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

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

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

Plants with Impressive LinkedIn Profiles

Penstemon 'Stapleford Gem'

The Award of Garden Merit is one of the highest accolades a plant can officially acquire under the jurisdiction of the Royal Horticultural Society. I always smile at the British understatement in the official explanation:

AGM plants are:

  • Excellent for ordinary use in appropriate conditions
  • Available
  • Of good constitution
  • Essentially stable in form & colour
  • Reasonably resistant to pests & diseases

Though the wording is restrained (I often wonder how ‘excellent’ crept in there), it’s probably fair to say that AGM is the plant world’s equivalent of an impressive LinkedIn profile. It shows that influential people are willing to vouch for the variety.  Continue reading

RHS Tatton Park Flower Show: The Outside-In Shed

The outside view of the Outside-In shed

At first glance, this might seem like quite a normal shed. Yes, there’s a tree growing out of the roof: I’ll give you that. And the fine collection of antique tools does seem to be overspilling in a surprisingly orderly fashion – it’s regimented, even, as if it were intended to be there. And is that just decking, or could it be the wooden floor of the shed, laid around the ground on the outside?

The Outside-In Shed was part of the Garden Hideaway section of the Tatton Park Flower Show. Talking to the designer, Carolin, we learned that a few days earlier it had been a brand new shed, and had been specially distressed for the show. Her term was ‘shabbyed’.

The garden was a 21st century designer’s version of the 17th century poets’ conceit. As The Poetry Foundation puts it:

a poetic conceit is an often unconventional, logically complex, or surprising metaphor whose delights are more intellectual than sensual.

Except that when plants are involved, you’re never that far away from the sensual. The twist was that the inside of the shed had been turned into “a peaceful garden made as a retreat from busy gardening”, to use Carolin’s words.

Peering inside, curious visitors found a hideaway of a different kind from that they might have been expecting: a wooden chair underneath the tree, surrounded by a miniature woodland garden of shade-tolerant plants. Variegated hosta, ferns, thick green moss, foxgloves, alchemilla mollis and carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’’ carpeted the floor, while a musky scented rambling rose, Rosa ‘Snow Goose’ had begun to climb up a trellis fastened to the wall. On another trellis, a young Trachelospermum jasminoides (star jasmine) added its sweet, heady scent to the mix.   Continue reading

Young Designers at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show: Coastal Garden

Coastal Retreat

The Royal Horticultural Society is working hard to encourage young talent into the gardening profession and it’s great to see their efforts paying off. The gardens that caught my eye at this year’s RHS Tatton Park Flower Show were created by designers under the age of 28, competing in two newly launched categories that extend the RHS’s influential Young Designer Competition.  Continue reading

Verbascum ‘Caribbean Crush’

Verbascum 'Caribbean Crush'

This summer, you’ll be much more likely to see me out trying to capture different forms of verbascums on my iPhone than to see me playing Pokémon Go.

I added this one, Verbascum ‘Caribbean Crush’, to my virtual collection at the recent RHS Tatton Park Flower Show. The flowers open upwards as the sturdy spire lengthens, starting off a soft, peachy yellow, gradually deepening to a burgundy copper as they age. The effect is of two cultivars in one: very striking.

Continue reading

RHS Hampton Court’s Plant Marquee: Details

Viola perennis 'Elaine Quin'

Plant breeders are fascinated by details. Me too. At the recent RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, though time was tight, I spent a good hour checking out the displays and selling stands in the Plant Marquee. The ones that caught my eye did so because of the details. Did you notice that each flower of Viola ‘Elaine Quinn’ is a slightly different mix of violet and white with unique speckles and stripes?

Individually each is beautiful, together they give me pause: one minute I like the lighter ones best, the next the darkest ones. My eye alights on one flower then another like a human butterfly.  Continue reading