylic ink.

Also exhibiting downstairs in the coach house was fused glass artist Sarah Jane Luke. I was very attracted by the shapes and colour in this piece

Someone else I knew was exhibiting here. Barbara Hatton, who used to live in the next village to me. We don't see each other all that often, but when we do, we don't stop talking.

Chattering away, Barbara led me up the spiral staircase to her work was being shown. Whether her paintings are in oils, acrylic or watercolour, they are as vivid and vivacious as she is.
Catching up on her news, I learnt Barbara has had cancer twice ( two different types) and her husband died within the space of the last  fifteen months or so. Yet she is as dynamic and funny as always, without an ounce of self pity, and still producing such interesting work. She's incredible.

Outside, Livvy King was exhibiting her contemporary ink works. I was particularly taken with this one, the sheer physicality and emotion shone out.

I saved my favourite part of a visit to any Open Studio until last. It's one thing to see what an artist produces but I can find out so much more about the artist in the space where they actually work.

I love Lisa's space ...with glimpses of current and future projects,

with other paintings stacked ready for sale,

and the portraits of her husband and boys.

Her husband Paul was home by now, so we went for a quick chat and a walk around the newish, small lake in the garden,

and by the time we got back, miraculously it was wine o clock. Janet, Barbara, plus Lisa on the right had their glasses full, and everyone was chatting animatedly. My glass was filled too, and what a lovely end to such an interesting afternoon.

There was just time to admire the huge pots filled with tulips, before driving home, wishing that if only, I could have the tiniest ounce of artistic flair.


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A day at RHS Malvern Spring Festival

It was a very early start on Thursday - I was off to Worcestershire for the RHS Malvern Spring Festival. As I sped down the M6 and M5, the sun was shining, I was singing along to songs on the radio, and there was that delightful sensation of anticipation.

What gardens would I fall in love with? Which plants would knock my socks off?  And what would my overall impression of the festival be?

The Malvern Hills are a wonderful setting, and it's such a spacious and well laid out festival .Wide paths too and flat grass.....bliss, as it was my first week of walking without crutches after fracturing my ankle.

First stop was a meet up with other members of the Garden Media Guild just inside the Floral Marquee  in the Plant Finder Parlour. Just past ten o clock  in the morning and quite a few were standing happily chatting with a glass of ice cold prosecco in their hands. How wonderful I thought, so promptly took a glass and joined them.

It was good to catch up with a rather formidable looking Matthew Biggs again .

He was dressed for his role as plant hunter Ernest Wilson who brought such an eclectic collection of beautiful and rare specimens back to the UK at the beginning of the twentieth century. I knew of how he'd found the ghost tree or handkerchief tree, ...see here

but Matthew really brought his work to life in a dynamic and humorous way which the audience loved. Unfortunately though, I didn't have time to watch his interpretation of the life of George Forrest in the afternoon.

I loved Jekka McVicar's garden at last year's Chelsea Flower Show so was rather keen to see the Health and Wellbeing Garden she's designed which will be a permanent feature at the Three Counties Showground.

A circular garden protected by a dry stone wall, there was lots to look at. I always love lavender edging and there's so many herbs planted here in the raised beds by Woodblocx, I lost count.  Tashkent mint is a new one to me which I liked. But this isn't just a calming garden for reflection, it's a working one too a learning space for Pathways, a day service working with adults with learning disabilities

I made my way to the Grow Zone where gardening charities and organisations were showcasing their edible beds. I  was keen to see Sara Venn and her team from Incredible Edible Bristol. They've created 35 food community gardens in the last three years. It's a wonderful achievement -  Sarah is so passionate about her project, she's a real dynamo.

 But this venture isn't just about plants, it's about people too. Luke, one of the volunteers , was telling me how he joined within a few hours of coming to live in Bristol. He's found a great bunch of friends who share his love of gardening and he's an enthusiastic advocate  for what they're trying to achieve.

The raised bed from  Rush Farm Biodynamic in Worcestershire was a picture of vitality and health. Sebastian Parsons who farms there and who is Chief Exec of the Biodynamic Land Trust was just as perky as his plants, eagerly explaining how he and his sisters have transformed Rush Farm.

Hotfooting it back to the Floral Marquee, before it got too hot, there was almost sensory overload from the sight and scents of so many plants and people. So much to admire, but if I had to choose three plants which I coveted...two of them were paeonies from Primrose Hall...the beautiful "Sarah Bernhardt" 

And the elegant "Mothers Choice"


And thirdly , this pretty as a picture Phlox...."Clouds of Perfume" from Hardy's Plants.

Wandering outside, the first show garden I looked around was this...The "At one with ...a meditation garden from Howle Hill Nursery. With Japanese maples, three springs, statement pieces and a cooling pool harmonising so well, I'm not surprised that this garden won best in show. There was such a sense of timelessness and serenity here...


But it was the Villaggio Verde garden "The Retreat "that I wanted to sit in. A hot saltwater spa, the clean lines of the terrace, the large olive trees, leading into a Mediterranean  planting of olives and lavender, were so evocative, so delicious, I could have set up camp there with a picnic of prosecco, olives and nuts.

Itching as I am to be near the coast at this time of year, I liked the vibrancy of "The Ocean "spa garden designed by Michel Damien

There was a queue to walk around the Buckfast Abbey Millennium Garden. This detail intrigued me as I waited but time was pressing, I became aware of everything I hadn't yet I moved on....

Other visitors however were relaxing and tucking into street food and picnics by the bandstand....

That's something I like about Malvern...plenty of benches and places to sit down and take the weight of your feet, and just watch the world go by.

Joe Swift found the perfect place to sit a while, but he wasn't relaxing , he had some pieces to camera  to do for Gardeners World.

As for the shopping at Malvern.....there's so much to tempt you into spending far more than you should. Plants, clothes, paintings, food, and of course the bigger items too. Now my old ash tree no longer stands centre stage in my garden due to Storm Doris, there's no shade.  I was very impressed with these huge parasols from Instashade which use Australian fabrics which know how to withstand the searing sun . One day, one of these shall be mine!

So, a rather successful festival ......and I 'm looking forward to the RHS Malvern Autumn Show, which takes place on the 23rd to 24th September.
See you there....