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. 

12 comments:

  1. I couldn’t possibly face paying huge amounts for any bulb however beautiful.

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    1. I'm with you on that one, Sue! I couldn't help thinking how many fruit trees I could buy for the price of one bulb!

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  2. So effective to have the plants dancing at eye level. Similar effect with succulents at the Puff Adder shade house at Babylonstoren. Ducking and diving slows you down, to look, at each plant.

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    1. It was a very interesting way of displaying them, especially as seeing them up close usually involves getting down to ground level which isn't always practical in late winter! I like the sound of the succulent display but am intrigued by the name of the shade house - no puff adders I hope!

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  3. It was so interesting reading about your visits to the show both as a visitor and helping behind the scenes. The snow drop displays sound amazing and the Winter Walk garden looks fantastic. Thank you for taking us along! Sarah x

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it Sarah. It was a very thrilling week all told; even though I knew what to expect, the displays this time around were exceptional. I really must start taking videos, I don't think my photos do the displays justice! Cx

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  4. An enjoyable post and good pictures. That's a good way to buy seed potatoes if you only want small quantities and/or less common varieties. xx

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    1. To be honest, Flighty, it's the main reason I like to get to this show. I don't have the space to grow masses of spuds so this suits me perfectly - and provides a way to taste test new varieties. We could really do with a show like this just for veg growers!

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  5. Thank you for sharing this. This is awesome! It was so obvious you enjoyed it.

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    1. I did indeed enjoy this show, Sam - I feel the same every year as it feels like one step closer to spring, plus any gaps in the spring garden are fresh in my mind. This year I came home with lots of spring plants for the garden but luckily I didn't have time to plant them all before we were under 4 inches of snow so they've been acclimatising in the slightly less freezing conditions on my balcony!

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  6. Oh it sounds as if you really enjoyed your involvement in the show Caro and I look forward to reading your post about the build. The floating snowdrops look stunning but I don't think that I could relax eating at that twinkling overcrowded table. I would definitely knock something over. 'Cowhouse Green' is beautiful but it increases very slowly hence the price. Other slow to multiply and/or newly introduced bulbs are often more expensive. However there other bulbs which are not as painfully priced which bulk up quickly .

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    1. You're right, Anna, I thoroughly enjoyed being involved behind the scenes at the show rather than just being a visitor! I agree with you about the Narnia table, beautiful but somehow intimidating, even if you could manage to sit down past the trees! Good to know about the more expensive snowdrops but for me the cheap and cheerful ones will be the only snowdrops in my spring garden, although Rosemary Alexander told me that 'S Arnott' has spread so rapidly in her Hampshire garden that she's forever giving clumps to visitors (note to me, must visit again soon ;) ) x

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