We took the kids to RHS Tatton Park this year and they thoroughly enjoyed the children’s activities – decorating plant pots, studying butterflies, sky-riding on the big wheel and learning about the history of the site on the discovery trail. But when my 8 year old asked to explore the floral marquee (it had been his idea to accompany us in the first place) and began to hunt for genera which he particularly wanted to see, I saw the enthusiastic stirrings of a thirst for botanical knowledge which inspires me in all of my work. His favourites were the hostas and cacti – he liked the variation in foliage colours of the hostas and the different shapes and arrangements of the spines on the cacti.
I love my hostas – which thrive in pots on the shady patio, dusky glints of copper tape visible beneath the corrugated canopy, and my cacti collection which I began last year in an attempt to recapture my youth – the nearest I’ve yet come to a mid-life crisis. But at Tatton this year, my eye was drawn to both bold and understated uses of colour in the planting palette:
1. Zantedeschia ‘Cantor Black’
I bought my first zantedeschia, or calla lily, just after Hampton Court in 2015, lured in by those aubergine spathes and the delicately speckled foliage. It was supposedly ‘Cantor Black’, but when the flamboyant funnel finally unveiled, the expected velvety soft blackness was actually a mild pink. This year I tried again and when my new calla lily opened this week it revealed the inky throat and luscious sheen I’d been hoping for.In the floral marquee, Brighter Blooms presented a striking display of calla lilies – looking dramatic en masse with wide swathes of purples, whites and pinks. As usual I preferred the deeper colours – ‘Cantor Black’ and ‘Picasso’ (a large, bi-coloured variety displaying white trumpets with purple veining and purple throats). It must be something about zantedeschias, as I’ve also grown this variety and instead of the eye-catching colour contrast, mine, once again, produced a pink (albeit rather lovely) flower. I grow my zantedeschias in pots on the patio which means I can bring them inside in winter out of the frost and, just as importantly, out of the wet. Unlike Zantedeschia aethiopica (Arum lily), the coloured zantedeschias don’t like to be too wet and favour well-drained compost in a sunny spot. I put mine out in late May when the danger of late frosts has passed, and wait for the inevitable pink flowers to appear!
2. Allium ‘Red Mohican’
It’s hard to believe what variety and interest stem from a flower which is, essentially, a purple ball on a stick. But alliums bridge the seasonal gap between tulips and the perennial summer stars, working beautifully alongside other early herbaceous flowers, adding vertical structure to evergreen backdrops such as box or grasses, as edging along a path or creating visual continuity when dotted throughout a border.
Alliums in the front and back garden
I love any allium where the purple blends with red tones – my favourite is the stately Allium atropurpureum. At the W.S. Warmenhoven stand (one of the 5 RHS Master Growers this year), amidst a wash of bees, I found Allium ‘Red Mohican’. This maroon-red drumstick allium with its tufty yellow flowers at the tips grows to 1m tall and would work well in borders or pots. I’ll be giving this quirky late spring-flowerer a try next year as I generally have to treat alliums as annuals due to my clay soil. Alliums thrive in free-draining soil in full sun and even with grit underneath the bulb, they struggle in my garden. But that does allow me to trial new varieties every couple of years, in a relatively small garden, so I’m not complaining.
3. Verbascum ‘Pink Petticoats’
Many verbascums have soft, dusky orange and peach flowers with subtle darker tones in the flowerbuds and centres which stop the colour becoming cloying. One of my favourites in our garden is Verbascum ‘Clementine’ with washed-out orange petals and a rich purple centre. It creates a lovely contrast planted amongst blue perennials like Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ and Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’. Verbascum ‘Pink Petticoats’ has delicately ruffled petals which I’d say were more salmon than pink. It makes a soft foil for purple flowers like these drumstick alliums and also blends well with the glaucous foliage in the background, so would combine well with eryngium, perovskia, artichokes (Cynara scolymus) and cardoons (Cynara cardunculus).
Striking Verbascum ‘Clementine’ and soft ruffles of Verbascum ‘Pink Petticoats’
4. Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’
Yes, I know I can’t count and that Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ offers colour in its foliage rather than flowers, but I couldn’t resist adding it as its presence was everywhere at the show. I first noticed it in the cool basement of The Live Garden and then I struggled to find a display or garden with evergreen structure where the spreading white-flecked spider’s web fronds weren’t engaging in photo-bombing fun.
The Live Garden
I first used this Japanese aralia in a garden a few years ago and it offers a smaller alternative to the standard fatsia (‘Spider’s Web’ reaches 2.5m x 2.5m). It likes partial shade and the delicate white variegation helps to add light to these darker areas, especially when combined with other plants with white flowers or foliage, like Brunnera macrophylla ‘Looking Glass’ and Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Joubert’.
Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ can be a bit of a marmite plant – but I love it
It was lovely to experience this last RHS show of the year with the family, rather than visiting with colleagues or by myself with a camera, notebook and pen for company. We returned today with two decorated plant pots filled with oregano and thyme nestled in the car door pockets and a shared sense that our family plant explorations are only just beginning.
On an incredibly hot morning this week, the only intrepid (stupid?!) visitors to brave the 30+ temperatures, my dad and I took a tour around Luton Hoo Walled Gardens to see the restoration work in progress. The garden and grounds of the Luton Hoo Estate were designed in the late 1760s by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown for John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, former Prime Minister and unofficial director of the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew. At the time Luton Hoo was second only to the Kew in its splendour and Lord Bute’s garden added to his reputation as a key botanist and horticulturalist of the age. By the 1980s the garden had fallen into decline (despite being restored and developed with glasshouses added in the Edwardian period). Large areas were completely overgrown to the extent that the established apple orchard at the far end of the garden had disappeared from view.
The walled garden is a 5 acre site with an additional 5 acres outside the walls known as ‘The Slips’ comprising outhouses once used as potting sheds, gardeners’ quarters, boiler houses and other working buildings. In addition to the buildings, Capability Brown and Lord Bute planted trees to act as a shelterbelt and installed pumps and a complex irrigation system to service the walled garden. There was also an orchard, peach house and cold frame area outside the garden in the area which is now the car park. In 2001, a restoration programme began which saw the garden open to the public in 2007. It is run by a team of around 50 volunteers with only one employed gardener – the Head Gardener – who works four days a week.
The volunteers are slowly restoring the gardens to a productive state – there are fruit and vegetable areas, cut flower borders, a wedding marquee from which all proceeds go back into the garden fund, rose borders and a fabulous cacti and succulent collection in one of the old glasshouses.
Specimens from the cacti and succulent collection
The intention isn’t to create a historical reconstruction of any one period from the history of the estate, but rather to create a productive space which develops the skills of individuals, involves the community and offers a beautiful garden for exercise and relaxation. In the past, the garden was a place where young boys and apprentices were taught horticultural skills and later in World War II it was used by the Women’s Land Army with Land Girls working in agricultural roles on the estate. So the current programme with local schools and classes for children in the holidays, continues the education role of the garden.
Volunteers are also involved in researching the history of the garden and have uncovering much new information, for example, the fact that it was a Capability Brown garden was only recently discovered. They are also involved in restoring elements of the garden from the old walls which are unsound in places, to the glasshouses and the agricultural machinery which has been found around the estate. Unfortunately, without significant funding the majority of the glasshouses look set to remain unsafe for the foreseeable future, at least until the 15 million required to undertake restoration work can be raised.
The planting in the walled garden has been designed with sustainability in mind – it uses mainly drought-tolerant plants and watering is kept to a minimum. Chemical pesticides and fertilisers are avoided and machinery is rarely used, except to cut grass. This means that the produce from the garden, much of which is sold to residents of the estate, is free from chemicals.
The garden is open to visitors from 10.30 – 4 on Wednesdays from the beginning of May to the end of September. I felt the £5 entry per person, which goes to support the work in the garden and includes a excellent tour with a knowledgeable volunteer, was good value and I enjoyed the whole experience. Much of the garden’s interest lies in its history and this is celebrated throughout the tour with information about the different stages of development and visual cues in the planting and displays in the outhouses.
I particularly liked the perennial/annual borders and the cutting garden with its sweet pea bed, salvia border and mixed cool border. All in all, this was a fascinating (if sweltering) visit and I’ll definitely go again, both to attend the summer children’s workshops and to visit next year to see how the restoration is progressing.
For more information about the garden, opening times, events and volunteering, go to the Luton Hoo Walled Garden website.
The Rose Border at its best this week with ‘The Generous Gardener’, ‘The Pilgrim’ and ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’
My garden, like many, is a busy place at the moment. I’m planting out bedding and tender crops, sowing seeds, keeping the pollinators happy and raising many plants for the school fete and local community garden open day. Today the kids have been sowing radish, carrot, beetroot and planting out marigolds and nasturtiums in their vegetable beds. They’ve also been finding wild flowers and painting our dried pumpkin seeds from last hallowe’en ready to make necklaces in celebration of 30 Days Wild challenge.
So here’s a selection of photos to give a glimpse of #mygardenrightnow – the beautiful bits and the working areas. I’ve been enjoying seeing everyone’s photos this weekend – it’s such a lovely time of year…
Thriving Quince tree (Meeches Prolific) and Potentilla x tonguei groundcover
Binstore Green Roof
Dianthus deltoides, thrift, sedum and thymes – intricate flowers at eye level
Rosa ‘Jacqueline du Pre’ posing for her close-up
Fruit, Vegetables and Herbs
Perennial vegetable corner – with perennial onion, spring onion, earth chestnut and hardy ginger
Some flowerbed stars
Lots of pots
Argyranthemum ‘Grandaisy Pink Halo’ and Artemisia schmedtiana ‘Nana’ just starting to come together
So that’s My Garden Right Now – a place of laughter and play, with some plants rioting whilst others behave themselves – at least for the moment. We attract pollinators and far too many slugs and snails, we work hard and then drink tea, wine, cordial, eat cupcakes in the sunshine. We come together as a family and celebrate the magic of nature, as seeds germinate, plants grow, then flower, produce fruit or attempt to colonise their neighbours’ space. What a blessing is a garden! 🙂
If you’d like to get involved in #mygardenrightnow, you can use the hashtag for your pictures, videos and stories.
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Wild, evocative show gardens like James Basson’s M&G Garden, inspired by the landscape of Malta, new plants to discover (my favourite this year is Raymond Evison’s Clematis ‘Pistachio’) and new technologies like the use of microalgae to capture energy at Capel Manor’s ‘Compost, Energy, Light’ Garden: these are all part of what makes RHS Chelsea such a captivating and vibrant show. But after six hours exploring the showground, learning about new plants and discovering new ways to combine old favourites, I had still to find a garden that evoked feelings strong enough to draw me into its story and planting, creating what Coleridge described as the ‘suspension of disbelief’ – in which the show garden recedes and you find yourself immersed in a landscape where nothing external exists. Then I found myself in Nigel Dunnett’s RHS Greening Grey Britain Garden and the showground faded away. Wandering through the garden, past the black elder (Sambucus nigra ‘Gerda’), surrounded by the loose planting of Camassia quamash, Euphorbia palustris, Dianthus carthusianorum, Libertia chilensis Formosa Group and Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ in deep purples and vibrant lime greens, with soft water over pebbles and looking up to green walls and roofs, I was in a garden that created a sense of peace: an instinctive oneness with both the planting and the environment.
Up on the balcony overlooking the lower garden, Nigel explained that the main garden is designed as a community space where residents of high-rise and apartment developments could come together to relax, socialise and enjoy the planting based on drought tolerant, low maintenance species like Euphorbia cyparissias ‘Fen’s Ruby’ and Stachys byzantina that will thrive in our warming climate. The water channels running beside the walkways and benches create a sense of tranquility for residents and also provide hollows and wetland areas to deal with runoff from flash floods, whilst the pebbles enable water levels to remain higher even in dry periods. Like Nigel’s 2015 Greening Grey Britain Garden at RHS Hampton Court, this garden includes recycled materials, green walls and green roofs. I was pleased to see the binstore green roof, having designed a similar roof on my binstore after being inspired by the idea at Hampton Court in 2015. Next to the binstore, tall, multi-tiered ‘Creature Towers’ designed with recycled materials mirror the high-rise apartments, offering urban homes for the insects which form such an important part of the natural ecosystem.
On the balcony, intended as a private garden, Nigel demonstrates how even tiny outdoor spaces can provide colour and edible crops. The small wooden planters are full of tomatoes, artichokes, herbs and a wisteria which trails along the balcony, whilst the walls provide a vertical growing space with a simple pocket design attached to a mesh on the wall. These pockets can be used for planting or simply to place plants still in their pots and the wall is small enough to be watered by hand, making this a practical and sustainable way to maximise space, especially as many of the plants (like the Mediterranean herbs thyme and oregano) require little water. Looking down from the balcony the private garden is set in context – a small space to provide privacy, flowers and food: a personalised area within a larger landscape of community planting.
As a community garden volunteer, I believe that working with plants is a healing and nurturing activity. Gardening also helps us to appreciate the fundamental role that plants play in our lives: a role that will become even more important in the future. As climatic challenges arise we will need to develop our understanding of horticulture, crop production and environmental protection to keep up with the changing climate, so engaging young minds with the beauty and importance of nature is a priority. With this in mind, the fact that the plants and other elements will be relocated to a school garden via the BBC One Show’s competition after Chelsea ends exemplifies the ethos of the garden and adds to its environmental credentials. The only addition I would like to have seen was more detail on the information leaflet about the plants chosen for their drought-resistant or pollution-soaking qualities, for example links to the informative RHS website pages, such as the section covering plants which tolerate dry conditions.
During my recent sessions running a growing club at my local primary school, I have seen firsthand the impact that becoming involved in gardening has on children. They are so open and keen to learn about the magic of nature, so receptive to the ‘wow’ moments when a seed germinates or when they learn to identify a plant. After half term I’m planning a session about careers in horticulture and botany – looking at what it takes to become a greenkeeper, a NASA plant scientist, a horticultural therapist or a park ranger. Maybe one of my pupils or a student from the school which receives the RHS Garden will become a future soil scientist or a biodiversity officer. Let’s hope so because we need experts in these fields like never before. The RHS Greening Grey Britain Garden has engaged the horticultural community in discussions about sustainable gardening, offered environmentally-friendly options for both domestic gardeners and landscape architects and I’m sure it will go on to inspire the next generation when it becomes part of a school garden. The creation of a show garden with this level of aesthetic and environmental integrity is an impressive achievement, especially when it provides such a practical model for the development of urban spaces in the future.
A garden full of practical ideas, yet suffused with beauty
Further information about the Greening Grey Britain campaign and to sign up to turn a grey area green, follow the link to the RHS website.
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It was a busy day at the 40 Sunbury Road Garden in the Great Pavilion as the Westland Rising Stars of the Garden Centre Industry brought their quirky container gardens to take pride of place on the stand. The garden has been created by the Horticultural Trade Association (HTA) and the Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) in conjunction with Peter Seabrook and The Sun to celebrate Peter’s forty years working at the newspaper as its gardening correspondent. A refreshing garden, 40 Sunbury Road depicts a fairly typical back garden (16m x 5m) complete with lawn, sandpit and rotary washing line – not unlike my own garden. The lawn is surrounded by interesting, varied planting such as a living WonderWall with strawberries (Marshalls Fragraria x ananassa ‘Marshmello’), begonias and a selection of different thymes.
As well as introducing five new plants entered for the RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year Award (won by Suttons for Mulberry Charlotte Russe ‘Matsunaga’ which I have been enjoying growing at home this year), the garden is playing host to the Westland Horticulture’s Rising Stars Containers, designed and planted by three of this year’s Rising Stars (a programme, now in its ninth year, which offers young garden centre stars of the future coaching sessions to help them get ahead in the world of horticultural retail.) All three Rising Stars based their designs around the theme ‘unusual containers’ drawing on personal experiences and offering ideas that can be adapted and used in ordinary gardens.
Sarah Stewart from Klondyke Garden Centre in Polmont, Scotland, used a kettle barbecue as her container, filling it with a selection of alpines, ferns and grasses, along with a miniature red telephone box, post box and Union Jack bunting. She told me that her container celebrates her family’s tradition of having barbecues whenever possible. Living in Scotland, they brave the weather and take every opportunity to get together outside, come rain or shine.
Emma Blackmore from Bents Garden Centre in Preston created a container garden in a pink toy car from the children’s ‘Boutique at Bents’ range. She planted it with cheerful pink and purple bedding and strawberries inspired by her two year old daughter’s love of the garden. Emma works in the bedding department at Bents and enjoys the creativity involved in designing container and hanging basket planting. Emma’s container won her the David Colgrave Foundation Award and she was presented with a certificate and £250 towards further training.
Kathryn Hunt from Stewarts Garden Centre in Christchurch, Dorset turned to woodland planting for her container which was created in homage to her five year old black Labrador Harley who died last year. She chose plants which grow in Black Park where Harvey used to enjoy going for walks. The container is a rustic barrel and the display is top-dressed with bark to add to the woodland look. This container would suit a shady area of the garden or patio and would fit well in a cottage or informal garden.
Keith Nicholson, Marketing Director for Westland Horticulture, sponsors of the Rising Stars Programme said “This is a fantastic opportunity for the Rising Stars and their garden centres to exhibit at the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Not only will they have the opportunity to experience another element of the horticultural industry, but they will also be part of the most important horticultural event in the world!”
So much interest in such a small space
40 Sunbury Road reaches out to the public, offering ideas of ornamental and edible planting for real gardens, whilst also encouraging the next generation of horticultural experts to develop their skills. As I left the garden I overheard a couple discussing the garden and the barbecue container, remarking that they had an unused barbecue at home which they could repurpose using Sarah’s container garden as a guide. This conversation demonstrates that 40 Sunbury Road fulfils its purpose as both a beautiful artistic creation and an inspiration space with practical ideas which anyone can take home and try in their own back garden.
The three container gardens on view as a centrepiece of the garden