RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016 visit

botanic garden

Part of the Botanic Garden

This week I headed down to Sloane Square with my mum for this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The weather was a bit crap – overcast and pretty chilly for a late May day – but given the crowds I was actually quite pleased not to be in the glare of a hot sun!

First off we headed for the show gardens, and although at times given the volume of people it was hard to stop and ponder the planting, I really enjoyed the flowing, naturalistic planting schemes that seemed to prevail in the vast majority of the gardens. Wildflowers have definitely made a comeback, with ragged robin a popular choice, and it seemed most gardens were going for purples, whites and a variance on rusty orange or rusty pink.

I suppose just like fashion, preferences for planting are subject to trends. But I like this recent trend. Pollinating flowers like alliums and salvias were in evidence everywhere, as was a certain type of almost milk chocolate-coloured California Iris.

I think my favourite garden had to be the Botanic garden – not for its main feature, a glass house, but for one side of the garden that was planted up in a style that nodded to permaculture, with salvias, lupins, wild carrot, hyssop, beetroot, rhubarb, blackcurrant, gooseberry, french beans, nasturtiums, and all manner of fruit and veg crammed in together to create a bustling, thriving growing space. It definitely gave me lots of ideas for my own patch of the good life.

A close up from the Greening Grey Britain garden

A close up from the Greening Grey Britain garden

The Greening Grey Britain garden was also an inspiration, with some almost prairie-like planting with swathes of plants that are perfect for pollinators, wildflowers including ragged robin and aquilegia (another popular feature in many gardens this year), grasses, and some gorgeous rusty metal bird seed cups that I haven’t been able to locate anywhere! I love the idea of ‘Greening Grey Britain‘, an RHS scheme launched last year in a bid to overcome the paving over of front gardens, driveways and what could be thriving spaces for flora and fauna to reduce flooding, combat localised temperature rises and even subsidence. Want to make a contribution and bring colour and vitality back to the streets of Britain? Then visit the RHS site to make your promise.

So lots of ideas and inspiration, and armed with three new packets of seed (two types of pollinator-friendly Astrantia, and some white ragged robin), I’ve come away determined to make the Smallest Smallholding a living, breathing and productive oasis in my part of suburbia.

Natural planting schemes were everywhere!

Naturalistic planting schemes were everywhere!

RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show – Part One


I was lucky enough to be asked to come down to the build up week for the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show by Lauren at Ecover. Why I was chosen, I have no idea since I know a lot of bloggers out there with knowledge that eclipses mine, but it was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.

I took along Mum – a gardener by trade, who knows the common and latin name of almost every plant she comes across, and who is a much more attentive and successful veg grower than I – and together we trekked down and across London, through Wimbledon and into the leafy suburbs of South London, Surbiton (home of The Good Life ), and to the Surrey border.

After trekking through the Palace and being told off by an anal security guard for not wearing boots, we finally made it into the Flower show area, where a dozen or more gardens were being built up around us. We were greeted by Matthew Childs – the garden’s designer and an RHS gold medal winner – and the lovely Rosanna, who were in the throes of planting up what looked to be shaping up to be a gorgeous planting scheme.

Ecover RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

From the get-go, Mum was waxing lyrical about Matthew’s design. In our family, we’re a fan of loosely choreographed planting schemes, where flowers mingle and drift into one another, where texture and colour froths and spills. Matthew’s planting scheme has achieved this, but within a structured framework that makes it look tidy but not so deliberate.

The ethos behind the garden is that ‘water is life’, but although the garden design does include water, I think his planting scheme doesn’t necessarily rely on water or aquatic plants. Somehow it echoes the flowing, ethereal, constant change of water, and that’s something that I really want to bring back and apply here, in the borders of my Smallest Smallholding.

After a quick introduction to the other workers and volunteers – including a few of Matthew’s cheery family members – we were set to work. We spent a considerable amount of time sprucing up a large selection of blue grasses, prepping them by removing thatch and dead ends… fiddly work but indicative of the care and attention that goes into creating an RHS show garden. It’s not something I’d do in my own garden at home, but show gardens are like works of art, and I can fully appreciate why there is so much attention to detail. We worked in the summer sun, flanked by a lake and the back of the majestic palace, eventually swapping blue grasses (with an audible sigh of relief from such painstaking work) for the sensory softness of Lamb’s Ear.

Ecover RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

Matthew, Rosanna and the team worked tirelessly through the day, having stayed the previous nights until well after 8pm and 9pm, but I did manage to chat with them at various points in the day. I noted how many bumblebees and butterflies were attracted to the volume of plants we had in the ‘staging area’ behind the garden, and in the garden itself. I explained to Matthew that wildlife gardening and favouring plants for pollinators is part of my gardening ethos, and how I tend to let self-seeded pollinator-friendly plants ‘do their thing’ in the borders. Matthew agreed and said to attract even more, stick to native plants and opt for singles and not doubles (like our single orange blossom… so much more popular with the bees et al than our double in the front garden).

Bees on Nepeta - Cat Mint

Mum really enjoyed herself and I think that being there to see the whole show garden process in action – how Matthew and his team went through decision processes to get the garden design on paper into reality (not to mention the painstaking detail of preparing plants for scrutinisation by the judges) – was very valuable in terms of working out how we can apply our ideas at home. One important thing that I’ve really noted is that to get the bold colours and ‘drifting’ qualities, you really need to buy and plant in bulk.

Mum, Rich and I are back at the Flower Show on Monday for the Press Preview, and Celia from Purple Podded Peas was the lucky winner chosen by Ecover to visit the show next week too. I shall hopefully be crossing paths with Compostwoman on Monday, and it will be really interesting to see the garden in its finished, full glory. And if you’re going along, please take a moment to look at the blue grasses and Lamb’s Ear. I worked very hard on those little beggars 😉