Two Shows for the Price of Two – Part 1

IMG_5614We had promised ourselves some garden treats this year and so after much shopping on the internet and even more diarising, we decided on two trips to garden shows. For some reason Chelsea still escapes us. I think the timing just doesn’t sit easily with our work commitments. Dear RHS, please could you move it into half term?

We started off with Gardener’s World Live at the NEC in Birmingham. It was our first event of this kind together, another first. A swift getaway on a Saturday morning in June, sausage sandwiches and a flask of tea in the car on our way up the M40 saw us in a breezy Birmingham at 8.30am. Well, it’s always best to be early. I don’t know about you but I always get theme park-itis on days like this, you want to see everything, in one day but have no idea where to start. However, we had a map and a growing bag of freebies. Getting a coffee and a planning session was our priority.

OK, Good Food Show first; we stormed in, realised no one was up and running with the free samples, marched out and went into the gardening hall to gaze at massively pricey but beautiful, powder coated greenhouses, dumpy fairy tale summer houses, seeds, tools, wellies and everything gadgety. We wandered towards the food and entered a twilight zone of stalls which offered bizarre exercise options, jewellery to make your eyes hurt, scarves, wind chimes and face cream. Yes, face cream. A man offered us a sample ‘for the bags under your eyes’. Great sales pitch. I don’t have eye bags, don’t address my eye bags. Anyway, I took up his offer, just in case I ever do get eye bags. How did that feel? Can I feel a tightening? ‘No’, I reply, ‘I can feel it stinging’ ‘Oh,’ says man ‘You have to suffer to look beautiful….how would you like to pay, cash or card?’ ‘Neither thanks, it stings.’ We leave.

A swift graze around the food. It seems every independent food retailer in Britain is making either sausages, fudge, cheese, gin or flavoured vodka. We collected many free samples including much toothpaste and then head out to tackle the plants. The floral marquee was wondrous, we bought some bunny tail grass, ultra cute and some carnivorous plants, less cute. We also picked up a Streptocarpus ‘Falling Stars’ from Dibleys and a pretty Briza Media. By now we were flagging but there was very limited seating. If you ever plan on going either take your own seat, share a seat with a stranger or be prepared to flop down on the grass which could be mud dependant on the weather. It was all we could do to lick an ice-cream. Dear NEC, please can you put out some more chairs?

The afternoon whizzed by in a flurry of ogling show gardens (not as many as we hoped for), lots of stalls selling many many plants and sculptural objects. I succumbed to a three for £10 offer and we took home a pretty Verbascum ‘Cotswold Queen’, a wonderful Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’ and a Salvia ‘Amistad’. I have a growing obsession for umbellifers and the dark stems of this variety of Queen Anne’s Lace set off the pinkish flower heads so sweetly. The saliva replaced two magnificent plants we had right up until the first frost last December. I vow to take cuttings this year.

At 3.30 we admitted defeat and returned home to plant up and regroup before RHS Hampton Court. Oh yes, we were messing with the big boys now.

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea; Two Shows for the Price of Two – Part 2


A Floral Fantasy


Perch Hill in Sussex is the home and empire of the divine Sarah Raven. Rather glamorously we met her just after we had been to the loo. It was a long long way to her place from ours.

The first thing she asked us what which colours we wanted in our wedding flowers. Totally thrown as we hadn’t even thought about this up until now,  we suggested purples and blues and off she went. Our job today was to film a section for our episode which involved us getting ‘inspiration’ for our own garden. The film crew had kept our day out as a secret but we had worked it out and had been secretly thrilled for weeks. Sarah Raven has been a gardening icon for me personally for many years. She was the main reason I got an allotment, to grow cut flowers. I was envious of her lifestyle as it appeared to me, wafting around fields of pretty flowers picking them for the house. Of course, Sarah Raven the business is a different matter. However, we were charmed and delighted and simply blown away by her home and gardens. She generously chatted to us despite having several other commitments that day and was ultimately calm and cheerful.

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We filmed all day, we talked flowers, annuals, choosing things to grow, pinching out cosmos. Firstly we were amazed by what she had to tell us about growing annuals. We honestly thought we had missed the boat for October as it was now late June. Not at all; big piece of news is you can sow seed anytime you like, just work backwards from when you want the flowers. This revelation meant we had a whole world of varieties to choose from which would just about make it to the first frosts. Sarah gave us a list and we scrabbled to remember it all. Second huge revelation is the more you pick annuals, the more you get. Again, we felt like floral dunces but so happy to realise that our wedding would be colourful and vibrant not seed head city.

We filmed some varieties that Sarah had picked for us based on our colour choices and then we were whisked into her greenhouse, well, green palace really. And then, Sarah Raven showed us how to tie the perfect bouquet. First she did it, perfectly, then she took it all apart and I had a go, almost perfectly. It was a real confidence boost. The varieties we used were; euphorbia oblongata; rose Rhapsody in Blue; penstemon Heavenly Blue; geranium Attar of Roses; salvia Amistad and cerinthe.

Then, Sarah Raven MADE US A CUP OF TEA. Well, she probably asked someone else to make it but she went and got it. So we stood around, drinking tea, looking at the beautiful view, watching the film crew fussing over shots and just soaking it all up in all its perfectness.

We had the most delicious picnic lunch sitting on Sarah’s lawn, talking and laughing with the crew and spent the rest of the afternoon filming more plant know how. We were given a tray of amazing plants to take home with us, the euphorbia and the stunningly scented geranium, enough to get us started. Both are still going strong in the garden, the euphorbia is superb and is the backbone of all my bouquets and the geranium has overwintered well in the greenhouse smelling stupendous.

We had a lovely chat with Sarah’s husband Adam Nicholson who asked after ‘Montague’ and asked us to pass on his best. We said we would of course. It wasn’t until we were well on our way home we realised who Adam Nicolson is (historian, Sackville-West stock, so well connected it’s painful).

However, we were empowered. Despite the chaos at home, we had plants to grow, flowers to find and a real structure to our garden as far as planting went. The bouquet we made was so beautiful we decided to use all the varieties in our garden and work around them. We needed to get on with making the beds so we could get some annuals on the go, and fast.


Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea; It’s Beginning to Feel A Lot Like a Garden