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.