28 Feb 2018

From Winter to Spring: the RHS Early Spring Fair

~ The Wisley Winter Walk garden at the show ~

While icy winds and snowfalls have taken the UK back to winter over the past few days, I'm reminded of the RHS Early spring show that was held recently.  It's the show that, for me, heralds the start of spring and it's where gardeners gather to break out of their winter hibernation to revel in an array of glorious spring flowers.

As the first garden related show of the year, and standing on the cusp between winter and spring, the show divided its contents accordingly.  The Lindley Hall was predominantly white with snowdrop displays, a winter inspired banqueting table, and botanical art, while the Lawrence Hall proudly strutted the best of winter colour with award winning nursery displays and a recreation of the winter walk at RHS Wisley. For anyone that had the time to linger between browsing, there was also two days of talks and workshops - it was a bumper package, well worth the admission price.

~ Botanical art workshop, each participant left with a hand painted card ~

On Tuesday, I'd gone to explore the show with my blogger's hat on but had spent the previous couple of days as part of the team building an exhibit garden in the Lawrence Hall.  The garden took inspiration from the winter walk at the RHS Garden at Wisley and was a shining example of winter's colours and scents - who says there's no colour in winter! It was designed by a friend and, for me, lovely to work alongside garden design students from KLC college. I'll come back to this in another post.

~ Vintage terracotta pots from Embergate, ex blogger, now purveyor of gorgeous vintage gardenalia ~

During the build, I'd watched as the many other exhibits came together in the two RHS halls. It was fascinating to see the huge amount of work that each exhibitor puts into their displays and gave me a whole new respect for them. The nurseries have to keep their plants fresh and vigorous throughout the build and three days of the show - no mean feat when dealing with plants that really prefer to be outdoors.

As a flagship spring show, the halls were lush with displays of hellebores, cyclamen, iris reticulata, primroses and snowdrops - oh, the snowdrops! Everyone has a favourite spring flower but these stole my heart away this year, they were so beautifully displayed.

~ Galanthus 'Cowhouse Green' suspended at eye level ~

I was fascinated by the hanging 'Celebration of Snowdrops' installation in the Lindley Hall. Garden designer Fiona Silk had wired hundreds of bundles of Galanthus nivalis and autumn leaves to a raised rig so that they slowly twirled in currents of air. Walkways between these led to a central ring of specialist snowdrops, suspended at eye level in brown paper parcels tagged with identifying numbers. It was mesmerising. These 'specials' were on loan from private collections so it was a rare treat to view them. In matching them to the accompanying list, I fell into conversation with an elegant woman whose husband had ordered Galanthus plicatus 'Blue Trym'  for her birthday next month. Each bulb sells for £120 but even at that price she wasn't hopeful that the order would be fulfilled as she'd heard that stocks had been snapped up in the EU. I like a snowdrop but I doubt I'll ever join the ranks of the true Galanthophiles at those prices.  Personally, I rather liked G. 'Cowhouse Green' at a more modest £25 per bulb but even that would break the budget!

In keeping with the fantasy floral theme, a Narnia-like banqueting table drew visitors to the far end of the hall. The white and crystal elements were intended to represent the transition of winter into spring, with greenery and snowdrops appearing through snow. It was visually stunning and much photographed but, as with most art installations, largely impractical. The birch trees behind every seat would have hindered sitting down somewhat.  I came to think of it as Miss Havisham's Wedding Breakfast as it made a rather icy and forgotten tableau - what do you think?

Talks are now a feature of the spring shows and I'd already determined to get to a talk by Alys Fowler on houseplants, a tie in with her latest book 'Plant Love' which she kindly signed for me afterwards. It's so lovely to meet your garden heroes. The talk was packed out, presumably we were all after a few tips on understanding and managing the mysterious world of indoor plants, and Alys didn't disappoint. It all sounded so easy once she'd explained a bit about leaf colour and shade. There was even time for a quick Q and A afterwards.  My question? I wanted the name again of the carnivorous plant that feeds on fungus gnats - apparently Venus Fly Traps just don't cut it. (It's Pinguicula but I've since found that it seems to be quite difficult to get hold of one. So perhaps I'll need to look out for Gnat Off instead, Alys's other suggestion.)

I would have liked to stay for some of the other talks but I had potatoes to buy.  Pennard's Plants from Somerset always bring their huge selection of tubers to this fair.  I've been a bit overwhelmed by the choice in previous years but I knew that I wanted just salad potatoes this year and the tubers were in colour coded tubs with short descriptions of each. At 24p a tuber, I was able to buy exactly the amount I wanted - mission accomplished.

And of course I couldn't leave without a couple of bags of Iris reticulata, as well as some gifted daffodils and crocus from a neighbouring display to the garden I helped with.  All in all an uplifting and very educational week.

The next RHS show in London is the Orchid and Plant Fair on 6th and 7th April. 

26 Feb 2018

Prelude to a Siberian spring

~ Buds on the gooseberry bushes ~

Dare I write this with a forecast freeze from north Russia bearing down on the southern regions of the UK this week?  Following hellebores and snowdrops, I'm thrilled to see definite signs of other plants waking up in the garden, so much so that if the Big Freeze doesn't happen, spring might arrive bang on cue but I'm not hopeful. The meteorological end of winter in the UK is in three days, at the end of February; it looks like this year we'll have to pin our hopes on the astronomical start to spring almost three weeks later on the 20th March.

Like most gardeners I'm ready for winter to be over. I have tentative plans to start sowing my brassicas in the next couple of weeks but, much more than that, I want to be outside more regularly watching seeds come to life and blossom appear.  The good news is that, all being well, the scaffolding around my block of flats is due to come down in two to three weeks. Like my neighbours here, I've found it hard to live with so much darkness and noise as the roof is retiled, windows replaced and concrete repaired. It's a struggle to keep my balcony clear of debris and plants have suffered as a result. But the end is in sight and I'm sure it will all be worth it ... after the big clean up!

I love the weekends here at the moment, so quiet with no builders around. The bonus this weekend is beautiful clear sunny blue skies, even if the gentle breeze was bitingly cold - a forerunner of the promised Siberian blast? Whatever, it was enough to get me outdoors early yesterday morning until my fingers went numb. My fault, I should have taken gloves as well as my camera.

This afternoon, Sunday, I ventured out again, garden fork and secateurs in hand, this time properly wrapped up and with my thermal gloves on. I stayed out until a setting sun on the other side of the buildings made tiny aeroplanes high in the sky turn a shade of copper red and I could start to feel my feet turn cold. The soil had already started to freeze on the surface but I'd made good progress having dug out unwanted plants, moved others and trimmed back seedheads.

So, for the record, in case the garden is annihilated by frost and nature has to start again, this is where the garden is at this weekend. (There are also leaf buds starting to open on the quince tree which I'm pretty sure will not survive icy winds.)

~ New leaves on the spreading thyme ~

~ rhubarb starting to sprout ~
~ more herbs - chives, pretty sure this will get through the cold ~

~ hyssop, usually dies back in winter ~
And a few flowers:

Let's hope that our unfurling gardens survive any snow or frost in days to come! 
What's waking up in your patch? 

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