Charlotte, Events, Flowers, Gardening, Guest Posts

Hampton Court Flower Show Preview

I was thrilled last week to receive an invite to the hottest event of the month. Was it the Wimbledon finals, or men’s Olympic relay? No! While both of these would have been welcomed, instead it was something to delight the gardener in me: VIP tickets to the preview evening of the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.

Hampton Court Swiss Alpine Garden
Swiss Alpine Garden

World of gardens

Perhaps in honour of the Olympics and the many international visitors who will be flooding to London this summer, this year’s show featured four gardens designed to transport guests to faraway lands without leaving the palace grounds.

From Russia to the Azores I wandered, discovering Jordan along the way, finally reaching my favourite of the four, the Swiss Alpine Garden. Designed by Sadie May Stowell, and winner of a Silver Gilt medal, the garden includes a traditional Swiss chalet and glacial lake. The stark contrast between craggy rocks and delicate planting represents a Swiss mountainside, whilst the beautiful wild flowers whisked me away to an alpine meadow.

Conceptual Gardens

Hampton Court Light at the end of the tunnel garden
Light at the End of the Tunnel

Of the Conceptual Gardens, I most enjoyed Light at the End of the Tunnel. Designed by Matthew Childs, a survivor of the 7/7 London Bombings, the garden was crowned ‘Best Conceptual Garden’ and awarded a Gold medal. A one-way system directs visitors through the tunnel-like garden which at first is dark, confined and sparsely planted. Moving along the path the tunnel opens up becoming lighter and revealing, at the end, more voluptuous planting. The journey through the garden depicts the road to recovery taken by the designer following his ordeal in the 2005 bombings, showing how something positive can come from a negative.


Whilst browsing the gardens I was interested to see how many incorporated sustainability into their designs. I was pleased to see a number of environmentally conscious concepts within the displays.

Insect house in Old and New Garden at Hampton Court
Insect house in Old and New Garden, designed by Imogen Cox Associates
Charlotte surrounded by Ecover’s sugar cane field
Charlotte surrounded by Ecover’s sugar cane field

The headline sponsor of this year’s flower show was Ecover whose show feature, designed by Tony Smith, was by far the most ecologically conscious. The display of renewable Arundo donax represented a tropical sugar cane field, inspired by Ecover’s new product packaging. Made entirely from sugar cane the ‘Plant-astic’ packaging offers a sustainable alternative to petrochemical derived plastic bottles. Many trees around the show could be spotted ‘fruiting’ the 100% plant material bottles, demonstrating that packaging really can grow on trees.

The Butterfly Jungles Transitions, designed by Paul Allen, Lucy Hughesdon & Lydia Harvey was another highlight for me. It aims to raise awareness of the worldwide decline in butterflies. There has been a significant lack of butterflies in my own garden this year so I was interested to learn what plant varieties would attract and support them. How do you lure these beautiful creatures to your surroundings? ‘Butterfly Jungles’ incorporates butterfly friendly planting ranging from wildflowers to exotic vegetation. The climax is the tropical greenhouse which is home to a striking selection of butterflies. Wing your way over to the display and you may be lucky enough to spot some of the common UK butterfly species which will be released during the show.

Romantic Roses

I spent a considerable amount of time in the Romance & Roses Marquee, enjoying the sight and fragrance of the hundreds of rose varieties on show. I was determined to find the perfect gift for my grandparents’ forthcoming Diamond Wedding Anniversary. There were a number of aptly named roses but none of the blooms seemed special enough to mark an incredible 60 years of marriage. If you know of a glorious ‘diamond’ rose, I’d be delighted to hear about it.

Being a romantic at heart, the flower which stood out for me was ‘William & Catherine’ a delicate lace-like variety reminiscent of the stunning dress worn by Miss Middleton at her marriage to Prince William last year. Another personal favourite was ‘Champagne Cocktail’, with gorgeous variegated pink and yellow petals.

William & Catherine white roses at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show
Rose ‘William & Catherine’

Champagne Cocktail yellow and red variegated rose
Rose ‘Champagne Cocktail’

It was whilst viewing these beauties that I was dragged from the marquee to enjoy a cocktail of my own at a reception with delightful musical accompaniment. This was followed by a sumptuous 4-course dinner in the Allium restaurant, with panoramic views over the show. The evening closed with a breathtaking fireworks display over the Long Water, my enjoyment of which was not hampered by the persistent rain.

If you’re heading to Hampton Court this year you’re guaranteed to discover a few delights and I look forward to hearing your highlights. If I have any advice to offer it would be to check the weather forecast- Take it from me, open-toed wedges and muddy walkways are not a great combination! Secondly, allow yourself plenty of time to explore. Although it’s a privilege to be among the first to view the show, the preview evening was a little too short to enable me to see everything I’d hoped. However this does give me a reason to return for a second viewing. Encore!

– Charlotte

Children in the garden, Flowers, Gardening, Guest Posts, Make over, Mrs P

Mrs. P the Mama Bird’s Story, Part 3

Good morning Saturday! Blue sky and billowy trees and (as yet) no rain. Although I quite liked rain last weekend, (sorry Jubillee-ers) because it meant I didn’t have to cut the hedge 🙂 It’s 200 feet of rampant, scratchy green stuff that not only needs cut but cleared and bagged up and, I’m sorry, that’s nearly as bad as recurring villain ‘ironing’. And because it looks like it’ll be bright, I’ll have no excuses today. Still, it would be way too rude to get out the noisy machine at the moment (7am) so I will contemplate nature’s changes before I drift out with a cup of coffee and see what’s occurring.

That’s what, as a new new ‘gardener’ I’m kind of getting to like: in the five days of Welsh wind and torrential rain, the garden will have changed without me having set foot in it. Last weekend my first ever carnation opened in the new raised beds. And I know it’s survived this week as I can see it from the living room window. Looks a tad lonely, but hopefully some friends are due to arrive fairly soon.
Mrs P - First Carnation - Raised Bed and Solar Light
When I took the picture I didn’t realise first friend would be the Olympic slug!

I put plenty in, I just don’t have any idea what the full bloom effect will look like. Well, I sort of do… There will be pink carnations sitting beside multi-coloured lupins (which will always make me smile because my Mum had them in the gravely bit between her and next door and I did a project about them in school). There are some other things planted at equal space on the other side with quite big velvety leaves but I can’t remember what they are. I know they are not hostas because I’m steering clear of them after one of them decided to eat my front garden. If my kids had grown that quickly they’d have been in the Guinness Book of World Records. I’m afraid I don’t like plants that are so confident they dominate your garden in a couple of seasons but I suppose once I get to grips with what plants are what (!) and how I’m supposed to tame them, I might change my mind.

Anyway, the mixed arrangement next to the carnation plant is likely to be a splendid multi coloured surprise given my inability to retain things like plant names, but still, much better than the riot of weeds, brambles and horrible things that were there last year. It is going to look mega fab when the gravel goes down there. Hopefully this weekend or next depending on whether I eat my Weetabix, and get myself down to order the stuff. I’ve got an aerial pre gravel picture so you can see what you think when I get it done.
Mrs P - Aerial Shot

My garden renovation is coming along well. The only dilemma is ‘Rhu’. The garden was sparkly splendid after lots of rain. Clearly I hadn’t knocked enough holes in some of the planters and I had to de-waterlog the one with honeysuckle in. Everything else looks charmingly healthy, bursting with enthusiasm after the right royal rain. Indeed the hedge, who will not be given an affectionate name because I still begrudge the achy hours of cutting it, looks perkier than ever and perfectly pleased at growing so quickly in such a short time. Grrr.
Mrs P - 'Rhu' the Rhubarb
And Rhu was today’s big smile: I moved Rhu in the great liberation of the far back in the first sunshine of this spring. Rhu was not too charmed as she was already producing chunky stems of fruit, but no, she couldn’t stay so she got uprooted to a new home approximately six feet away. At first she looked ok but then had a major wilt and I was quite worried about her. Thankfully though, she has enjoyed the weather and there are eight or nine shoots that weren’t there last week. Lucky she delivered actually, because the six foot move wasn’t properly thought out and I did consider further relocation. New shoots, she wins, no hard feelings.

I’m sorry– I didn’t cut the hedge. It rained again. And I this is all so much fun … Jasmine, the newest addition to the newly emerging garden has obviously been planted in exactly the right place… two plants, one either side of the best branch wigwam in the west. Made by my niece and nephew from the rudest, hardest to cut, balance on whatever you can balance on to reach the branch, branch (and hedges shouldn’t even have branches, should they?) The wigwam was built by the three of us in the last light of a Saturday afternoon. It seemed like a properly aunt-y thing to do, especially as they never know what to expect with me (which means they are rarely disappointed). I wanted to keep the wigwam because, for me, it’s a kind of spontaneous art feature.

Mrs P's Twig Teepee
There isn’t a lot of wiggle space in it which is a bit disappointing but I want it to be around for a while as a happy memory. It looks crooked and wonky as natural things should. And Jasmine just loves it! She has started sprouting new shoots which she is starting to wrap round the legs of it. I added a small string of dragonfly solar lights and it does exactly what I wanted, makes me smile 🙂

Mrs P.

Gardening, Guest Posts, How To, Make over, Mrs P

Mrs. P the Mama Bird’s Story, Part 1

Oh, I do wish I had taken some pictures of the old garden! Way back last year when I suddenly found myself in the nest alone after 25 years of worm-catching for baby birds (now strapping great lads), looking at the space that had been a football pitch, a water bomb arena, a wake up and take breakfast outside space, I discovered the garden was not just a place of frustrating chores and endless struggle, but a blank canvas of interest and plans and thoughts that chill me out and amuse me. I started on a journey that as a busy mum, I simply couldn’t have imagined…

With lot of clearing and a new fence, the transformation is underway!

In the worm-catching years I struggled with countless lawnmowers – a ‘lawn’ that would not weather the scrutiny of any trade description, blessed as it is with random lumps and bumps, half a metal scrap yard (now safely dug up and recycled), some horrid bionic leaves that grow bulbs on bulbs and the most rampant hedge you wouldn’t wish for. Many hours of my life that I’ll never get back were invested in keeping the garden ‘under control’ and a fair bit of money spent on the odd plant (but I gave up after the Eric Cantona’s prodigy beheaded the rhododendron in two hours flat). It had truly been a love-hate relationship!

But last year I used some of the time once invested in motherhood to harness some energy, engage a bit of brain and try to liberate the garden. It was never going to be a quick fix because there is so much of it. And despite harnessing and engagement, the grass and hedge still demand a degree of attention that frankly I could live without. Still, by the end of the summer I was committed to never having my nails manicured (wasn’t going to anyway) and happily puddling ‘round, ‘digging’ with a trowel because I am way too delicate to jangle all my bones hitting buried junk with a spade.

And, if I do say so myself, decent progress was made. The weediest weedy bit was cleared and covered with weed control. Bark was unceremoniously dumped on it and a couple of lavender plants plonked in.

Wow! They are so happy there — they have doubled in size. But the main bulk of my work (with my trowel) was the lumpiest bit of garden that the ‘horrible plants’ had overtaken. No word of a lie, their bulbs grow one on top of the other and form a ridiculous mat of impenetrable stuff. Still, I picked a good time when the soil was damp but not soaking to have a go at them and slowly but surely they got green recycled out of my garden.

And then a Eureka moment! My biggest ‘Grrr’ in the garden is not so much the work but the difficulty of doing it alone. Silly branches just out of reach necessitating some sort of acrobatic endeavour to reach and cut them, all sorts of wonderful fencing that would require more acrobatics and the firm belief that no one could YouTube me fighting with them, lovely paving stones that just shout at me to leave them in the shop because I can’t lift them and I love my toes. You know the stuff, the list goes on.

And then the question of the technical know-how and the skill to make things out of bricks or stones and concrete, Ewwww. My two will tell you that you could artex a ceiling with the semolina I make because of the lumps, so there was no way Mrs. Weedy-arms was going to try her hand at mixing stuff that is dusty and goes all sorts of random, wrong places. No, sir.

But I did fall upon the idea of raised beds. You can’t build them wrong because they’re made of sleepers. (OK, I did cheat and have a little bit of help with moving and screwing together. In my defence I bought ones I could lift the second time although I have to concede that I ended up in casualty when one landed on my foot. Only me…)

The whole principle of the sleeper worked because they are straight and natural, provide natural divides in the wonky garden and can also host a flourish of colour when you plant things in them. Eureka! The garden is now sort of divided into four areas and while only three of them are de-bumped and level, there is a space that is flat and gravelled.

It’s modest but it’s mine. This space is fab late afternoon and into the evening with some candle pots and good company!

Working at a modest pace, with a very small tool and being prepared to be the tortoise not the hare helped the process. So did working out what I could manage on my own in my non technical, not strong but prepared to try, enthusiasm. Somehow that Eureka transformed my view of the garden, from a place of thankless graft to a place of exciting manageable plans, albeit with a hearty helping of hard graft. I don’t mind that, but I wish I had taken some picture before I started.

To be continued…
Mrs. P

Gardening, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts, Victoria

Victoria’s Garden Buzz

You should hear my garden, humming and buzzing with activity. You’d have thought our coldest April would have put paid to anything I’d planted early, but it’s as if nature simply went to sleep and woke up so fresh and revitalized that the herbaceous plants and vegetables are reaching double their usual height and you can almost watch them growing. How does your garden fare in this crazy weather?

What a difference a mow makes! After the cool spring rain the garden looked more like a meadow lush with daisies, buttercups and cowslips – it had been so long since it was cut. It was hard to see where the lawn ended and the borders began. Then, one hour with mower and strimmer, and it was a picture framed. Which garden task do you think makes the most difference, especially if you are short of time? Perhaps it’s weeding or pruning or hedge-cutting . . .

More rain! Never mind! The plants do so much better when nature waters them – somehow the rainwater penetrates plant and soil far more efficiently than a hose can. Plus, weeding is easier when the soil is wet and everything smells so nice. The downside? I can’t excuse myself from housework . . . although, there’s always something to do in the potting shed! How do you prioritise your time around your home or allotment?
Victoria's Veg Patch with Sprouting Broccoli
The purple sprouting broccoli lasted so much longer this year. It’s early June and I’ve just stopped picking it as it is in flower and will be too tough to eat – but just in time for the first broad beans. I have the baby pods whole and when the
first ones have set I pinch out the tops and eat those as greens – yummy stir-fry! I saw that one or two pea pods have set too. What spring vegetables do you look forward to most? How do you like them prepared?

Early last year in a bid to rid bindweed, I had my whole long border up. I divided and potted up perennials, put bulbs aside, pulled up as much of the pernicious root systems as I could and left them to wither and die! Then I dug in lots of my lovely garden compost and replanted. Last summer, the border looked glorious – this year even better – however, of course, the bindweed is back! Such is life. What is your worst weed? Have you managed to beat it?

Composting, I maintain, is a form of alchemy! Taking raw, base materials and turning them into black gold! I wonder who first thought of it – in primitive times, perhaps. My heap is six feet by three and growing as the garden matures.
Synergy, perhaps? I love the fact that the garden feeds itself and it’s a good place to put any slugs and snails I catch to help the process. Life, death, decay and life again: primordial recycling.