In the post-war years, when the owners of many stately homes gifted their houses and gardens to the National Trust, no longer able to afford the upkeep, a new breed of garden-makers emerged. Among them, Walter and Margery Fish at East Lambrook Manor Gardens and Lionel and Katharine Fortescue at The Garden House.
Yesterday, I broke my return journey from Cornwall to see for myself this little corner of heaven. The Garden House is located near the village of Buckland Monachorum, to the west of Dartmoor ‘in a small valley running west down to the Tavy’*. Known as ‘the Lion’, Lionel Fortescue bought the former vicarage and 10 acres of land in 1945. He retired as head of languages at Eton and proceeded to create what has become ‘one of the finest gardens in Britain’, according to the garden’s website. A bold claim but a fair one: I was bowled over by the place.
The garden is made up of three distinct sections: walled garden, arboretum and, in the western and largest section, six acres planted in the ‘New Naturalism’ style. I confess to having been ignorant of the importance of this garden until now, but reading the very informative The Garden House Story’ booklet has introduced me to the work of Keith Wiley**, Head Gardener at The Garden House from 1978 to 2003. He helped pioneer the New Naturalism where trees, shrubs, perennials and seeds are blended to make it appear they have developed together naturally.
I’m going to let my photographs speak for themselves, starting with a map of the gardens. As a guide, my route was to walk down into the Walled Garden via the Bowling Green and Lower Terraces, enjoyed the view from the tower (!), meandered through the Arboretum, then along to the unique raised beds of The Ovals. From there I entered the Bulb Meadow and was delighted to find a Wisteria Bridge which is going to be laden with flowers in a week or so, given some warmer temperatures. I followed the Jungle Path towards the Cottage Garden and Wildflower Meadow, returning to the excellent plant sales area via the Quarry and Summer Gardens.
I’d vowed not to buy any plants on this holiday, but I succumbed to an almost black and very reasonably priced (£3) Auricula, and a small vintage terracotta pot which I was told came from a store of pots used at the property! Perhaps handled by the Lion himself?
The Arboretum. Opened in 2013, it contains over 100 new trees.
Return to The Walled Garden
Kew Gardens, 30 April 2023
** Keith Wiley published ‘On the Wild Side, Experiments in New Naturalism’ in 2004.
Caerhays may justly be regarded as the most important plantsman’s garden in Cornwall.
Douglas Ellory Pett ‘The Cornwall Gardens Guide’ 2003
After a very wet morning, a damp mist hung over the countryside as I drove the 10 miles to Caerhays Castle this afternoon. The guidebook informs me that Caerhays has a unique microclimate: moist sea mists cloak this woodland garden in moisture, mimicking the Chinese mountain habitats from which many of the magnolias and rhododendrons in the garden originate. The soil is very acidic and ideal for growing such plants.
The garden is described as a spring flowering garden and opens only from mid February to mid June. This afternoon I had the garden to myself! It is a collection of rare trees and shrubs, many of them grown from seeds collected by the the great Chinese plant collectors, EH Wilson and George Forrest. JC Williams (JCW), the owner of the estate replicated the densely wooded mountainsides of Yunnan province, planting the specimens close together on the steep slopes of the Caerhays estate. So keen was JCW on building up his collection of rare plants from the region that he sponsored George Forrest’s third and subsequent expeditions.
The older parts of the garden are planted on the steep slope which rises behind the large castle designed by John Nash (Brighton Pavilion and Regent Street). Most magnolias finished flowering in March, but there are still some camellias blooming as are many rhododendrons, with azaleas emerging, often exuding a sweet scent.
It is a garden in which to meander and lose oneself, with the emphasis on trees and huge shrubs. There are drifts of daffodils and Narcissi, and thousands of bluebells and wild garlic carpet the ground beneath the monumental trees and shrubs, many of which are classed as champion trees in the Tree Register of Britain and Ireland (TROBI) because of their height or girth.
The Tin Garden has been planted over the last 15 or so years in an extensive area where the ground was cleared after the loss of many trees in the great storm of January 1990. Cornwall escaped the ravages of the Great Storm in October 1997 which devastated so many trees in the South East.
I may have missed the bulk of the magnolias and drawn the short straw on the weather, but finding a treasure every few yards in this sprawling plant paradise was tremendous fun. And the soundscape of constant birdsong was joyful, including the call of the cuckoo!
In Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca, the mansion Manderley stands at the head of a Cornish valley leading down to a beach where the first Mrs de Winter, the Rebecca of the title, meets her lover in secret. Whether Manderley’s valley was planted with rare and exotic species of tree and shrub I cannot recall, but in my mind’s eye the terrain resembled that of the two gardens I visited today: Trebah and the National Trust’s Glendurgan.
Remarkably, the gardens occupy neighbouring valleys on the north bank of the Helford River south of Falmouth. Both run down to beaches and boast lavish plantings of tree ferns (Dicksonia Antarctica) and giant rhubarb (Gunneramaniculata) as well as magnificent rhododendrons and camellias, and some remarkable trees. Rare plants abound in each garden and my plant identifier app was working hard today to keep up with the array of plants I didn’t recognise.
Trebah and Glendurgan were created in the 1820s by brothers Charles and Alfred Fox respectively. Handsome white stucco mansions, neither of which is open to the public, occupy the highest points of the gardens. It was very cold today for late April, but it meant that neither garden was heaving with visitors. Birdsong dominated the soundscape for much of the walks downhill to the coast, with trickling water sounds from the streams at the foot of each valley gradually giving way to the unmistakeable sound of waves crashing onto a beach. Until about a third of the way down, the sound of the sea is the only hint of what is to be found at the foot of the valley, until the slopes bottom out and you catch sight of a yacht in the distance, framed between two headlands.
The tiny fishing village of Durgan stands between the garden and the beach at Glendurgan whilst Trebah garden merges with the beach. I learnt that the beach (then called Polgwidden) was used during WW2 to launch the landing craft and men of the 29th US Infantry Division six days before they disembarked onto Omaha Beach in Normandy on 6 June 1944, D Day.
The Trebah water gardens host candelabra primulas, hostas and Persicaria Red Dragon. White skunk cabbage, Lysichitoncamtschatcensis, stands along the edge of one of the pools interrupting the downward flow of the central stream to either side of which the garden’s main paths lie. I enjoyed standing in ‘Gunnera Passage’ which links the paths, with the spiky stalks and glowing green leaves towering over me.
The final section of the valley, before the Monet-inspired Mallard Bridge, is planted with hundreds of Hydrangeas. I’d not come across Hydrangea with variegated leaves before. I also noticed one named for the garden.
A large handkerchief tree is laden with the white bracts which give them their name, set off with an under storey of bluebells.
Rather earlier than in the south east, Camassias are beginning to flower. So too, the Mexican fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus, which completely cloaks the long wall behind the stone seat facing the lawn at the head of the valley. Libertiagrandiflora, an iris from New Zealand liked by garden designers for its architectural spears of leaves and pure white flowers, sits at the foot of the seat in places. As if to illustrate how mild Cornwall is compared to the rest of the country, and how tender specimens can survive which would have to be protected from frost at home can thrivehere, Geraniummaderense or giant herb Robert, is already in full flower in a border near the visitor centre.
At Glendurgan, alongside the exotic plantings, wild flowers abound, with bluebells being the stars at the moment, creating blue hazes beneath trees and across a breathtakingly beautiful meadow area planted with cherry trees and a pair of handkerchief trees (Davidiainvolucrata). Early purple orchids pop up amidst the bluebells. Stone walls drip with ferns and primroses.
Amongst the plants I identified at Glendurgan using the plant identifier app were:
The Chatham Island forget-me-not (Myosotidiumhortensia)
Dusty Daisybush (OleariaLyrata)
Mexican Lily (Beschorneria)
But there were a couple that it didn’t recognise:
fuchsia? echium? rush?
Thankfully there was a label for this exotic, the Chilean fire tree: Embothriumcoccineum.
Where the valley widens, in the upper part of the garden at Glendurgan, there are more open spaces than at Trebah and paths have been mown through the grass, with bluebells spreading to either side.
A cherry laurel maze with a conical thatched roof at its centre occupies the middle part of the garden.
Arriving at a garden by boat feels exotic, even if it’s a chain ferry and I’m in the driver’s seat of my Citroen C1, rather than a luxury cabin! From the Roseland, where I’m staying, a ride across the Fal River on the King Harry Ferry cuts about 25 minutes and 15 miles off a drive to the National Trust house and garden at Trelissick. Beyond the cars parked in front of you on the five minute crossing you can see a steep wooded bank, screening from view a very beautiful garden, the entrance to which is just a short uphill drive from the slipway. The conical-roofed water tower topped with a squirrel weather-vane near the entrance is now a holiday let.
As the guide explained when I went into the house after touring the garden, Trelissick is all about the views. Set on a sloping site, there are several viewing platforms accessible from the high path around the perimeter of the garden, from one of which you can watch the progress of the ferry back and forth and hear the percussive rhythm of its chain mechanism.
The wisterias covering the walls of the Entrance Walk are poised to bloom within the week and are going to be spectacular.
A huge stand of vivid scarlet Rhododendron ‘Cornish Red’ draws you towards the sloping Main Lawn which is dominated by a multi-trunked conifer planted in 1898, Cryptomeriajaponica. But I was drawn down the slope to see the tall tree festooned with loose clusters of creamy flowers on elegant stalks: Drimyswinteri which hails from Chile and Argentina and is sometimes called winter’s bark or winter cinnamon.
Azaleas in yolky yellow clash with neighbouring pink rhododendrons, but the effect is uplifting rather than grating. All the same, its more restful on the eye along woodland paths where tree ferns look perfectly at home, very different to the cosseted, winter-fleeced specimens in the gardens of south-west London which tend to emerge from their winter overcoats looking a bit ragged.
Bluebells and white Narcissi bring freshness to the under-storey of the Hydrangea Walk. I enjoyed seeing the way the Rhododendrons have been pruned, with the crown lifted to reveal the sinuous structure of the stems and trunks. Eau de nil filigree clusters of lichen attach to tree trunks and branches, indicating the purity of the atmosphere.
The low pH soil which supports the acid-loving plants like Azaleas and Rhododendrons, also encourages a member of the blueberry species, Vacciniumretusum, which has self-seeded along some of the woodland paths. The views open out again on the return leg of the circuit, with panoramas of tranquil parkland grazed by cattle against the backdrop of the Fal estuary, otherwise known as the Carrick Roads. The garden is separated from the park by a ha-ha.
In the house I learnt that the most recent owners were Ronald and Ida Copeland, who gave the property to the National Trust in 1955. Ronald came from the Copeland-Spode ceramics family and Ida was an MP, elected to represent Stoke-on-Trent in 1931. Both were active in the scout and guiding movement, counting Lord Baden-Powell as a family friend. I was told that the rhododendrons illustrated on a China service on display in the drawing room, now a very comfortable sitting area for the cafe with a magnificent river view, were picked fresh in the morning and sent by rail to Stoke, to be copied by the factory’s artists.
Visit completed, I caught the ferry back to the peaceful enclave of the Roseland,
Tom Stuart-Smith has put his mark as a landscape architect on numerous gardens across the country. I’ve seen his planting at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire and in July 2021 was fortunate to go to the inspiring garden at his home, Serge Hill at Abbots Langley in Hertfordshire. This last weekend gave me the opportunity to compare two more of his creations: the new Royal Horticultural Society garden, Bridgewater, south of Manchester and the Italian Garden at Trentham Gardens, Staffordshire.
Steady rain fell throughout the afternoon at RHS Bridgewater but it meant that the gardens were very quiet enabling us to see the structure of the garden for which Tom Stuart-Smith created the masterplan for the development of the site as a centre of excellence for horticulture in the north-west. He also designed the layout and planting of the Paradise Garden which forms one half of the restored 11 acre Weston Walled Garden, a major feature of the new garden, as well as the Worsley Welcome Garden located close to the Welcome Building.
The joy of a RHS garden (like RBG Kew and other botanical gardens) is that all plants are labelled, so you start learning as soon as you step outside into the garden. A perennial honesty (Lunaria rediviva) soon caught my eye. In borders between the outer and inner walls of the walled garden, massed plantings of tulips and daffodils lit up the gloom of the rainy afternoon. Terracotta rhubarb forcers nestle amongst the bulbs, a clue to the presence at Bridgewater of the National Collection of rhubarb, with 100 cultivars having recently been moved from RHS Wisley. I also liked the gnarly branches (driftwood?) which accent the border every so often, resembling abstract sculptures.
I love to see show gardens from flower shows re-purposed, and the high brick wall of the Weston Walled Garden provided a perfect backdrop for Windrush Garden from RHS Flower Show Tatton Park, 2021, designed by Dawn Evans.
The Weston Walled Garden is divided into two equal halves: the Paradise Garden and the Kitchen Garden. High metal obelisks, designed to resemble the chimney of the original boiler room which heated the glasshouses which served Worsley New Hall, punctuate the enormous Kitchen Garden which contains more than 100 planting beds! Unobtrusive strainer wires are fitted along the walls. to support an impressive collection of wall-trained fruit, including heritage pears.
The heart of the Paradise Garden is a very large body of water, the Lily Pond, fed by two rills which intersect the garden. Partially covered by a decorative grill in a geometric design, the rills are just one example of the wonderful attention to detail manifest throughout Bridgewater. At this time of year and on a wet afternoon, the colours were muted: greens and the reddish brown of the beech columns planted around the Lily Pond. From photographs in the guide book and having seen Serge Hill* in high summer, I can imagine just how colourful the Paradise Garden must be later in the season. One of the features of Serge Hill which impressed me was the Plant Library, trial beds laid out in a numbered grid, designed as an open resource for garden design students to see how plants behave and move, featuring many drought tolerant plants. I’m imagining that some of the species in the Plant Library are also planted into some of the Paradise Garden’s 80 planting beds.
Two new glasshouses in Victorian style have been built along the southern wall of the Paradise Garden, to house tender specimens such as Aeonium. On the opposite side of this wall stands the Old Frameyard, home to the boiler room and its chimney, as well as potting sheds (now an exhibition space), a brand new Propagation House, and beds laid out for plant trials. Near here we spotted another show garden, the Blue Peter Discover Soil Garden designed by Juliet Sargent for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2022.
Just beyond the walled garden stands the restored Garden Cottage, once home to the the head gardener of Worsley New Hall. The cottage is surrounded by an immaculately mowed, semi-circular lawn.
Heading into the wooded area of Bridgewater we found a friendly ent, and in the fields beyond the woodland, the Pig Pen for the black Berkshire pigs which have been used throughout the creation of Bridgewater to act as ‘biological ploughs’ and clear the ground in various parts of the garden before planting. Here and there in the woodland, are remnants of the original gardens and to the north of Ellesmere Lake, the remains of the terraces which stood in front of Worsley New Hall, the large Victorian House which was demolished after the Second World War.
Flowing from Ellesmere Lake down the hill to Moon Bridge Water, the new body of water next to the Welcome Building, is the Chinese Streamside Garden, which is intersected with a series of small pools and crossed by a series of wooden bridges. The planting is designed to reflect the numerous Chinese native plants which are now favourite shrubs and trees in the west: acers, magnolias, primulas included.
Thankfully the weather improved for the second garden visit of the weekend: Trentham Gardens near Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire. Here three eminent contemporary garden designers have made their mark on a garden which has its origins as an eighteenth century landscape garden (the lake around which the garden and parkland are located was designed by Capability Brown). Piet Oudolf designed the Floral Labyrinth which stands beside the River Trent at the eastern end of the garden, near the ruins of the Italianate Victorian house: 32 beds of herbaceous perennials in the Dutch designer’s trademark prairie style. The beds were just beginning to spring to life, with tantalising crowns of greenery promising a lush summer display. Snakeshead fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) nodded gracefully in several beds.
The Perennial Meadow Garden along the edges of the lake was designed by Professor Nigel Dunnett (Tower of London Superbloom, Gold Meadows London Olympic Park and the Barbican). The third of the designers to shape this garden in the 21st century is Tom Stuart-Smith. When she showed us around her own garden at Serge Hill in July 2021, his sister Kate Stuart-Smith told us her brother’s nickname in the family was GAT, Great Arbiter of Taste! The Italian Garden at Trentham is certainly a class act. Like Bridgewater’s Paradise Garden, it is on a grand scale, a formal parterre style layout of symmetrical beds, some edged with low hedges arranged around low walled formal pools, centred with fountains. The Italian theme is reinforced with classical statuary, monumental urns and slim columns of Irish yew standing in for cypresses. The simplicity of the planting prevents the space from seeming unduly elaborate. One set of beds is planted with white flowers and silver-leaved plants: tulips, narcissus and a white-flowered Brunnera with silver-veined leaves, possibly B. macrophylla Mr Morse.
Low evergreen domes and similarly scaled stands of grasses planted into lawned areas echo the yew domes dotted on the lawn alongside the Worsley Welcome Garden at Bridgewater.
The Italian Garden is divided from the Floral Labyrinth by an arched pergola running its entire length, entwined with climbing roses and Wisteria, yet to bloom. Running alongside the pergola is the David Austin Rose Border, designed by Michael Marriott. I can only imagine how fragrant and beautiful this must be when in flower. The roses were certainly looking wonderfully healthy last Saturday.
Whilst brief, my 36 hour trip to the north west was enormously satisfying, and it was a joy to see Tom Stuart-Smith’s work in both gardens.
20 April 2023, Kew
*Here are some of my images of Tom Stuart-Smith’s garden at Serge Hill, taken in July 2021.
In my last blog post I featured an image of an unusual bell-shaped snowdrop, Galanthus Phil Cornish. I took the photograph in February on a Sunday afternoon visit to East Lambrook Manor Gardens, near South Petherton in Somerset, the creation of garden writer Margery Fish. I first went to this fascinating garden in May 2021 and vowed to return during another season. In winter you can see the bones of a garden without the distraction of abundant foliage and flowers.
In this case the skeleton consists of narrow paths between cottage garden borders, a mini avenue of curvaceous yews and the ditch which Margery Fish cleverly incorporated into the heart of the garden. In the winter months these elements are embellished with a splendid display of snowdrops: in pots lining the paths, in borders and on the banks of the ditch. This Festival of Snowdrops takes place every February.
Naturally snowdrops were the main attraction in the plant nursery which adjoins the garden. Here they were set out on tables for sale with some of the price tags reflecting the rarity of the specimens displayed. Examples of each of the cultivars grown at East Lambrook were arrayed on the long stone shelves which on my last visit featured the hardy geraniums loved by the garden’s creator.
I chatted to the gentleman operating the till at the nursery who told me that he had worked with several members of staff who had known Margery Fish until her death in 1969. He told me a story which summed up her passion for her garden. During a trip away from home, a fire broke out and badly damaged the Malthouse (which now houses a cafe and gallery). When she was called to be told the bad news, Margery Fish’s first reaction was to ask if the garden had been damaged in any way. It had not, she expressed her relief and only then enquired about the state of the smouldering building.
Here are some of my photos of the garden in February, which as I write this on a very chilly April evening, doesn’t seem so very far away.
I was at a pub quiz once when the quizmaster asked contestants the former names of a series of places: Ghana (Gold Coast), Istanbul (Constantinople), Iceland (Bejam!!!)* I was reminded of this trick quiz question when I came across two plants within a week bearing similar species names** deriving from the word Formosa, the name given to the island of Taiwan by Portuguese sailors in the C16 and in common use by English speakers until well into the C20. Thinking it would be a jumping off point for a blog about a couple of plants sharing the old name of this island to the east of mainland China I started to dig into the subject. I discovered I was mistaken about at least one of the plants in question originating in Taiwan. Formosa means beautiful in Latin, so the botanists who named it were referring to its attractive appearance, not geographical origin!
For the last three years, in February, I have pruned all the late summer flowering shrubs in a garden in Teddington. One of the largest shrubs there is Leycesteria formosa, a spectacular deciduous shrub which is sometimes called Himalayan honeysuckle. Forming a thicket of upright branches, it can reach heights of 2m and bears tapered dark green leaves. At or near the the tips of the branches hang flower ‘spikes’ measuring up to 10cm long made up of white flowers threaded between dark purplish-red bracts. Pruning is easy: like Buddleia and hardy Fuchsia, the bare branches (which are hollow and bamboo like) are cut down to the base each winter. The RHS Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants states that it originates in cliffs and mountain woodland in India, China, the Himalayas and Myanmar, with no mention of Taiwan. This plant is named for its beauty not its native territory.
Thankfully though my romantically named island theory does apply to Tricyrtis formosiana which hails from Taiwan! The common name of this woodland herbaceous perennial is toad lily. Whether this is because its purple spotted flowers resemble a particular species of toad I have yet to find out. I recently refreshed the planting in a client’s shady cottage style front garden by introducing some shade loving ground cover (Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost and Epimedium perralchium Frohnleiten) and thought it would be fun to throw in something more unusual in the form of a toad lily. The cultivar I chose is called Dark Beauty and flowers in August and September growing to approximately 60cm. Apparently young plants can be susceptible to slug and snail attack, so it would be good to think there might be some real amphibians in the vicinity to see off the gastropods!
Regular readers of this blog have probably noticed that I am fascinated by the history of plant names. Studying these two plants has taught me that it pays to look beyond the words used, because the obvious meaning is not necessary the correct one.
This is a rare post without photographs as neither plant flowers until later in the year. I’ve made myself a note to revisit this post when I’ve had a chance to take photographs of both.
*In January 1989, frozen food retailer Bejam was bought by its rival Iceland.
**Most plants bear names consisting of two words. The first is the genus name to indicate the group of plants it belongs to. The second is the species name and is usually descriptive of its origin, colour, appearance or other distinctive feature.
Swapping my secateurs for a notebook and pencil two days ago, I headed east to the Business Design Centre in Islington to attend the Garden Press Event where companies showcase innovations in garden tools, machinery, accessories and materials to the garden media. This was my third GPE if I don’t count the two virtual events held during the pandemic. As well as tracking trends it’s a great opportunity to meet up with fellow members of the Garden Media Guild be they bloggers like myself, journalists, podcasters or social media influencers.
It was refreshing to see the huge emphasis on sustainability throughout the show and I’m highlighting some of the initiatives in this direction in this blog post as well as a nifty way to stop garden hose connectors from leaking and a collaboration between the National Trust and a garden centre chain.
I chatted to as many of the stands as I could identify promoting growing media free of peat. By 2024 no compost can be sold containing peat. This is not a moment too soon to protect unique habitats such as the Somerset Levels, which we’ve plundered for decades to produce potting compost for amateur and professional gardeners alike.
I buy masses of peat-free compost throughout the year for myself and for clients, for use in containers as well as for propagating plants so it was interesting to see the well-established brands and some newcomers. The RHS endorsed Sylvagrow peat free range is made by Melcourt who this year celebrate 40 years in the industry. Cumbria based Dalefoot is gaining a reputation for high quality (and expensive) peat free products based on bracken and the wool of Herdwick sheep. Two exhibitors use compressed coir (coconut husk) in compost blocks: Eazy Grow Compost from Eazy Gardening Ltd and Coco & Coir from Southern Trident. Once soaked in water these relatively light blocks transform into all purpose potting composts. It would certainly save lugging 40 and 50 litre bags of compost around. Southern Trident has also blended different nutrients into 9 litre blocks specifically for orchids and houseplants respectively. New Leaf peat free compost made in Northern Ireland is endorsed by garden designer and TV personality Diarmuid Gavin.
I was very taken by the attractive designs of the 100% recycled plastic bird feeders from Dutch company Singing Friend. They have developed a way to recycle the plastic lining of Tetrapak-type drinks cartons, making it into lightweight bird feeders in a neutral khaki shade retailing for less than £10. I love the story of this family company, now run by its third generation, being founded in 1951 by a man with a passion for birds. Their mission statement sums up the company philosophy well: We build a bridge between design and nature, and stimulate the creation of new living environments for birds, by people.
Continuing the sustainability theme, it was good to meet Chris Wiley of the Sustainable Plant Store, a new company selling eco-friendly alternatives to popular plants and garden products. I particularly liked the 8cm coir pots bound with natural latex as an alternative to the ubiquitous plastic flower pot. Another exhibitor proposing a substitute for plastic pots was Wool-Pots whose minimalist ecru coloured knitted ‘socks’ approx. 12 cm long can be filled with compost and stood on a terracotta saucer or stood en masse in a seed tray and used for potting on seedlings or growing cuttings and can then be planted straight into the ground. The wool will biodegrade in time and leaving the ‘lip’ proud of the soil is said to deter slugs and snails. At the moment the product is manufactured in Egypt in a factory which is SEDEX* certified and plants two trees for every order under their ‘plant one get one tree’ initiative. Wool-Pots ambition is to start its own factory in the UK.
I can’t be the only gardener to waste frustrating time each summer trying to fix a connector back on the end of a hose after it’s shot off under pressure. Qwickhose from Rivendale products have created a universal hose connector using a wing-lock system instead of the plastic teeth used in conventional connectors. Their starter set consists of two connectors, a tap connector and a nozzle spray to be stored in a neat wall mount which I shall fix to the shed wall this week. Unlike their competitors’ trademark yellow plastic, this product is a distinctive shade of blue. I got a pleasant surprise when I opened the carton to find it included a strip of recycled cotton embedded with tomato seeds!
One of the largest stands at the show was occupied by Blue Diamond Garden Centres which in 2022 began a five year collaboration with the National Trust. Naturally, as a garden volunteer with the Trust I was keen to find out more about this project. So it was fun to chat to Andy Jasper, National Head of Gardens and Parklands for the Trust. A fellow South Cornishman, he of course knows NT Osterley’s head gardener, Andy Eddy. The Blue Diamond/National Trust collaboration has resulted in several new lines including a collection of more than 60 flower seed varieties inspired by the Trust’s gardens, at least 10% of the retail selling price of which will be given to the Trust. The beauty of the Trust’s gardens is reflected in several ranges of bulbs, the collection of naturalising bulbs such as crocus and species tulips to be launched later in the year.
My favourite product on this beautifully designed stand was the box containing 14 herbaceous perennials in various sized pots inspired by the herbaceous border at NT Nymans in West Sussex. The cover of the container includes a plan of the planting scheme and a description of each plant. This bespoke collection includes Heuchera Lime Marmalade (which I love despite a client having told me after I planted it in his garden that it reminded him of lettuce!) and Rudbeckia Goldsturm. Close inspection of the plant descriptions revealed that they were all describing a Crocosmia, possibly Lucifer, but I think the exhibitors can be cut some slack for displaying a prototype containing placeholder text. The collections, which will also include the herbaceous border at Hill Top in Cumbria, the White Garden at Sissinghurst and the Red Borders at Hidcote will go on sale in April. These would be brilliant presents for someone moving into a brand new house with a blank page of a garden to plant up.
Another clever initiative arising out of this collaboration is the propagation of a limited number of specimens from two iconic trees at Trust properties: Isaac Newton’s Apple Tree from Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincs and the Ankerwyke Yew from the banks of the River Thames opposite Runnymede. The young trees are being raised in The National Trust Plant Conservation Centre based in a secret location in Devon and will be for sale in exclusive auctions in 2024. Blue Diamond is already selling a collection of the roses which can be seen in the rose garden at Powis Castle in Wales and is launching a new rose this summer: ‘Mottisfont’ is named for the home in Hampshire of the National Collection of old roses. From the photograph this new rose looks to be a beautiful multi-petalled rich deep pink.
My final shout out is to Niwaki who as always displayed their beautiful garden tools and accessories on a stylish stand. They displayed endless patience in answering my questions. The hori hori Japanese trowel remains my favourite garden tool and it was interesting to see a demonstration of its blade being sharpened with a diamond file. I also found out I’ve not been using the Crean Mate tool cleaning block properly: I should dip the tip of it in water before use. Thank you Niwaki for the selection of Japanese salad and vegetable seeds.