show garden at RHS Flower Show, Tatton Park
A show garden photographed today at the RHS Flower Show, Tatton Park

This post comes to you live from Cheshire – at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park. Having experienced and enjoyed the show here last year, I wanted to view it from a different angle – not so much specific vegetables or flowers, but other aspects that help one to make the garden an extension of one’s home. Show gardens nearly always inspire, whether they are the sort that one could replicate, or ones that seem to be more design-and-build than gardening with plants. The stories behind any show design always intrigues and ‘Remount’ designed by Stephen Dennis & Brett Landscaping was no exception. A contemporary, modern space on the site of an old barn, it made use of recycled building materials (Cheshire brick, cobbles and partially rendered walls). One wall incorporated dozens of ‘living-wall’ succulents; an environmentally-friendly touch as they are natural air-purifiers.

85 years young and still going strong
85 years young and still going strong

Herbs are wonderful for so many reasons: culinary and medicinal are obvious, but don’t forget them in any planting scheme or veg plot. Let them flower, for they will attract bees, butterflies and other insects, are a joy within a household floral bouquet, and have many other uses indoors – craft, home remedies, teas and beauty products amongst others. The Herb Society display alone was a reminder that herbs are steeped in folklore and and their uses worthy of discovery. This year the Society celebrates its 85th year, and is encouraging all gardeners to become members which offers many benefits, including access to the Society’s Herb Garden at Sulgrave Manor near Banbury, Oxfordshire.

Askham Bryan College Students show garden
Students from Askham Bryan College building their show garden

Encouraging youngsters to enter the landscaping profession is vital for the future of the industry, so watching students participate in the ‘Squad UK World Skills UK’ selection process at various RHS shows is a delight. The Tatton Park contestants are currently all students aged 18-23 from Askham Bryan College near York, and their task was to create four different gardens representing styles traditional to Japan, Canada, UK and Finland. The UK garden featured above highlighted traditional skills that still thrive in the countryside today – particularly a meandering dry-stone wall acting as a backdrop to a naturalistic style of planting. The stream weaving its way out and beyond the garden’s confines featured lush marginal plants; only a small area but necessary for wild birds and other creatures. What was so special was the blurred lines between home and landscape beyond, so often forgotten when a newly created garden is ‘plonked’ out of natural context.

'Poppy Heads', Vivienne Cawson
‘Poppy Heads’, Vivienne Cawson

So many artists are inspired by plants and gardens, so the ‘Horticultural Arts & Crafts Pavilion’ warranted a visit, and I was not disappointed, for I came upon the beautiful and evocative work of watercolorist, Vivienne Cawson, and added a few of her cards to my growing collection of art that inspires my own nature journals. Vivienne’s work ventures way beyond ‘photographic’ botanical drawing – it has a vibrancy full of juicy colour. So much so that I wanted to dash back to the motorhome and start painting! When questioned  on a tip for those who wish to do likewise (out with the paints and paper), she said that you need to be passionionate about wanting to try, and to keep practising. Her central location in middle England makes her studio accessible for anyone who would like to participate in one of her workshops.

Young garden volunteers
Young garden volunteers also help care for their community

And so to learning with a difference. Young gardeners aged 8-16 volunteered over 200 hours of their spare time to design and build a show garden at Tatton – ‘A Year in the life of DreamScheme’. The garden reflected the changing seasons and was spectacular for many reasons – the woven sculptures, the house with succulents growing on the roof, the beds of tulips flowering in July and the enthusiasm of the youngest children. They were awarded a Silver Flora for their efforts. Bur what was remarkable was that these youngsters are all members of ‘DreamScheme‘: a project run by (Greater Manchester) Tameside’s largest provider of social housing, New Charter Homes, to encourage young people to participate in safe and organised out-of-school activities. Many of the children have volunteered on gardening projects on their estates to improve the communities in which they live (they earn points which they can cash-in for days out). A scheme well-worth emulating in other inner-city areas.

Dobies of Devon were not exhibiting this year but are nevertheless fully involved with new catalogues and dispatching orders for the late Summer and Autumn. Order now before coveted varieties of plants and seeds sell out. (And if you wonder why this is such a long post, well next week’s may be somewhat shorter as I am off to Ireland in search of gardens and other visual treats and may have limited WiFi access.)

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