Of Cabbages and Kings – Malvern Autumn Show

For several years now I have gone to the Autumn Show with a particular friend. I hope she wont mind me saying this but she would not, nor is she ever likely to describe herself as a gardener (although I have been trying to indoctrinate her for years). This two day event set at the foot of the Malvern Hills, is for us, absolutely perfect. Enough of everything to keep us both happy. Even the weather, which this year has been to put not to0 fine a point on it, rubbish, unless of course you are a mollusc or a bog plant, was perfect this year.

First stop for us is always the Harvest Pavilion, the giant vegetables always make us smile and I love the attention to detail in the displays. I know that this pavilion never fails to amaze, delight and amuse. It is however a very serious business, as you can tell from the faces of those judging.

Having exhibited in the Harvest Pavilion I have experienced the trials and tribulations of trying to achieve perfection. This year has been a difficult one, seeing gardeners dealing with the vagaries of the British weather and yet once again faultless flowers, fruit and vegetables abounded.

The National Vegetable Society, National Championships had a Jubilee and Olympic theme. The Midlands Branch came in first with their display, which featured a fiery looking chili torch.

The Welsh contingent was much more traditional in its arrangement and I particularly liked their fine display of multicoloured carrots and Kiwano (Horned Melon), which is something I haven’t seen before.

Keeping with the Jubilee theme the Scottish Branch displayed an array of baby vegetables on a cupcake stand with both of us being most impressed by the small but perfectly formed Cauliflower.

One thing I noticed this year was the different way of styling ones leeks. I wonder if perhaps some inspiration had come from the “World Beard and Moustache Championships”

“The Little Mi”
“The Freeform”
“The Standing to Attention”

Although very impressive this years giants seemed a little thin on the ground and I cant recall seeing any of the giant swedes so reminiscent of alien lifeforms.

The Show gardens at the Autumn Show are smaller and less numerous than the Spring Show. There is a shorter time available for the build but they rarely fail to deliver on attention to detail and good design. The one difference, I would suggest, is that this Show has a more relaxed feel with some of the gardens displaying a sense of fun and whimsy not always seen in the spring.

A La Mode Dining – Best in Show
“Dig for Victory” – featuring an Anderson Shelter covered with vegetables
Colourful display in – “Discovering Brassicas!”

Happily for those building show gardens they are housed undercover in the Good Life Pavilion Theatre. Throughout the day there were a full programme of demonstrations. Unfortunately we arrived too late to watch Jean-Christophe Novelli but we did catch Mark Diacono demonstrate the tongue tingly transforming nature of Szechuan pepper in cocktails and also demonstrate how to make the perfect Mojito with local mint and cider.

Fortified we then spent the rest of the day taking in the sights, tasting local delights and generally having a lovely time.

RHS Tatton Park – 2012

Although I had a vague plan in mind to go to Tatton this year, that is how it had remained, just a hazy thought, milling around with all the other thoughts and plans. I hadn’t got as far as pinning the thought down and would possibly not have organised a Tatton Trip. So it was lucky for me that the lovely James Alexander-Sinclair tweeted asking if any body would like a ticket. Well it seemed downright churlish not to respond with anything other than a “yes please”.

A few days later an envelope arrived containing not one, but two tickets for Tatton. Who could I take at such short notice, a fellow designer, an old friend or even Penrod “Penry” Pooch “mild-mannered” police station janitor, nope none other than Mr Batkin. Although to be fair Hong Kong Phooey may have been slightly less subversive than Mr B, but probably not half as much fun.

Much discussion had gone on before hand about the weather to expect in Cheshire. Indeed the forecast was for a full day of rain including a rather nasty thunderstorm between 12 and 2 o’clock. So we duly packed the wet-weather gear including his ‘n’ her snorkels and a rather fetching orange inflatable dinghy. Now this may come as a shock to some of you but it turns out the weather forecasters got it slightly wrong as the rain stopped at junction 18 of the M6.

So hopelessly over dressed we set out to enjoy the show. We still had a way to go to be dressed as nattily as this Exhibitor though.

Wonderful World of Growing

Tatton is a fantastically friendly show with some great exhibitors and gardens, however this year I was left with the feeling that some of the show-gardens were not quite as good as they had been in the past. I’ve said before that when looking at a garden that it is a matter of the head and the heart, however this year only a few of the gardens made an impact on either. It’s quite subjective but I did feel that a number of the gardens seemed quite flat, following the “Centrifuge School of Design”, with each garden having been popped in a giant salad spinner so all the planting flew out to the edge.

Now that’s not to say that out of the many show gardens and exhibits that there isn’t a design and plant combination that catches your eye. Materials used in a new way that make you sit up and think hmm thats clever. The planting in many gardens was absolutely delightful with some beautiful combinations.


We both particularly liked the The Orchestra Gardens with “The science of Strings” being our absolute favorite.

“The garden is inspired by the science behind the sound produced by a stringed instrument. The key features are undulating lawns replicating sound-waves. Concentric circles, radiate outwards some planted, and some used as rills. Differing lengths of stainless steel wires connect to an archway to replicate the way a sound is created from altering the tension of the string. Planting is mainly grasses to replicate strings and the purple flowers of the Lavender suggest dancing notes.”

The planting in the “Time & Tide: Caldwell’s & Canute” was a calming and relaxed combination of agapanthus, phlomis and sisyrinchium to name a few. Many of the plants  were supplied by Bluebell Cottage Nursery who could also be found in the floral Marquee

“Planting on the enclosing bank reflects the coastal setting, with delicate flowers of blues and whites giving soft, flowing movement in the centre”.

Thought provoking and well executed “World without Torture” sponsored by Q-CAT (Quaker Concern for the Abolition of Torture) used many white varieties of plants collected by quaker botanists

“The front of the garden depicts an idealised World without Torture, with a deep, still pool and horizontal concrete posts that have been trodden underfoot. The planting features white cultivars of plants first introduced by Quakers. A stone figure releases a dove, with further doves depicted in wire embroidery taking flight across the chain link fence”.

Clever planting in “A Taste of Ness” garden where the planting followed the colour wheel.

“Planting is a key factor in any garden and is central to Ness Botanic Gardens. Here the planting sweeps around the plot, featuring bold colours and attractive flowers”.

The World Skills Gardens, where the landscapers worked in pairs to create four gardens as part of the WorldSkills Leipzig 2013 Squad UK Selection Competition for Landscape Gardening. The standard was exceptionally high especially considering the competitors ages range from 18 – 23.

“The UK garden highlights traditional skills that still thrive in the countryside today, in particular dry stone walling – a dry stone wall meanders through the garden. The wall creates a backdrop for a naturalistic style of planting that challenges the competitors”



The Back to Back Gardens are unique to Tatton and show how much you can achieve in a small space. Some are quirky, some have a very serious underlying message but  the thing that impressed us the most was the attention to detail and quality of their construction. Plus some even show you what to do if you cant make it to the Bottle Bank.

Students from Clusius College in the Netherlands designed the “Second Chance” garden, built from materials and plants that have been thrown away.

Given the aim of the RHS, that where possible materials and plants and materials should be ethically procured and hopefully recycled at the end of each show this garden seemed especially pertinent. I particularly liked the idea of re-using plants given the amount of energy and recourses used to grow them.



And lastly here we have another of Mr B’s favourites

Countryside Contained

I told you he was a trouble maker !





Hampton Court Flower Show – From the Head and the Heart

I was lucky enough to have a press pass for Hampton Court Flower Show and attended the launch of ” The Hort Aid Mowerthon” an epic fundraising venture between Perennial, Landscape Juice and Etesia.

I also intended to use the opportunity to write a blog post about the gardens, immediately, upon my return. However when I sat down to write, I realised that  I am first and foremost a lover of gardens and design but at no point in my life have I ever aspired to be a writer, so this has taken longer than I expected.

First and foremost when I go to a garden or a show, be it an RHS Show, an NGS Open Garden or a Botanical Garden I feel just like anybody who loves gardens and plants in all their amazing varieties. So for me, the initial response to any show-garden is an instant one, from the heart and not the head.

Secondly as a designer, I can look at the overall design and its execution and can appreciate the man hours taken and the attention to detail displayed within a garden. Plant choices can sometimes be a revelation showcasing new or unusual species or varieties. Even familiar plants can feel exciting again if you see them used in a new way.

So for me the the Best Show-Garden was ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’ designed by  Matthew Childs. Descibed as a “garden about hope and recovery which has been inspired by Matthew’s experiences after being injured in the 7 July 2005 bombing at Edgware Road station.”

This garden worked for me both in terms of my head and my heart. The finish and attention to detail were excellent. From the transformation of the materials along the length of the tunnel, to the water dripping from the roof of the tunnel, giving it an uncomfortable cavernous feel.

The planting moves from the shade loving Aspleniums, Dryopteris and Euphorbia within the tunnel to a lighter more etherial planting style including Gaura, Geranium, Salvia and Stipas.

Included in the mix was Gypsophila paniculata, which I last saw several years ago at Chelsea, so long ago in fact the photograph of it, is exactly that, a photograph not a digital image.


I am a bit of a devil for photographs (thank goodness for the advent of digital pics) so later in the day, when the photographers had thinned out, I returned to the garden and was offered a leaflet by a lovely gentleman.

Now, it’s not always easy to know if the person offering you a leaflet at a show is the Designer, Landscaper or Sponsor and this chap seemed rather nervous, we had a brief chat during which it transpired he had been involved with the build, in a hole digging capacity and that he was just pleased to help. When I said he must be very pleased with the garden and admitted to him that it was a favorite of mine, a lovely smile spread slowly across his face and he said “I am, It’s my Sons’ Garden”

So you see, Matthew Childs  got my Head but it was his Dad, Peter, who got my Heart.

Cottesbrooke Plant Fair or Three Have fun in Northamptonshire

Sometimes it’s hard to keep your work life balance so when a friend, whom I haven’t seen for some considerable time, suggested a day out it seemed like a very good idea. When she went on to suggest a trip to Cottesbrooke it seemed even better.

For those that don’t know, Cottesbrooke Gardeners’ Fair is held in the grounds of Cottesbrooke Hall in Northamptonshire. I first heard about the fair two years ago, although it is in fact celebrating it’s 5th anniversary this year. Last year there was much talk of horrendous traffic queues along narrow twisty lanes, so much so, that it was agreed that we would meet up at stupid o’clock on Saturday morning and not worry to much about what time we would arrive. In the event the roads were clear and we arrived stupidly early.

First stop was the Know How Tent, to check out who was talking about what. We decided on the second talk of the day by Mark Diacono. This decision was in no way influenced by the lure of free cocktails.

Having booked the talk we had an hour free to do a spot of shopping, starting at the nearest exhibitor which by coincidence was The Otter Farm Stall. Szechuan pepper purchased and banter exchanged* it was time for the traditional day out bacon butty brekky.


Know How Talks

Marc Diacono’s talk was funny, interesting and ultimately challenging. Asking people to look at how and what they grow in their veg patch. Will I go on to grow two vegetables I hate next year, probably not. However I am most definitely looking at perennial veg in a new way and I have ordered some Egyptian Walking onions.



There are plenty of artisans displaying their crafts from wood to willow and steel to stone.



The Gardens

The plus point of this fair is you can break up the shopping by having a meander around the gardens. I did’t want to turn this day out into work so I had done absolutely no research into the house or its gardens. Each area is different but all work and create a pleasant contrast. Lots of lovely plant combinations and some great ideas for you to try at home.


The Plants

Much has been made of the variety and choice to be found at this fair. We were a little disappointed as many of the stalls seemed to be offering near identical plants. This may be a result of the poor season we have had so far, resulting in nurseries buying in stock. However where this fair excels, is the relatively small number of independent specialist nurseries who who offer a real choice of unusual plants, unavailable at garden centers. SWINES MEADOW NURSERY offer a collection of some super unusuals. DYSONS NURSERY were selling Salvias to make you salivate.  MEADOWGATE NURSERY specialise in gorgeous grasses but D’ARCY AND EVEREST shouldn’t be confused with MR D’ARCY’S heritage fruit trees, otherwise you may get an apple when you were expecting an alpine!

Whether you were purchasing the unusual or a more familiar plant, it seemed nearly every stall offered healthy and vigorous plants, no weedy end of display specimens here!

 So buy, buy, buy. Bye-bye Cottesbrooke ’til next time


*according to Mr Diacono all plants should be named, so I have called my new Szechuan pepper “Justine Thyme”