Visiting flower shows is a wonderful way to get inspiration for your own garden. I had the fortunate opportunity to visit the RHS Tatton Park flower show 2015 during the final stages of the build as well as pop in for a flying visit on my way south, after the show had opened.
Tatton stages a number of competitions not seen at the other RHS shows, such as the Young Designer of the Year. This year, the theme was an English country garden, and that’s just what Tamara Bridge’s ‘The Sunset Garden’ evoked. Tamara was awarded the coveted title and was also awarded a Gold medal. Marrying a formal layout and lush planting, there was a lot to like. In this garden, I loved the planting, and in particular the planting combination of a burgundy Penstemon with Gaura lindheimeri - gorgeous!
The circular design of young designer Kate Savill’s Gold-medal winning ‘Time is a Healer’ garden encouraged an inward focus. I liked this - the sunken seating area with its central water pool that was enclosed almost entirely with mixed planting providing a place for contemplation and engagement.
I often hear - “I just don’t get it” - when referring to the conceptual gardens at flower shows. But not this year. The three conceptual gardens were fantastic, with their messages clear even without the brief in front of you, and wonderful planting to boot. They were all awarded Gold!
The year of light was the basis of the three conceptual gardens at this year's show. The light catcher garden by Sharon Hockenhull was awarded best conceptual garden, and was my personal favourite. The light and airy planting in iridescent purples, whites and yellows, which was to die for so to speak, softened the almost harsh but sculptural PVC clad metal arbour. Despite it’s conceptual nature, I could see this garden incorporated into my own back garden (well, almost - the wet climate here would see off most of the lovely grasses)!
Helen Elks-Smith and Kate Hart’s fun garden ‘Reflecting Photonics’ used the colour of their planting and sculpture and the contours of their garden to enhance their message about cutting edge research at Southampton University on fibre optic research. As a scientist (my first love), I was pleased to see a show garden as a platform for public outreach!
The large show gardens that stood out for me were the Perennial Legacy garden designed by Paul Hervey-Brooke's and R-Space, a garden for a large family, designed by Pip Probert.
The perennial legacy garden, awarded best in show, was inspired by large English country estate, and as with such an estate, it could not all be viewed in one go, adding intrigue and interest. Large stately Ginkgo biloba trees and tall shrubs and herbaceous perennials, such as Physocarpus and Veronicastrum, within the long borders obscured views, and making the garden feel much larger than it was. A sculpture nestled within one of the borders at the end of a narrow path drew my eye across the garden, adding depth. Behind the pavilion, which was viewed along the length of the garden flanked on either side by the long borders, was the kitchen garden and gardeners bothy. This garden was one to explore - if only I was given the chance!
R-space, designed by Pip Probert was a garden to love and one you could have at home. This beautiful garden used repetition of form, colour of planting within the expansive mixed borders, and an angular path to direct the eye and add movement to the garden, whilst providing an ample lawn for lounging or playing. A water fall and rill, which ran under the dining table, added interest in the dining area, which indeed could hold a large family!
In contrast to the richly planted, vibrant borders, Pip created areas around the dining area that were planted with a limited palette, such as the lilac Verbena bonariensis, blue Agapanthus and Carex 'Ice Dance' as underplanting to the lollipop Ligustrum trees, pink Echinacea and Anemanthele lessoniana, and Lavendula with Carex ‘Ice Dance’ creating an area that was calm. One could spend hours in here, gardening as well as relaxing!
Last but not least, the small, but perfectly formed back-to-back gardens. My favourite was ‘A Quiet Corner’ by Anna Murphy and Sarah Jarman. I loved the use of pewter grey render on the wall, which provided the perfect backdrop for the subdued and calming planting palette. However, in amongst the planting were a few gems - such as Acaena inermis ‘Purpurea’ These designers really showed restraint on their planting, but it paid off - they were awarded Gold and best back-to-back garden.
I very much enjoyed speaking with and being inspired by the designers and their gardens. I only wish I could have spent more time there as I missed so much! Still, there is always next year......
Whilst cycling round Helensburgh, I came across the most delightful sight - a strip of plants, commonly associated with the margins of a pond or water course, happily growing within a mown grass verge!
Helensburgh’s many wide grass verges often have a swale, or narrow depression, that runs parallel to the road to catch road-water run off. An innovative local resident had in fact planted up the swale in his adopted verge using plants such as Darmera peltata, Primula, Rodgersia, Iris, and Miscanthus, all of which would all thrive in these damp conditions.
Rachel Bailey, a garden designer and gardener in Scotland.