Ally Pally is a huge building, high on a hill with extensive views over North London; the show is located in the south side of the building as I found after I'd walked all the way round ... past the fitness club, past the lake, past the ice rink, past the café, past the BBC tower, past the car park that I couldn't find - you get the idea.
Once inside, the show was a visual feast, with no aspect of home-raised food neglected. As I wandered around looking at the exhibits, there were many products that I recognised and quite a few that I felt had a lot of potential for education. As ever with these shows, there was plenty of opportunity to chat with the exhibitors and it's this access to information which is so valuable to gardeners. Talks and workshops run throughout the day, staged in 'theatres', one stage for cookery, two for gardening and a poultry area. James Wong was a particularly effective speaker in the Experts Theatre and I managed to have a chat with him about his new book that he's currently writing and researching with the RHS (working title 'RHS Flavour Growers Manual', due out next year).
In the Poultry Area, a small group of school children clustered around a warming pen for 3 day old chicks, anxious for a turn to hold one. For anyone thinking of keeping poultry, this area was sure to excite. The sound of chickens, ducks and gobbling turkeys filled the air, with advice on hand about the characteristics of different breeds, how to house and care for them and, of course, plenty of equipment to buy.
After a good look round, several glasses of water (it was very warm in the building!) and lots of chat, there were four exhibits that I was especially interested in. Compost Cocktails, Dragonfli (bees by post), Plantspacer and Meadow in my Garden. I felt that these had definite possibilities.
|The Dark Art of Soil Composition ... completely unlike Hogwart's potions room|
Next up, Plantspacer from Squared Gardening. This is one for the novice veg grower, school gardening club or, indeed, anyone with limited growing space. A set of three square templates punched with circles as planting guides; pictures show which veg suits each template and how many of a chosen plant can fit in that area. The templates also group together plants that have similar nutrient requirements. The principles of square foot gardening made simple. Actually, I think I need some of those as I always slightly scoff at the planting distances on seed packets and weeding between plants is not my forté.
And so to pollination. Bees. Live bees were at the show. Unsurprisingly, of great interest to the school children. How do the bees get out, asked one. Hmmm, that's just a little too much information, I thought. Curiosity got the better of me and I had a chat with Julian Ives, proprietor of the company, Dragonfli. The idea is less about making honey and more about pollination. With a hive and colony of bees in the garden, good pollination of fruit blossom and vegetables will improve yields. A colony and hive is provided by the company; during the season, new queen bees are produced by the colony to fly off and create new colonies in the wild. I wondered how customers felt about having to replace their colony every year (the old one naturally dies) but was assured the company has a very good record of repeat orders and was becoming popular as a learning resource for schools. I had some concerns over packaging up bees to send in the post; wouldn't that be traumatic for them? Apparently not. The bees are sent by courier in a sealed box with food and water for the journey and would be quite happy for several days. The company also supply solitary bees, seeds and organic pest controls. Personally, I love sitting in my summer garden, surrounded by the droning of busy bees and would love a small hive. ... Although, perhaps not in a community garden.
Meadow in My Garden. I encountered this exhibitor at another show last weekend and was immediately taken with their product, packets of site or colour specific grass-free wildflower seeds to attract beneficial insects to the garden. I'm improving the area under my fruit trees with herbs and flowers this year. A tricky area given that it's shaded in the summer when the trees are in full leaf so I bought a packet of short mixture Tree Foot seeds. This should give me a display of 24 flowers including Catchfly, Swan River Daisy, Carpet Flower (Sweet Alyssum) and Corn Marigold, none taller than 40cm. Mmm, lovely ... and because the seeds are a mix of annuals and short lived perennials, I can look forward to at least two summers from my floral meadow. It helps to know what you want though as there is a massive choice - surely not a problem! Mixes for dry soil, wet soil, shade, bees, butterflies, aphids, shade, drought, planters or larger borders ... they're all there. I have a larger box which I'll probably use for a spot of guerrilla gardening around the neighbourhood and, looking at their website, I'm drawn to the blue mix of white cosmos, blue cornflowers and plum coloured scabious.
|Kirsten of Heart and Home, Colapz cans, Veg Trug pockets|
Other ideas spotted that are worth a mention are brightly coloured collapsible water cans - perfect for car boots when going to the allotment, or using as a bucket when camping. I resisted but would like one for my tiny balcony as it folds up to a disc just a couple of inches thick.
Also brightening up a vertical growing space are these felt grow pockets from Veg Trug. They're plastic lined so allegedly won't leak or stain and the water seeps down through the stitching so that the plants aren't waterlogged. I remain unconvinced that the roots will have enough space and they would certainly need daily watering but, for someone with no growing space, this could just be the answer as they can be hung outside a window or on a tiny balcony. (Um, like mine.) Probably useful for cut and come again salad leaves, small herbs, strawberries and nasturtiums. Interested? Here's the link.
I also want to mention the lovely Kristen, above, who runs a small family business called Retro Heart and Home. She sells wonderful wooden products, such as the highly covetable peg rails made by her husband, and sources lovely products with a Scandinavian feel such as these high quality linen mix dishcloths. Everything she sells is a product that she loves to have in her own home. Recently, a certain very well known department store linked to a supermarket (allegedly) reproduced her christmas display exactly. So, if you want beautiful objects for your home, don't pay department store prices - go to Kristen first and support small businesses!
If you haven't been to the show before, I'd say it was well worth it for the talks and workshops alone. Take some cash as there's masses of retail therapy in the form of tools, organic pest control, magazines, hoops and netting, gloves, raised beds, seeds (Suttons, DT Brown, Thompson and Morgan), herbs, fruit, plants ... and food, lots and lots of food. And a café and free parking.
Half price tickets to the 2015 show! I see from the event guide that, until the end of April, register on the Edible Garden Show website and you'll receive newsletters and how to get this great offer.