Gate leading into wildflower field with foxgloves

Hay Time In The Dales: People’s Choice Award Winner At RHS Chatsworth

Chris Myers and I were chuffed to bits by the turn of events at The RHS Chatsworth Flower Show last week. We both had good reason. After a slow start (the judges’ Silver Medal theoretically rated it worst in show), the garden he’d designed was validated by the popular vote, being named the one the public loved most. Me? I’d been rooting for it!

Foxgloves and wildflowers growing beside a cottage

Naturalistic plantings were a theme of this year’s show, but his garden was a hymn in praise of wildflowers (or more of a folksong). I enjoyed lingering awhile, listening to the sighs of pleasure as people glimpsed Hay Time In The Dales for the first time and felt its emotional pull. I knew this garden would haunt me, and it already is.

I thought of it when our evening walk took us past a flower-rich hay meadow between Edgworth and the Wayoh Reservoir. Around its peak now, the wildflowers include buttercups, yellow rattle, meadow vetchling, red clover, wild blue lupins, and a blend of grasses. A public information sign beside the meadow explains this patch of land represents what is now one of the rarest habitats in the UK.

It all seems so normal, and that’s part of the problem.    Continue reading

Six on Saturday From The RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

I’m joining in with The Propagator to share my six favourite plants from the ongoing UK flower show that runs until Sunday 10th June. It’s a good discipline to be just allowed six, but you should know there was a small battle for every one of these slots. I hope I’ll not be the only one this week to share pictures from Chatsworth, as I’d love to see other people’s highlights. Here goes:

  1. Digitalis ‘Foxlight Rose Ivory’

Pink foxglove flowers with speckled, cream throat

Looking this up online, the first search result is a data card for trade sellers, saying: ‘…bold novelty colors boost retail appeal and drive impulse sales’. I’m sure they will! I had thought this foxglove was part of the Illumination series, but was puzzled by the pointed lip, so was pleased to find I’d photographed the label. This doesn’t always happen, especially if I am over-excited to see the plant.

2. Polemonium ‘Northern Lights’

Polemonium cultivar with blue backed flowers, lighter inside

I’ve always had a soft spot for polemoniums. This cultivar has a radiance because the lighter centres of the flowers are displayed against lavender blue petal reverses. The yellowy-orange stamens help too.

3. Gaura ‘Rosy Jane’

White gaura flowers with a pronounced pink edge

I love gaura (butterfly bush), even though it does much better in my sweetheart’s Mississippi garden than it ever did in my own tiny Lancashire one. Continue reading

Highlights of the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show 2018

Model in white dress and flowery hat

Model with flowery hat at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

As we wound around Derbyshire’s beautiful but narrow Peak District roads towards our sneak preview of the Chatsworth Flower Show yesterday, knowing how limestone has shaped the environment, making the ground glitter in places, I thought of one of my favourite poems: W.H. Auden’s ‘In Praise Of Limestone’.

I love the poem’s conversational style, but its abrupt changes of tone and subject matter might not suit everyone. Just as we can only read a poem from within the landscape of our own mind, we can only ever experience a flower show from our own perspective. My idea of tasty flowers and planting schemes might not be yours.

Labrador dog in a show garden at RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

‘The Great Outdoors’ by Phil Hurst won Chatsworth Gold…

This year’s Best in Show award, for example, went to an attractive display with a lot of interesting elements, including the characterful wooden arbour, bench and water feature. Continue reading

A Streptocarpus Fashion Parade (Cape Primroses)

Flowers with stripes, edges and netting effects

At the UK flower shows, you might find me hovering, hypnotised, iPhone in hand, before an offering of cape primroses. Dibleys Nurseries (awarded Master Grower status by the RHS at this year’s Cardiff Flower Show) can be relied upon to showcase a wonderful collection in tip top condition, as 150 coveted RHS gold medals can testify.

After many decades of breeding, a fashion parade would seem the perfect collective noun for them. If you want your flowers to have fancy netting, streaks, veins, lines or edging, different coloured lobes or throats, or frilly petals, these are the ones to audition. Let’s face it, just one cultivar can pretty much do it all.  Continue reading

A Visit To Harlow Carr Garden In Winter

Colourful Winter Garden

In January, dogwood steals the show in Harlow Carr’s Winter Walk

We set off for Harrogate on a whim, inspired by the weather forecast, and booked into a hotel within walking distance from the RHS’s most northerly garden, Harlow Carr, a favourite haunt. The idea was to wake up next morning to find an artistic covering of snow or a hard frost – the added winter garden ingredients only nature can provide.

The forecast had been an exaggeration but, luckily, it turns out that a winter wonderland doesn’t need snow: it can cloak itself just as wonderfully in reds, oranges, browns and greens.

Snowdrops in a winter garden with a sprinkling of snow

Early bulbs are starting to appear, including these snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii ‘Mrs Macnamara’).

We were too early to see the thousands of snowdrops, cyclamen, irises and eranthis hyemalis that will be at their peak in February and March. A small number of the advance guard could be spotted in flower in the woods, along the Winter Walk or sheltered in the glasshouse, giving a hint of the pleasure to come. But if you find yourself wondering whether a winter garden really has anything much of interest to offer in January, other than peace, you’ll find plant after plant lining up as if to say: ‘You misjudged me. You doubted there would be colour.’

Continue reading

Summer gardens from the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show: Final5 Retreat Garden

Final5 Retreat Garden

The small show gardens are a great way to see how plots of land diverge when each is dressed in carefully chosen colours, features and accessories to create a designer’s idea of gardening heaven.

I’ve only recently arrived back in the UK and this year’s show is all over but for the shouting. Undeterred, I’m determined to get into the spirit by giving a shout out to the Final5 Retreat Garden from last year. If you’re concerned that these pictures are old hat now, as styles have moved on to quarries and such-like in 2017, I won’t be hurt if you give this a miss and search The Reader for Hampton Court Flower Show instead. But if you’re still with me, here goes!   Continue reading

It’s Chelsea Flower Show Time Again!

The Arthritis Research UK Garden

Though I’ll not be able to visit the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show, my thoughts always swing back to it at this time of year. This is a glimpse into one of my favourite gardens from a few years ago: The Arthritis Research UK Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw and Keith Chapman Landscapes.

I love mixed, herbaceous borders – especially twin ones like these that echo each other, pulling the eye in all directions until all but the most disciplined visitors start to flit from one plant to another like large bees, unsure which nectar they should sample next.  Continue reading

The Healing Urban Garden

Healing Urban Garden, Hampton Court

I’ve been meaning to share this picture of the HUG (the Healing Urban Garden) designed by Rae Wilkinson for the Hampton Court Flower Show. The garden looks much more open viewed from the front, but from this angle, it’s easier to see the style of the planting, which is densely packed and surprisingly linear. That’s the part of the garden that fascinates me.

It’s an interesting, textural effect, reminding me of the rows commonly used in crop gardens, such as cutting gardens or kitchen gardens. I wonder if for some people, the sense of order and rhythm underpinning the design makes it more relaxing? If asked beforehand, I’d have said I preferred plants to mingle together naturally, but something in my pattern-loving nature responds to the technique, especially as it’s not rigidly applied.

The plants included lots of aromatic perennials and healing herbs, such as lavender, artemisia, thyme, stachys, rosemary, salvia, allium, eryngium and nepeta. The calming, subtle colour palette of silver, blue and green was lifted by purple, the bronzy foliage of head-high, multi-stemmed trees and lavender, the latter carried through to the walls and accessories.  Continue reading

Woodland Plants: Erythronium dens canis

Erythronium dens canis (dog's tooth violet)

This little gem – Erythronium dens canis – grows wild in favoured places across Europe. You might come across them in dappled shade on the edge of UK woods, pushing their way up through leaf litter, but there is probably more chance of finding them in a major garden or a spring plant and bulb catalogue.

Common names include dog’s tooth violet and trout lily. If you were wondering, dog’s tooth refers to the shape of the bulbs (which should be planted pointy side up) and trout to the beautiful, mottled foliage. The leaves look like a trendy, new, mint flavoured chocolate might – thin, of course, to justify the price tag in that inverse way we’ve come to expect; wavy to give the research and development team something to think about; and with a weird ingredient for extra credibility, such as cardamom or Kaffir lime leaves or green tea.  Continue reading