Where better to take the kids on a sunny summer’s day than the family-friendly garden show set in the beautiful grounds of Woburn Abbey? Now in its ninth year, the show attracts many visitors all looking for inspiration from the 100+ exhibitors, demonstrations, talks and garden tours. The talks – from Adam Frost and Pippa Greenwood – include topics ranging from designing your garden to creating an alpine planter and, of course, the traditional Gardeners’ Question Time. This year the questions concerned the perennial weeds ground elder and mare’s tail, a sickly daphne, a wisteria that refused to flower and how to prune giant euphorbia and the foxglove tree (Paulonia tormentosa).
What we enjoyed most about the show was the relaxed atmosphere – the busy crowds seem to melt into the extensive surroundings – and the wide variety of nurseries with experts on hand to give advice. Dalefoot Composts were there to suggest which peat-free compost from their growing range best suits which situation. I’ve been using their seed compost for a few years now and it’s excellent for all manner of seeds. They are also one of only a few suppliers of peat-free ericaceous compost, and I spent most of yesterday up to my elbows in their vegetable/fruit and double strength composts as I potted on my tomatoes, chillies and cucumbers. I’m hoping for great results and lots of fruit this summer.
There were single species displays from Harkness Roses and the National Plant Collection of Achillea millefolium and mixed stands from RHS Gold Medal winners Hardys Cottage Garden Plants. Other nurseries were exhibiting and selling grasses, hostas, peonies, chysanthemums, herbs and many more plants.
I chatted to Pippa Greenwood who has been a regular at the show since it began. She thinks the warm atmosphere is created by the many local people and families who visit each year and who see the grounds and show as being a part of the local community. It is certainly encouraging to see the presence of local suppliers like Brickhill Perennials at the show. Community spirit was also shown through the Badger Hill Scout Group helping to carry plants to cars and the cheerful brass band music throughout the day from Bedford Town Band.
Pippa was in search of her favourite plant at the show, and was struggling to choose amidst such competition – everywhere you turned there was fresh horticultural temptation. I didn’t find out which plant she chose in the end, but thought I’d set off on the same quest myself. I was tempted by Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata) from Brick Oak Farm Herbs and Achillea millefolium ‘Inca Gold’, but in the end I couldn’t pass by Pelargonium sidoides – a showstopping species pelagonium with deep velvety red petals against soft glaucous foliage. I’ve grown it before and enjoyed the vivid sprays of flowers, but overwintered it badly and lost the plant. I’ll be giving my new sidoides the VIP treatment this winter to make sure it is still with me next summer.
The kids enjoyed visiting the Artisan Food Hall and the wide expanse of grass in the middle of the show ground was declared ideal for cartwheeling with both my daughter and husband joining in at one point! There is also easy access to the gardens themselves because of the way the show sits right in the middle of the site. You can saunter down the perennial borders, visit the folly grotto and explore the private gardens of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford.
The kids picked up some peas for sowing from the Heritage Seed Library – a fabulous organisation run by Garden Organic working to save old seed varieties. The peas – a variety called ‘Tutankhamun’ – are thought to have originated from the garden of Lord Carnarvon at Highclere Castle in Berkshire who, along with Howard Carter, discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. Then we headed back to the car, but the excitement wasn’t over for the day. As we stopped to listen to the brass band my son, who had already struck up a conversation with the band leader earlier in the day about his recent Grade One trumpet exam, was offered the opportunity to conduct the band during the Radetzky March. Watching him conducting a piece that both my husband and I have played in bands many times was a wonderful end to the show. We’ll definitely be back next year – but you don’t need to wait until 2019 as the show continues tomorrow. The forecast is good, so do visit and enjoy a family day at Woburn Abbey Garden Show.