Wisley Flower Show 2015

A quick dash to the Wisley Flower Show, there to spend a couple of pleasant hours mooching about, cooing over plants, saying hello to friends and most definitely not buying anything, the last of which objectives I failed conspicuously to achieve, lumbering back past the RHS Lindley Library towards the car laden with numerous bags of flaars. Hopeless. In my defence, some of them (previous edits read “most”, then “many”) are bound for clients’ gardens, and I entertain every possible hope that they may, at some point in the future, reach them.

Here are my highlights from a brief visit.

It was great to catch up with David on the Binny’s stand (we’d managed to miss each other at Chelsea and for some reason not crossed paths over social media) and to hear how things are going for them. The stand is looking wonderful – an inviting mix of delicate flowers like Geum 'Totally Tangerine' and white japanese anemones, with some wonderfully detail in the foliage, all shades of green and red, with Heuchera 'Green Spice', Rodgersia 'Bronze Peacock' and Tiarella 'Spring Symphony'. And, just in case you hadn't got the green and red thing, the great, dramatic form of Begonia luxurians. I loved the short, vertical accents of the Euonymus japonicus 'Green Rocket' across the stand and, nestling in amongst it all, the wonderful small white flower and acid green leaf of Geranium nodosum 'Silverwood', a great plant for dappled shade.

Not too far away on the stand of Madrona Nurseries from Ashford in Kent, I found the colourful arrow-headed leaves of Persicaria 'Purple Fantasy'...

...just a few steps away from its relative Persicaria odorata from Hooksgreen Herbs. This is used in South East Asian cooking as a coriander substitute, and was nestled among a wealth of other wonderful looking edibles. Had the temperature had been hotter, the smell would have been fabulous, but as it was, the volatile oils stayed put and I had to content myself with the sight of all these fine herbs jostling for space. I particularly loved the inclusion of variegated ground elder Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegata' which, though not as rampant as the non variegated version, can get a bit lively in the borders.

I’m not entirely sure what’s got into me this year, but I keep finding myself drawn towards orange flowers, and it was the sight of these amazing dahlias at Pheasant Acre Plants that drew me away from the herbs. I'm not sure my photography skills were quite up to representing the vibrancy of the colours, but they were breathtaking, perfectly complemented by the lively form of the blooms.

The Plant Specialist have put together a splendid display of late summer daisies, grasses and prairie-style perennials, where I discovered the hollyhock (Alcaea)/mallow (Malva) cross x Alcalthaea suffrutescens 'Parkallee' . Why didn’t I buy this? I was distracted by something else (more of that in a bit), but know it will be haunting my dreams tonight.

x Alcathaea suffrutescens 'Parkallee'

x Alcathaea suffrutescens 'Parkallee'
Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants were as inundated with keen plant buyers as always - so much so that I could barely see Rob when I arrived and didn’t get to say ‘hello’ (sorry Rob). The display and the quality of the plants was as stellar as we’ve come to expect, and also as correct – I was reminded that I've been referring to Aster divaricatus several times in the past couple of weeks, when it’s been reclassified as Eurybia. Shame on me (though, to be fair, it’s still Aster in the Wisley plant shop). I was particularly taken with two plants, both of which boast flowers that, in their natural form, appear to have been caught in a force ten gale. Perhaps they reminds me of my hair.

My own haul consisted of two plants I've been trying to track down for months, and was half hoping to find in stock today – both for other people’s gardens, sadly. Firstly, Althaea cannabina, a wonderful, tall, airy pink-flowered mallow-type specimen, whose presence distracted me from buying the Alcathaea at The Plant Specialist.

Secondly, Tiarella 'Sugar and Spice'. I know everyone says that so many of these cultivars are the same, but there’s nothing quite like the leaf on this – a large, oak leaf shape, deep glossy green, with a dark maroon splash in the centre – and everywhere seems to have been out of stock all year, even at the RHS shows. Six of these came home with me, courtesy of Heucheraholics.

And then, having stuffed my face with pelargonium cake and generally got under the feet of Heather and Fran on the Fibrex Nursery stand as they tried to serve the great and the good, I started treating myself to more plants I’ve had a hankering after: three pelargoniums, P. 'Renate Parsley' (new to me), the very beautiful but slightly difficult 'Ardens', and the scented 'Charity', with its variegated cut leaf and orangey scent. And, on an impulse, the evergreen fern Asplenium trichomanes, largely because it looks a bit like the maidenhair fern Adiantum capillus-veneris, which I am remarkably good at killing, in the hope that it might be slightly better at evading my homicidal tendencies.

Not a bad collection of booty, considering I wasn’t supposed to be buying anything. Sadly, though, in spite of seeing it growing down by the glasshouse, still no sign of Amsonia hubrichtii for sale. I’ll keep looking...


Magic in the walls

The entrance to the walled gardens
To the splendidly formal but entirely accessible gardens of Penshurst Place this week, which closed for the winter today. The building itself is the closest we have to Hogwarts around here (they recorded the sound of the creaking floorboards in the long gallery here for the Harry Potter soundtrack), but to my mind it’s in the gardens that the real wizardry occurs.

While it’s undoubtedly the magnificence of the house, the hundreds of metres of beautifully clipped yew hedging, the topiary shapes, pools and fountains which create such a sense of history and grandeur, one thing that really touches me about this garden is the superabundance of tree fruit. Not very posh at all. Apple, pear and plum trees are literally everywhere, confined not to an orchard beyond the garden walls or kept in check in a dedicated kitchen garden, but given pride of place – not least along the recently replanted herbaceous border which runs across the centre of the garden. I think it’s this aspect which somehow relates the garden to the land on which it sits; there’s a sense of storybook charm here, with doors cut into hedges leading to wondrous and unexpected garden rooms (one with its own grass amphitheatre and stage!), but it retains a deeply grounded and earthy quality which makes you feel welcome, inviting you to linger.

I’ve always felt there was something enchanting about a walled garden. I think it must be from reading stories as a child of characters pushing through barriers of impenetrable briers, sneaking through ramshackle, heavy wooden doors, and scaling crumbling walls to discover another world beyond. Whatever the cause, I can see myself easily losing hours here gazing at the contrasting textures of the old, red bricks, the fresh leaves of the mature pears trained against them, and the gnarly old trunks of the same trees.

So it seemed appropriate today that we arrived at the height of the Hallowe’en Pumpkin Hunt, the garden full of little people dressed ready for trick or treating this evening – pumpkin number three proving a stinker to find but eventually being located at the foot of a tree in the Stage Garden. There is, slightly incongruously, an adventure playground just inside the gates, but I thought this activity was a great way to get the younger visitors engaged with this magical place at an early age.

The Stage Garden, with the elusive pumpkin number three beneath the tree
The gardens reopen in February 2012, when the new border will be officially unveiled. You can sign up on their website here to be notified of special events, including when the amazing Peony Border will be in full flower. Well worth a visit, and plenty to keep both adults and children spellbound at any time of year.

RHS members get in free.

Steps leading up to the Garden Tower, where interpretation boards
tell the history of the gardens

To the side of the Lime Walk, with the outside of the garden wall on the left