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  • Ellen Mary

The thing with show gardens


In the midst of the controversial RHS Chelsea best in show garden winner, I popped along to Notcutts in Norwich yesterday to take a look at their own on site show garden. It got me thinking…

There are many flower and garden shows. I love them all, in all of their splendour whether pretentious, fun or a bit more gritty. The often controversial judging is great for getting people talking and the celebrities hanging out at Chelsea is all good profile raising for the industry (despite the moaning from some about how they probably never set foot in a garden all year). Garden and flower shows are there to inspire and provoke the imagination, it gets us talking, its on TV and even if you really don’t understand why the judges didn’t award your favourite garden a gold or you don’t see the reason behind the best in show choice - to design and build a show garden is this mammoth task of serious hard work and expense. The expert teams work together to make these amazing gardens happen in a seriously short space of time and there absolutely are things we can take from the shows and make happen in our own spaces…yes there are…seriously!

However, there does need to be some reality involved here. As we wander around the show gardens delighting in the fantastic planting, making notes of colours and themes and not daring to ask questions (because we don’t want anyone to know that we don't understand how to prune roses - heaven forbid), we need to see something that can be achieved in our own gardens, on our patios and driveways. It can be for some, overwhelmingly intimidating and often pompous. That’s where local shows definitely play a hugely underrated part on the gardening scene. One local show for me is The Sandringham Flower Show. Yep, the Royally owned land where designers, colleges, schools and exhibitors set up for a fun day of gardening in July. We all queue up, eat ice cream with our hats on and have an all round jolly nice day. As nice as Chelsea. Better than Chelsea. Why? Because we can relate to it. We dare ask questions, we admire the really very excellent show gardens with a touch of ‘yes you can totally do this in your garden’ and we all go home feeling shattered but with a head full of ideas that can actually be implemented and sometimes on a shoestring at that.

Other shows such as RHS Hampton Court and BBC Gardeners World are also pretty good contenders for the reality check shows. Can’t resist joining in the masses with a Pimms at Hampton and I have left with a car full of plants from GWL, always feeling happy with the day having taken in a dose of the obscure and curious along with some utter madness that I simply cant interpret with any stretch of the imagination along with the colourful and perfectly achievable ideas floating around.

So I was pretty surprised to see the Notcutts show garden in Norwich. What was I thinking it would be like before I got there? Small, an in your face attempt at promoting plants for sale perhaps? It wasn’t either. It was incredibly impressive and mostly achievable. And yes, the plants in the garden are for sale at Notcutts, but we can forgive them for being innovative in their approach to encourage and inspire us to buy plants.

It’s a large space with a walkway straight down the middle and some lovely pleached trees above. To the left a beautiful border of perennials from one of my favourites Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ planted perfectly with Salvia ‘Caradonna’ to Grasses, Delphinum’s and Penstemon. There is also a little fun spotted in the lovely design with some Bacopa planted on the edges of borders full of Hydrangeas and Rhododendrons. Bacopa is usually planted around the edges of my hanging baskets and never at the front of a border but maybe I’ll try it this year. Along to the back a little seating area looking out across the garden, perfect for a moment to take it all in. The shady corner is lined with Tree Ferns and logs for walking, bark chip for ground cover and the odd blast of colour. Plus you’ll find box balls & Acers. All in one space and it looks superb!

On the other side is a rather stunning and clever large table planted up with herbs along with tea cups of succulents. It’s actually a lovely water feature, with water running right through the middle, off the end and down into the stones below. Even that seems achievable at home after seeing this show garden.

I definitely recommend a trip to Notcutts in Norwich to take a look at the show garden, I think it will surprise you! Of course, the cafe is a temptation as well…plus the garden accessories…oh and the lovely indoor plant section…and there’s sweets…did I mention the plants?

Most of all, enjoy any garden show you go to, don’t be scared to ask questions and take home some inspiration. You can totally do it!

For more photos of the show garden have a look at my Facebook page HERE and see the slideshow on YouTube HERE