The Ascot Spring Garden Show

The inaugural Ascot Spring Garden Show starts today.  What can visitors expect from this new event?  One thing is for sure; the weather has not what the organisers, garden designers and stall holders had hoped for in the run up to the event.  Heavy rain and lower than average temperatures have been distinctly unspring-like but being British, everyone soldiered on to produce a triumph which should be visited (especially since the temperatures are set to soar by the weekend).

Ascot is easily reached and due to its prominence has several free car-parks within walking distance – what a bonus! The event is staged in the entrance concourse where there are six show gardens by several prominent garden designers in addition to six further gardens designed by horticulture students.  For those who don’t like to go home empty-handed, there are 34 specialist plant nurseries and 50 garden related trade stands to browse.

The event is the brainchild of Stephen Bennett (former shows director of the RHS) and promises to “showcase Britain’s finest established and emerging horticultural talent”. The show-gardens are exhibited alongside one-another with the great pavilion as a backdrop.

Claudia De-Yong’s ‘What Lies Beneath’ looks from the outset like an attractive small garden with pretty pergola and an ‘I want one of those’ garden shed.  This garden is the setting for landscaping talks throughout the 3 day show on the methods used by professionals to prepare and build hard-landscaping and decking.

Joe Perkins’s ‘The Courtyard’ is an excellent example of how to use a small garden as an ‘outdoor room’.  Here, a central limestone paved area is set with table and chairs for entertaining, surrounded by yew hedging and zingy lime green Euphorbia and Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’.

The dominant feature in ‘On Point’ by Tom Hill is an unusual upside-down metal planter containing triangular clipped box. The geometric design of the garden is echoed in all aspects such as the canopy with simple dining area beneath.  The overall feel is neatness and order; a trio of cuboid water features, a well-placed bench and sculptural fire-pit, all complemented by an array of textured planting.

Pergolas and seating areas seem to be a dominant theme at Ascot and ‘The Landform Spring Garden’ by Catherine MacDonald is designed on an angle with the covered entertaining area at an imaginary angle to the house.  Designed as ‘a snapshot of a larger garden’ it is traditional and achievable.  The David Harber sculpture is more aspirational than achievable for me, however!



Designer Kate Gould’s ‘A Garden for all Seasons’ was easily my favourite show garden. Divided into two areas, the garden is strongly focussed on enjoying your outside space all year-round. Corteen steel panels and pergola provide the architectural bones within which Kate has incorporated a dining area with useful bottle storage (!) and a separate seating area with fire-pit.  Pink cherry blossom froths over orange tulips, lime Euphorbia, hostas, ferns and grasses.

‘The Yardley London Flower Garden’ by Pip Probert bravely incorporates three areas on different levels; seating, dining and open areas, all connected by a central rill. Inspired by Yardley’s floral fragrances, the packed planting is dominated by standard bay trees beneath which Pip has planted an array of seasonal splendour including tulips, Heucheras, Euphorbias, Fatsia and Heucherellas.

Created in association with The Prince’s Foundation, the Young Gardeners of the Year 2018 competition organised by David Domoney ‘strives to champion young green talent’. The six gardens are situated on the first floor of the pavilion. The aim of the project was to prove how a garden can be created in a small area. Sustainability is key in these gardens and each featured ideas on the use of recycled items and sustainable techniques.

‘The Winner’s Circle’ focussed around a central ornamental firepit and has a drought tolerant planting scheme. A bio-barrel assists with the recycling of rainwater which is designed to filter back into the ground. (Pershore College).

‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’ is constructed from recycled timber and plastics and features locally sourced plants chosen for texture and scent. (Shuttleworth College).

‘Kelleway’s Corner’ combines recycled components including scaffold boards and re-used paving stones.  It features a bicycle store (promoting pedal power over petrol) with a sedum roof to encourage biodiversity and a wine bottle holder made from recycled horseshoes (I like this idea!). (Capel Manor College).

‘Superfoods for Horse and Humans’ features plants that promote good health for both equines and their riders. Their garden description reads; ‘Beds at different levels provide accessible foods for picking with the addition of preparation areas to create a functional space for active health conscious equestrians’.  Well, what can I say?  This is what every stable yard needs, clearly. (Reaseheath College).

My favourite of the College gardens, ‘Her Colours’ is designed around HM The Queen’s racing colours and features recycled plastic ‘lumber’ (faux timber to you and me). Stepping stones float across water where Equisetum is planted to give height and colour.  Softer textures such as Carex ‘Prarie Fire’ are planted around the seating area where a delicate Prunus Accolade flowered above.  (Writtle University College).

‘Northern Soul’ is another garden using locally sourced materials and with planting aimed at encouraging native wildlife and insects.  The paving is designed to drain into the rill and pond allowing the garden to irrigate itself. The most ingenious part of this garden is the ‘living edible wall’ – a vertical vegetable garden. (Myerscough College).

Away from the show gardens, the 34 specialist garden nurseries are definitely worth a visit with displays to rival the show gardens.  Amongst my favourites were a tulip display by H.W. Hyde & Son, a charming alpine trough arrangement at Rotherview Nursery and cottage-garden gorgeousness by Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants.   Jacques Amand Ltd are definitely worth a visit for spring bulb ideas with Fritillaria, Muscari, Narcissi and tulips galore.


Opening times are as follows: Friday April 13th & Saturday April 14th, 10-6pm. Sunday April 15th, 10am-5.30pm.  Talks on a variety of horticultural topics are being given throughout each day.  There are numerous opportunities for refreshment on site.

Corfu in Spring


A carpet of pink campion beneath olive trees.

It has been a long held ambition to visit the Greek island of Corfu in springtime.  The wildflowers and lush greenness of the island have captivated so many and the early months, before the crowds arrive are a great time to explore the island.

Corfu is the northern-most of the Ionian Islands with the north of the island almost touching Albania. Arriving in Corfu after the longest of English winters is pure balm, the welcoming sunshine a much needed tonic.  Corfu is the greenest of the Greek Islands and the hillsides are covered in olive groves and punctuated by the soaring rockets of pencil cypress (Cupressus sempervirens ‘Green Pencil’). Continue reading

Vann, Hambledon, Surrey


Beyond Guildford, at the outermost edges of leafy Surrey lie the winding narrow lanes that lead to Vann, a 16th Century house sitting comfortably within its 5 acres of garden which are opened regularly for the National Gardens Scheme.

Dating back to the 16th Century, the expansive house has an Arts and Crafts flavour which is complemented by the garden, which was partly inspired by ideas from Gertrude Jekyll, whose notes on the water garden plantings can be found in the local museum at Godalming. Continue reading

Thenford, Northamptonshire



The topiary-lined rill


Thenford gardens and arboretum are seldom open to the public so it was a privilege indeed to be able to take a look around the gardens in winter to admire the 555 varieties of snowdrops.

Gardener Emma Thick (known on Twitter as the snowdrop lady) is an extraordinary galanthophile, so committed to her little snowdrops that she wears a hat decorated with snowdrop blooms and has a snowdrop named after her.  Emma revealed that the collection at Thenford is possibly the largest naturalistic collection of snowdrop varieties.  The snowdrops are planted in carefully labelled clumps in a woodland setting, although there are sadly no enormous drifts of white to be seen. Continue reading

Waterperry Gardens, Oxfordshire



Snowdrops in the water meadow at Waterperry Gardens.

Waterperry Gardens was established in 1932 by Beatrix Havergal as the Waterperry School of Horticulture, a residential horticultural college for women which existed until 1971.

Only a 10 minute drive from the M40, the approach to the gardens is through the delightful village of Waterperry. Parking is directly beside the plant centre which you have to go through in order to access the garden.  As a first time visitor I found negotiating the shop and plant centre slightly confusing; it was unclear where to pay for the entry ticket and it was a bit of a trek going through the plant centre and circumnavigating a gift shop before finally arriving at the entrance to the garden itself.

 The 8 acre gardens consist of a Formal Garden, the Mary Rose Garden, a Waterlily Canal and the famous Long Herbaceous Border as well as a small arboretum in the meadow area beyond the formal gardens.  Waterperry is mainly famed for its late-summer opulence and a winter visit is more about enjoying the grounds and of course the snowdrops of which there are approximately 60 varieties.


Labelled snowdrops and aconites lining the entrance path.

 Snowdrops line the path leading to the main garden, each variety neatly labelled.  A bark path leads to the water meadow arboretum where thousands of snowdrops have naturalised and visitors are encouraged to wander over the little white bridge and across the meadow to inspect the carpet of white.


Over the wooden bridge to see the snowdrops in the meadow.

 Elsewhere, the bones of the garden are revealed with yew hedging, topiary and the skeletal forms of meticulously trained apple trees giving structure in the winter months.  The gardens produce their own apple juice from these trees in addition to the 5 acres of orchards on-site; the juice is available to buy in the shop.  The beds that froth so luxuriantly in the summer months are dormant, save for the snowdrops and a purple scattering of crocuses.


Knot garden and topiary

 The formal garden, enclosed within the protective arms of yew hedging, is designed to look good throughout the year with structured topiary cones and a knot garden giving shape for summer colour to complement.


Cushiony hillocks of Saxifrages nestled amongst Canadian stone in raised beds


The National Collection of Kabschia Saxifrages is contained at Waterperry. Displayed in raised beds amongst Canadian stone, this extensive collection of delicate little alpine cushions attracts Saxifrage fanatics from across the country.  Adrian Young, the curator of the collection organises a Saxifrage event each March when the plants are flowering and looking their best. Saxifrages originate from mountainous areas and adapt well to the British climate although Adrian reports that they do require a little protection at certain times of year. This year’s Saxifraga event is on 24th March.




Snowdrops at Waterperry


Snowdrops in the meadow









 I particularly enjoyed browsing around the small but perfect Museum of Rural Life which is housed in an 18th-century granary building. The amazing display of antique garden and agricultural tools, implements and photographs could potentially be a visit in itself, so interesting was the collection, presided over by collector Gordon Dempster who enthusiastically guided us around his exhibits which also included brewing equipment and horseshoes.

 Dogs are only permitted in the plant shop area and sadly we did not have time to sample the tea-room which is housed in a former classroom. Waterperry Gardens is open every day from 10am to 5pm (5.30pm between 1st May-31st October). The Waterperry snowdrop weekends are 17th and 18th and 24th/25th February 2018.



Continue reading

The Savill Garden in winter

Bursts of winter colour at The Savill Garden

Bursts of winter colour at The Savill Garden

The Savill Garden is a stone’s throw from the hectic M25 and yet feels far removed from the suburban gentrification of nearby Virginia Water.  Accessed via a narrow lane, the expansive car park comes as something of a surprise, with flags a-flutter and swooping pavilion beyond.  The pavilion, built in 2006 from larch and oak compliments the garden and offers an exciting refreshment opportunity – more about that later! Entrance to the garden is free in the winter months but visitors have to pay to park.  This is certainly a well-thought out garden, the winter planting  makes a showy first impression and leads the visitor around the garden to explore further. Continue reading

The NGS Annual Lecture, October 2017


Mary Berry speaking at the NGS annual conference

” The NGS is responsible for making garden visiting a national pastime” announced George Plumptre, executive director of The National Garden Scheme as he introduced the annual lecture at the Royal Geographical Society, London where a packed hall waited in anticipation of the evening’s speakers.  In his introduction, Plumptre revealed that when the NGS first started in 1927 the only gardens open to the public were parks and when Hatfield House, the very first garden to open its gates to the public welcomed visitors in that year, a subsequent article revealed that ‘visitors could drive through the main gates in their motor-cars and walk freely around the grounds!’

The first speaker was President of the NGS, Mary Berry, a seasoned gardener who has opened her garden, Watercroft for the NGS for 25 years.  Mary recounted the first year she opened her garden where she received “wonderful help from the county team”.  Mary had excellent advice for the many garden owners at the lecture and helpfully gave tips on the most successful cakes to bake for teas.  Lemon drizzle and fruity tray-bake were the most popular cakes and she strictly told the audience “don’t give too much choice”.  Mary revealed that she had initially purchased 100 willow patterned cups and saucers for the teas which had come in very useful over the years.  “Garden opening is a huge effort but very rewarding” she said.  Continue reading

RHS Hyde Hall


new glasshouse in the Global Growth vegetable garden at Hyde Hall

Visitors at the new glasshouse in the Global Growth vegetable garden

RHS Hyde Hall is situated in the flat Essex countryside near Chelmsford and conveniently only about a half hour drive from the M25. Previously owned and gardened by Dr and Mrs Robinson, the former farm did not originally lend itself to horticulture due to the exposed, windswept site, not to mention the heavy clay soil!  To ensure a safe future for the garden, it was bequeathed to a Trust in 1976 and handed over to the RHS in 1993.  Under the guidance of the RHS and with increasing visitor numbers in mind, the garden underwent a number of tranformations starting with a 10 million gallon reservoir to ensure the garden was water-efficient.

The Dry Garden at Hyde Hall

The Dry Garden

Hyde Hall is famed for its Dry Garden, designed by then-curator, Matthew Wilson in 2001 to promote mediterranean style planting which suits the clay soil and low average rainfall in the area. Continue reading

Morton Hall gardens, Worcestershire


Brick wall and arch beside lillies and clematis in the Kitchen Garden

Brick wall and arch beside lillies and clematis in the Kitchen Garden

Morton Hall, near Inkberrow in Worcestershire is a private garden set on the edge of an embankment that gives spectacular views across the Vale of Evesham. The eight acres of gardens and grounds have been completely re-designed in the last 10 years by Charles Chesshire into a series of linked garden rooms that lead around the Georgian house.  The approach to the house is typically grand, with a sweeping drive flanked by lawns.  In Spring, the right hand side of the drive is a mass of bulbs including fritillary, narcissi, tulips, camassia and alliums.  In the meadow, a stone Monopteros is positioned to catch the early rays of morning sun.

Starting at the rear of the house, the West Garden sweeps down to a ha-ha where sheep graze peacefully in the field overlooking the valley.  A calming blue and white palatte includes lavender, white phlox, roses and white agapanthus spilling across the path. Continue reading

Nymans Gardens, Sussex

Herbaceous borders at Nymans

herbaceous borders at Nymans

Nymans, a National Trust property is set in the picturesque High Weald of Sussex and was originally a family home.  Destroyed by fire in 1947, much of the house survives as a garden ruin although the remaining part which was re-built is open to the public.  The former home of  Lady Rosse who died in 1979, the open rooms serve partly as a gallery, displaying images from the great storm of 1987 which destroyed much of the estate.  The remainder of the house is suspended in time, furnished and frozen as if still occupied by Lady Rosse herself which is strange, since as an influential voice on National Trust committees, she was quite adamantly against ‘the museumisation of Trust properties’.

The estate’s origins can be traced back to the late 1800s when German-born Ludwig Messel bought Nymans in order to make it a family home.  Inspired by the wooded surroundings he created a garden with new plants collected from around the world including rhododendrons, camellias and magnolias. Continue reading