Category Archives: Spring


It’s beginning – the buzz, the build up …  not the General Election but something of far more interest to gardeners – The RHS Flower Shows.

Although most media coverage is centered on the RHS Chelsea and RHS Hampton Court Flower Shows, there are a range of RHS Shows all over the country that start in February and finish late October.

Show garden at Hampton Court flower show 2014

Show garden at Hampton Court flower show 2014

These are my top tips on how to the make the most of the RHS Shows

  1. Consider all the RHS Shows 

Because of the difference in locations and season – each RHS Show has its own distinct character and thus each one is well worth visiting.  Don’t be disheartened if you missed out on Chelsea this year – I guarantee that you will enjoy and learn just as much ambling around the (often muddy but somehow more “real”) RHS Malvern Autumn Show.

  1. Package them up with other attractions 

Location may seem off-putting – but the advantage about the RHS Shows is that they are held at the same location and (more or less) run on the same dates every year – so it is possible to plan in advance.  For example, if you live miles away from Woking, the trip to the RHS Wisley Flower Show may seem excessive.  But surely it is worth the expense of an over night stay when you have the beautiful garden of William Robinson’s Gravetye Manor only 49 minutes away, with also Sissinghurst and Great Dixter less than an hour and a half away?  That surely must be the gardener’s dream horticultural excursion!

  1. Research 

Your first trip should be to the RHS website.  This lists all the facilities of each RHS Show, will preview the Show Gardens, will list all the exhibitors and will often include a history, interesting facts, photos – in fact you can even pre-buy souvenirs to save queuing on the day.

Show garden at Chelsea 2006

Show garden at Chelsea 2006

  1. Useful Things to Take
  • For some reason it is always cold at an RHS Show – so take an extra layer of clothing and thermal socks.  I went to RHS Chelsea in 2013 and although the weather was glorious, my feet were numb by the end of it.
  • A thermos flask is a great idea to save queuing.  I wouldn’t recommend lugging around an entire picnic but definitely a small thermos flask (which can be refilled).
  • A fully charged mobile phone is invaluable.  I take literally hundreds of photos of plant combinations that I like.  I also take notes on my phone of plant names, nurseries and suppliers – saves the bulk of a camera and notebook and pencil.
  • Binoculars – a small pair are really useful for scrutinizing details

    The crowd in front of our 2012 show garden

    The crowd in front of our 2012 show garden

  1. Talk

Gardeners belong to one of the greatest fraternities on the planet.  We are all in it together – the battle against slugs, the ravages of drought, and the joy of a newly opened peony.  The camaraderie of the punters at the RHS Shows is amazing.  Everyone stands back for one another for photos, there is a silent law about how long one can stand in the front row of a Show Garden, we all want to spot a Gardener’s World presenter, and we disdain the selfie-taker.  So it’s easy to talk.  I learnt more about Antirrhinums talking to a little old lady of eighty in the Floral Marquee than from any book.

If a designer seems approachable, then talk to him or her.  They love hearing feedback and answering questions about their concept.  Obviously don’t ask them about which clematis would they recommend for your garden shed or how do they feel about not getting a Gold Medal, but ask about why they chose certain cultivars, or what inspired their planting combinations.  When I designed my RHS garden for BBC Gardener’s World Live, I loved hearing peoples’ opinions and answering questions.

  1. Know what you want out of it 

Do you want inspiration for a shady corner?  Do you want to know what to plant as a foil for your alliums?  Are you contemplating a pond?  Or do you want to drift around and simply be dazzled and inspired? To get the best of an RHS Show it is very useful to clarify your own gardening objectives beforehand. I always want to see the new plants that are being revealed.

  1. Doom or Bloom?

When I talk to people at the end of an RHS Show I tend to see one of two reactions – either

“OMG I’m such a rubbish gardener.  I’ve just realized how awful I am.”


“OMG I can’t wait to get home and put that combination of the fern, the hosta and the purple thingy together, under that evergreen clematis I saw.”

The most important way of making the most of an RHS Show is to let it inspire you.  Let it excite and motivate you.  For that reason I can’t wait to visit one.  And urge you to do so too.

Bye for now – Brett

P.s. My earlier blog – “Eco-gardens – The Future is Green” talked about greening up front gardens and driveways.  I’m delighted to see that the RHS has launched its 3 year “Greening Grey Britain” Campaign.  Go to for more information and ideas.

Gardening with New Resolutions

January is the month of OPPORTUNITIES – the time to plan for the year ahead and to take stock. Without the visual impact of the plants, you can see the garden infrastructure, warts and all. So now is a good time to check:

  • sheds – roof, floor and window frames.
  • fences – wobbly posts or panels, will they withstand strong winds?
  • decking – once it goes it rots quickly.
  • trellises – I have one kept up by a clematis and climbing rose.   One day its going to come down and damage them both, and I’ll kick myself.
  • frost damage to pots, brickwork and paths – can this be prevented?
  • slippery patios and decking – they may need to be jet washed or cleaned with an algae removing liquid and then sealed.

Now plants have died down it is a great time to get in amongst the beds to make necessary repairs. But consider REPLACING instead of repairing. For example

  • can the decking be replaced by a new bed or ornamental stone slabs?
  • instead of repairing the fence how about trellising and planting evergreen climbers or an ornamental bamboo?
  • can the shed be replaced by a potting shed that gives you more than just storage?

January is the best month for being imaginative. Walk around the garden on a bright sunny morning with a cup of tea and take stock. Appraise from different angles and search for new opportunities. Simple touches can be made – for example:

  • new paths
  • re-shaping the lawn
  • adding an arch or pergola
  • raising a bed
  • adding outdoor lighting
  • framing and screening areas to divide the garden into spaces
  • even adding a hammock or a barbeque wall – summer will be here one day…

As gardeners we look at new opportunities for planting all the time. We go through seed catalogues looking at new vegetables and buy new variations and cultivars of flowers. Just as we are inventive and creative with our planting, so we should be with the garden.

January is the perfect time to cast a critical and also imaginative eye over our beloved outdoor space and to ask if we are making the most of it. Can we not do that little bit better this year for our garden? I think the answer is yes, and on that note, I’m off to find the drill to fix the wonky trellis.



Look out for my next posting on 5th February – ECO GARDENS ARE THE FUTURE