English Vs. American Gardens

The iconic gardens of Sissinghurst, Great Dixter, Bressingham, and Beth Chatto’s were on my recent UK garden tour this July.

My recent group of garden tour friends at Great Dixter

Along with many other gardens that deserve more attention and recognition, I returned home with a renewed appreciation for the diversity and passion for gardening that is encountered only in the UK. Gardening is an obsession with the Brits and since I share that obsession, I can relate to the culture and the importance that they place on this “hobby”.

An explosion of color using island beds at Bressingham Gardens
Entrance into the white garden at Sissinghurst
Thyme patio at Sissinghurst, picture by Amy Sparwasser
Sissinghurst’s hop-kilns for drying hops
Great Dixter is known for their artful use of containers throughout the garden

Not only is gardening a great practical past-time, but an entire nation engages in the leisure activity of visiting gardens enrolled in the National Garden Scheme. Begun with the aim of “opening gardens of quality, character and interest  to the public for charity”, the National Garden Scheme has raised over 50 million British Pounds since it began in 1927,  and over a half million visits occur each year in more than 3700 gardens open to the public. Garden visiting on that scale is totally unheard of in the rest of the world.

Royal Hort Society at Wakehurst is unique in they have one of the only seed banks in the world providing a safety net for species threatened with extinction

People in England love to visit other people’s gardens to gather ideas and perhaps with hopes of adding their own gardens to the National Garden Scheme rolls, and it includes small town gardens as well as more urban gardens.

A friend’s beautifully designed garden in the Cotswolds
A garden arranged by plant families, the Chelsea Physic garden is in central London

But why does Britain have this obsession? Probably climate plays a large role in the answer to the question. The closest comparison of UK weather to US weather would be the Pacific Northwest. If you have ever traveled to that area of the country you will see extraordinary gardens and plants that you can only dream about growing in other parts of the US. The hardiness zones determine your frost free days to garden and the Pacific Northwest is a temperate zone 8 and zone 9. For comparison, here in Maryland, I am a 6b which means that I get much more extremes in weather. Plants don’t like extremes; the more moderate temperatures encourages a wider range of different plants to grow. The hardiness zones in the UK run the gamut of 6 in northern Scotland, to the rest of England with the majority in the 8 and 9 zones. The UK enjoys a temperate maritime climate characterized by cool winters and warm summers, which sounds similar to Seattle. Go to Hardiness Zones in the United Kingdom to see a map and explanation of their zones.

Lady Di’s garden at Kensington has palm trees

So, mild climate, regular rainfall, and a very long growing season. It is no surprise that England has fantastic gardens. When I take visitors to gardens in England, they are often surprised when they see flowers that are blooming together, like a Lenten Rose and a tea rose blooming side by side. At home this would not be possible, especially in my unforgiving mid-Atlantic climate. Or you will see palm trees or other tropicals that stay outside all year. Tree echium (Echium pininana) , a native of the Canary Islands, is a plant that can naturalize in southern California, and you see it planted extensively in southern England. An exotic that will merit lots of admiring comments, this is a favorite plant of many English gardens.

Echium at Rushton Vicarage near Norwich

Closeup of Echium which has tiny blue flowers on a gigantic towering stem up to 13 ‘
An extraordinary grouping of geraniums at Beth Chatto’s garden
Beth Chatto started dry gravel gardening and can grow exotics and tropicals year round
Magnificent Eucalyptus tree at Beth Chatto’s garden
Beth Chatto’s garden

Plant Hunters Started It All

To add to this climate bonanza, many historic plant hunters calling England their home, departed the shores to bring home numerous offerings, especially during the Victorian era. Bringing together all the world’s plants and see them bloom together is often startling to visitors but you can trace this directly back to those first adventurous plant hunters. Starting at Kew Gardens, then disseminated to the ruling class, these exotics were propagated and descended the social scale until they reached the smallest village as cuttings. You can see the results in the gardens across the United Kingdom today.

A commonly seen ‘Cape Fuschia’ or Phygelius capenisis is seen in English gardens and hales from South Africa
Eremurus or Foxtail Lily hails from Asia and is rarely seen in the US
At the Hampton Court Flower Show, Eremurus is planted in a meadow

 

Gardening On TV

I gave up long ago looking for gardening on HGTV.  But in the UK, gardening shows run constantly with every subject under the sun discussed. Planting seed potatoes? Yes there will be several shows on that in the spring getting you up to speed. And on the subject of potatoes, the English are mad about growing and eating potatoes. It is one crop that I viewed everywhere outside my coach window zipping by. And it is the main crop that the English grow on their “allotments” which is simply a large plot of ground that they grow all types of “veg”.

An exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show of potatoes won a gold award, picture by Darlene Wells

Obsessive Gardening & Flower Shows

So, gardening is a total obsession for natives of the UK and they have good reason to be with the forgiving climate. And gardening off-shoots also thrive with flower fetes, flower shows, and events like the Snowdrop Sensation Plant Fair in February or the Christmas Floral Extravaganza in December.

Flower shows are a celebration of the pinnacle of gardening achievement and draws in hordes visitors every year, with everyone flocking to Chelsea or Hampton Court to admire perfect examples of pretty much every type of flower.

Exhibit of Alliums at Chelsea
One of my favorite exhibits at Chelsea
Love this display at Chelsea

 

At Hampton Court Flower Show in July 2019
At Hampton Court Flower Show, I saw this Allium ‘Forelock’ which I am going to plant next year
An array of lavenders at Hampton Court Flower Show, 2019
Display of glads and dahlias at Hampton Court
Recreation of Beth Chatto’s dry gravel garden at Hampton Court Show

Bringing tour groups of like minded gardeners to the UK each year has become a ritual as I like to take part in the enthusiasm and passion that residents have for such a rewarding hobby. I find that American gardeners can be just as passionate about gardening but it isn’t as ingrained like it is in England.

Chartwells’s border of nepeta and lambs ears was one of my favorite vistas

Status Vs Oasis 

One big difference between English and American gardens is how the American perceives the garden as a status symbol and the English native sees the garden more as an enjoyable oasis to putter around in. The Americans do love the lawn with vast expanses devoted to it. Having English roots, the lawn is really not as significant in any other culture.  Mown grass dominates any American “yard” or public space currently, but I see meadows creeping in taking the place of grass. But in England, meadows are everywhere, even in graveyards!

Instead of manicuring graveyards, meadows grow up around the gravestones
Meadows are everywhere that there is open ground: here is a graveyard in Bury St Edmunds

Another difference is that Americans call it their “yard” which has negative connotations and not a “garden” like the British. The British are all about the love of gardening and being horticulturalists. Americans are more about “curb appeal” and how their yard will appear to the neighbors. So, you could say that the Brits express themselves through how they decorate their garden with plants and structures, which is connected to their home, but Americans are more into the low maintenance and the utilitarian aspect of gardening and showing it off.  They just want it to look good outside and retreat into their homes. As a landscape designer in the business, I can attest that most people do exactly that.

Where else would you see a monk made out of twigs? Seen at Hampton Court

Nurseries

Garden centers are another good example of the difference between the US and the UK.  Nurseries in the UK are destination trips that include several on -site restaurants, clothing, child care, and other amenities, But in the US the nursery is more about buying plants and gardening tools and then moving on. I see that changing gradually with some great garden centers that have popped up in recent years in the US. Check out Escape to Surreybrooke .

Dobbies is a great destination garden center located in Scotland

Societies & Organizations

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), sponsors of the famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show, offers access to more than 140 gardens around the UK. Just a comparison: There are about 20,000 members of The American Horticultural Society and over 500,000 members in the Royal Horticultural Society!  The RHS motto is “Gardening for all,” and the society’s goal is to help both professional and amateur gardeners with inspiration and advice.
I recently visited Wakehurst, a RHS garden, which had a fabulous ‘Satomi’ Kousa dogwood blooming
Border at Wakehurst, RHS Garden

Trends-Stumperies, Meadows, and Naturalistic Plantings

A whimsical, but practical garden feature unique to England are stumperies. An intentional arrangement of woody plant material left over after removing stumps and large limbs or any re-purposed wood, these structures can make interesting decorations in a garden. Creating a habitat for mostly shade loving plants like ferns, a stumpery is only something I encounter while in England. Displaying interesting architecture of roots and trunks, the vertical use of space creates perfect pockets for plants to thrive in microclimates. An ingenious use of  stumps that would otherwise be trashed, stumperies can be awesome structures.

Old stumps create habitats for ferns
Stumpery at Arundel Castle

Stumperies, first created in 1856, are enjoying a resurgence in popularity and there are stumperies everywhere in England. I expect soon to see one here in the US.  The trends in gardening are about 5-10 years behind here.

Meadows and naturalistic plantings are in vogue in England and I saw them everywhere, especially at the Hampton Court Flower Show. Queen Anne’s lace, which Americans consider a weed, was planted in naturalistic plantings and there was even a lovely pink variety.

Pink Queen Anne’s Lace in a natural meadow at the Hampton Court Show
Pink Queen Anne’s Lace
There were meadow pocket plantings at the outdoor seating areas at Hampton Court

Penstemons

A North American native to the western US, Penstemons were probably my top flower that I saw this past July. UK gardeners have taken this US native and made it their own with new cultivars that I was salivating over and cannot find here, like ‘Laura’, a white with an edging of pink. And don’t get me started on Delphiniums! They are just over the top!

Penstemon  Laura
Penstemon at Wakehurst
More Penstemon!
Delphiniums at Savill Gardens near Windsor

For my next garden tours, I will be traveling to Portugal and Madeira in March 2020 and Ireland in September 2020. Go to my trip tab to see the itinerary for Portugal/Madeira. Ireland is being made up right now and I should have it available soon.

For more posts on my trips, go to Chelsea Flower Show: The King of Flower Exhibitions and Garden Trip-Chelsea and Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds.

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Trip-Chelsea, Wales, and Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds

If you have never been to the Chelsea Flower Show or the Cotswolds & Wales, read on if you want to check this off on your bucket list. For a full rundown on the recent Chelsea Flower Show, you need to check out my post.

Yes, these are potatoes! A display of hundreds of varieties of potatoes at Chelsea, picture by Darlene Wells
Sarah Raven’s display garden
Photo opportunity at the Flower Show; I am on the right, my sister is on the left
Fake grass is very lifelike looking at Chelsea

I will be leading a tour of public and private gardens that are rarely seen, in May of 2018. Last year, I had a group of 29 like-minded garden fanatics with me in the UK and we had a fabulous trip touring many of the large established public gardens and some private ones. In 2018, I wanted to mix it up and include some smaller private gardens that aren’t on the usual garden tour schedule. I relied on my friend Victoria Summerley, author of Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds, to give me tips on where to go to for under-the-radar gardens as well as her own wonderful garden near Bibury. For a full itinerary of my tour, go to my ‘Trips‘ tab.

Victoria Summerley’s garden, Awkward Hill, photo courtesy of Victoria Summerley
Awkward Hill, photo courtesy of Victoria Summerley

Organizing a garden tour is like an air traffic controller; There are a lot of moving parts. So many gardens are open different times of the days or week, finding a convenient hotel for a good price, and discovering different activities to liven up the garden tour regimen is all part of the planning process. For example, planning to visit Highgrove, which is  the private gardens of Their Royal Highnesses,The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, is always problematic as they publish their open days in January, months after my schedule is finalized. So, I set it up and try to hit one of their open days. But plenty of alternatives are available everywhere if I am not lucky. It always works out in the end.

London Sights

The newly remodeled Garden Museum in London is on my itinerary
Gift Shop – Chelsea Physic Garden, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser

London gardens and garden center visits are included with The Chelsea Flower Show for garden-obsessed people. The Garden Museum, The London Eye , Petersham’s Nursery in Covent Garden, The Chelsea Physic Garden, and of course the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and Hampton Court Palace- are all on the schedule.

Chelsea Physic Garden, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser

The Chelsea Physic Garden was established as the Apothecaries’ Garden in London, in 1673. Referring to the science of healing, it is among the oldest botanical gardens in the UK, after the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, which was founded in 1621 (which is on our itinerary) and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh founded in 1670.  As stated on their website, the Chelsea Physic Garden is, “Tucked away beside the Thames, and is a celebration of the beauty and importance of plants. A unique living collection of around 5,000 different edible, useful, medicinal and historical plants is contained within its sheltering walls. This hidden gem is also a peaceful green oasis – come and enjoy a relaxing stroll and lunch or afternoon tea at the Tangerine Dream Café”. A sheltered microclimate in the UK, it even has an outdoor grapefruit tree!

The London Eye
We have reserved a ‘pod’ for a maximum of 25 people on the London Eye;There may be champagne involved
Seen outside a floral shop in London

 

Unique garden statue at Abbey House Gardens; They have a clothing optional day once per month! photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser

Abbey House Gardens

This description of Abbey House Gardens piqued my interest: “With 1300 years of history, the first King of England buried somewhere in the garden, two saints thrown down the well, and now one of the great gardens of the world. The spirit of the place shines through and could be the best garden visit you ever make.” Built next to a twelfth century abbey church, this five acre garden appears embraced by the surrounding gardens which includes tapestries of colorful hedging.

Wisteria at Abbey House Gardens, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser
Abbey House Gardens, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser

Oxford-A University City

Oxford is full of hidden narrow lanes with lots of ornate architecture, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser

The Oxford Botanical Gardens is included with free time to explore the interesting streets of  Oxford that has inspired many literary and cinematic works. Places steeped in history abound in this interesting medieval town. The Botanical Gardens, located down the appropriately named Rose Lane is an oasis of stone-walled peace in the heart of the city. Emphasis here is on traditional herbal remedies and their use in modern medicine.

The atmospheric, golden-stone colleges, are clustered around medieval streets and you can peek into many of them on foot.

Bodleian Library, Oxford, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser

Stratford

A trip to visit English gardens isn’t complete without visiting Stratford-upon- Avon, the birthplace of the Bard. Shakespeare’s Birthplace allows you to visit the house where the world’s most famous playwright was born and grew up and you can discover more about his early years. For garden watching, there is a formal Tudor Knot Garden, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, contemporary landscaping with sculptures at Shakespeare’s New Place, and ancient Mulberry Trees (rumored to be of the same lineage as the original that stood during Shakespeare’s time). The mulberry fruit is used to create Mulberry Gin, available in Shakespeare’s Birthplace gift shop.

The Shakespeare Centre
Anne Hathaways Cottage in Stratford
The cottage garden at Anne Hathaway’s home is charming
Around every corner in the Cotswolds, there are picturesque scenes, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser
Peeking in the back garden gate at a Cotswold estate
I love this quirky sign, seen in the village of Blockley

Wales

Wales has some beautiful gardens and the people there are just as garden-mad as the English. A world-famous garden home to National Collections and Champion Trees, Bodnant Gardens has always been on my list to see. Featured as one of the most beautiful gardens in the UK, I am finally going to make it. Powis Castle is on our list which has stunning vistas and terraces. Described on the National Trust website: “The world-famous garden, overhung with clipped yews, shelters rare and tender plants. Laid out under the influence of Italian and French styles, it retains its original lead statues and an orangery on the terraces. High on a rock above the terraces, the castle, originally built circa 1200, began life as a medieval fortress”.

At Bodnant, the Laburnum arch will be in full bloom in May

 

Rhododendrons will also be blooming at Bodnant
Powis Castle
Llandudno; We will stay two nights here

David Austin Roses

On our way to Wales in the UK, we will stop at David Austin Roses plant center. According to their website: “In the early 1950s David Austin set out to create a more beautiful rose. Sixty years on, this simple objective remains”. The winner of 23 Gold Medal Chelsea Flower Show awards, I am very excited to visit their rose gardens, plant center, and tea room.

David Austin Tea Room, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses
Renaissance Garden, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses
Garden view of David Austin Roses, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses
Lion Garden View with ‘Graham Thomas’, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses

Considered to be one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, over 700 varieties of roses are planted here in just two acres. Free ranging informal roses are enclosed within neatly clipped evergreen hedges. The Renaissance Garden is composed of all English roses and the Long Garden which contains old roses is the central focus with all the other gardens leading from it.

The Long Garden, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses
English Roses, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses
Garden View, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses

After our visit to Wales, we will continue to the Peak district of England to visit the newly remodeled Chatsworth House, and back to the London area to see Hatfield House and gardens, built on the site of Elizabeth I’s home and home of the famous Rainbow Portrait.  St Tiggywinkles, an animal rescue organization, is also on our list to see with a tour of the animals, like hedgehogs and badgers being rehabilitated. This is just a small sampling of all the sites that we will be visiting. For more information about prices, etc., go to Trips.

Chelsea Flower Show: The King of Flower Exhibitions

‘Step Into The Med’ themed booth by Marks and Spencer won the gold this year

Chelsea Flower Show History

A veteran of many flower shows in the U.S., I was excited to attend my first ever Chelsea Flower Show in London, a rite of passage for any serious garden lover. On a hot sunny day, not English-like at all!, and not knowing what to expect, I was surprised to find that a good part of this prestigious show is held outside on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea for WWII war veterans in central London. Bigger than any garden show in America, it encompasses over 11 acres of displays, garden landscapes, rare plants, sculpture, food courts, floral arrangements, vendors selling garden paraphernalia, music and much, much more. Tickets for a full day goes for 100 pounds ($128) and sell out months before opening. Hosting a group of 29 other garden enthusiasts on a trip from the U.S., I bought all our tickets by January. Scalpers were selling tickets for 500 pounds or more. After entering, my group of gardening friends quickly scattered and hit the ground running to see everything.

‘Gateway to the Garden Safari’entrance to the Flower Show

Only about a third of the show is undercover, held in the “Great Pavilion” and the floral arrangement competitions are also staged in a studio building, held there since 1913.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) puts on the show and on their website; “The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, sponsored by M&G Investments, is the place to see cutting-edge garden design, new plants and find ideas to take home”. It is very English and brilliantly garden mad! Gardening displays are over the top and crowds of people wanted to see it all and pushed and shoved like I have never experienced at a garden show before. Disappointed that gnomes were frowned upon, I learned that they were allowed for the first time in 2013, and could only make an appearance for that one year. The RHS site claims “gnomes detract from the presentation of the plants or products on display, and from the general appearance of the show”.

Waiting in line for the opening with fellow travelers with the hospital in the background

After entering and being bombarded with plants, people, and booths selling Pimms everywhere, the one flower that shouted out to me was lupins. The English are mad for lupins and they were in almost every show garden. If only we could grow them here! I get a few blooms but nothing like the towering vibrant blooms that I saw at the show.

Many plants attract bees that are staged outside. Bumblebee is collecting nectar and pollen from a bicolor lupin in a show garden

Sarah Raven

As a garden designer, I wasn’t impressed with the show garden designs except for one (Sarah Raven’s) and was fascinated with the stellar new and not so new plants that were on display in the Great Pavilion. Purple Alliums, bronze Verbascums, red Lysimachias, Geums, Iris, Dahlias, Lilies, and Lupin in every hue were on display everywhere and the predominant color palette was gold to bronzey orange, wine red, and purples. In Sarah Raven’s garden, these colors took center stage to create a winning combination of textures and cottage style abundance. Overflowing with exuberance, this was the kind of garden that I came to see!

Purple alliums and bronze geums and calendulas were on display in Sarah Raven’s garden
Orange lupins in Sarah Raven’s show garden
Still life at Saran Raven’s exhibit

Sarah Raven is an English garden celebrity who is also a cook, writer and television presenter and I really admired her garden sponsored by The Anneka Rice Colour Cutting Garden. According to the Chelsea website, “Every square inch of space will give you flowers, flowers and more flowers. The garden is inspired by Tricia Guild’s renowned use of colour in her designs. It is a profusion of colour that will be an amazing sight and concentrates on plants that cut and come out again. Gold, the colour for 50th Wedding Anniversaries, features in this garden to celebrate 50 years of BBC Radio 2″. Adjectives used in the publicity were “zingy colours” “patchwork of flowers”, “diaphanous planting”, “textural planting”, and “cornucopia of colour”. I agreed! It was stunning. A sighting of Sarah at her booth thrilled me and she graciously allowed me to enter the garden to take her picture.

Sarah Raven in her garden at Chelsea 

 

For more information about Sarah and the creation of the garden go to her website. Next trip to England, I plan on going to her garden at Perch Hill!

Stunning gold Verbascum ‘Clementine’

One of my predictions for upcoming gardening trends was the color gold and I saw it everywhere at Chelsea. My favorite was the gold Verbascum ‘Clementine’, used in Sarah’s garden.

The Potato Story

Thompson and Morgan potato exhibit won a gold this year, photo courtesy of Darlene Wells

Potatoes???? One of the most unusual exhibits in the Great Pavilion was Thompson & Morgan Seed company’s potato exhibit which won a gold award in 2015, 2016, and 2017! Displaying 154 varieties, the exhibit highlighted the diversity of one of England’s favorite vegetables. Most varieties came from designers Morrice’s and Ann’s personal collection of over 500 varieties, including a historical European one which was taken to New Zealand by Captain James Cook in the 1770s. In the collection are also modern varieties like the high-yielding salad potato, Jazzy. Morrice and Ann of Aberdeen Scotland worked with Thompson & Morgan potato expert Colin Randel to bring home the gold spud this year!

Trade Spaces

A shortage of high-profile show gardens (8 from the usual dozen) attributed to lack of corporate funding, meant that there were more trade booths or nurseries in the Great Pavilion and outdoors which actively encourage people to enter, touch and feel. An improvement in my view, because you are kept at arm’s length for the big show gardens, trying to muscle your way in front to catch a brief glimpse. I loved Pennard Plants exhibit which exhibited how to grow veggies in small spaces. They actually sell Burpee to the English market. Merlin cucumber was awesome!

Merlin cucumber at Pennard Plants
Pennard Plants exhibit displayed small-scale veggies in containers
Lovely Iris in Great Pavilion
Stunning display of delphiniums and tuberous begonias in Great Pavilion
Display of carnivorous plants
I never knew there were so many varieties of Allium!

Alliums were everywhere in abundance. Virtually every garden I visited on my trip had drifts of Alliums and we can grow them just fine! I know what will be on my bulb order list for next year.

Animals covered in Easigrass, a synthetic life-like grass
Plant Lust- Some of these new Clematis varieties are not available in the U.S. yet
Tricollet Daffodil is on my “to-buy” list
On my list also for next year

Show Gardens

The M & G Garden, the sponsor of the entire show, inspired by an abandoned Maltese quarry

Featuring monumental blocks of limestone planted with grasses, evergreens, and perennials unique to Malta, I was underwhelmed by the main M & G show garden. Malta’s ecological sustainability principles were the intent but I moved on to more interesting pieces. Featuring large show gardens on the main drag of Royal Hospital Way, these drew crowds of  excited jostling people. My favorite was the Silk Road Garden, Chengdu, China. Inspired by Kyoto emperors of Japan, colors and textures abounded and overflowed in this garden.

The Silk Road show garden

Primulas, geum, and rhododendrons made the Silk Road garden beautiful
‘Welcome to Yorkshire’ -another show garden

Great Pavilion

The show’s Great Pavilion, a 12,000 sq meter enclosure, featuring more than 100 exhibits from the world’s best nurseries, growers and florists was the most interesting feature of the show for me.

Southfield Nurseries display of blooming cactus
For 399 pounds you can have this dish garden delivered and set up with all the listed plants

Displaying the newest plants and products, the RHS Chelsea Garden Product of the Year and the RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year, I spent a lot of time browsing the aisles. PURE Greenhouse was the top product of the year. A beautiful seamless glass greenhouse that would elegantly fit into any garden.

PURE, a seamless stylish glass greenhouse
Runner up for product of the year- a self watering enclosed raised bed for growing veg

My personal favorite product which I brought home with me was Burgon & Ball Ltd’s Hip Trug that clips to your belt for hands free picking of produce.

Wearable hip trug

The RHS Plant of the Year was given to a dwarf Mulberry ‘Charlotte Russe Matsunaga’, which has taken over 40 years for Japanese breeder Mr Matsunaga to create. A dwarf unique Mulberry Bush that is compact with tasty berries, fruiting over a long season. Coming in second was Salvia ‘Crystal Blue’ which I grow and love, and third was Hibiscus ‘Petit Orange’, a floriferous dwarf hibiscus with orange flowers with a red eye.

RHS plants of the year: Mulberry on left, Salvia on the bottom, and Hibiscus on top right

Artisan Gardens

On the woodsy serpentine walk outside, nine smaller innovative gardens were featured which I feel would appeal more to a serious but less experienced gardener. Showing just how creative it is possible to be in a smaller space, the artisan gardens were more interesting than most of the larger show gardens. The Poetry Lover’s Garden and The Gosho No Niwa No Wall, No War were my favorite. For the Poetry Lover’s Garden, a creation of a tranquil retreat to read poetry to the sound of water was striking. The plant materials selected were a mix of traditional and modern with a relaxed feel. Based on Coleridge’s poem This Lime Tree Bower My Prison, lime trees tower over abundant flowers in pale hues.

The Poetry Lover’s Garden

The Kyoto residence of Japanese Emperors inspired the Gosho No Niwa garden and displays the beauty and peaceful march of history of two millennia of the imperial family. Moss which looked so soft and touchable was a great feature.

Soft touchable moss is a wonderful feature of the Kyoto garden

Floral Design Studio

To view the best amateur flower arranger’s work, the studio is full of stunning floral designs which are open to National Association of Flower Arranging Society clubs and individuals from all over the world. Jane Belcher won the gold for her category “In Suspense”  based on a piece of literature called The Birds.

Gold winning floral design by Jane Belcher of the UK

Amenities

Spending 10 hours exploring, snapping pictures, and shopping the latest garden products in the artisan studios was exhausting. To rest up, I stopped at the Wedgewood Tea Conservatory for a refreshing spot of tea, a quintessentially British tea experience. Trying different and exotic tea pairings, I browsed through the many offerings of tea selections curated by Wedgwood’s expert tea sommelier Bernadine Tay.

Wedgewood tea salon
Huge bathrooms could handle the traffic
Me and my sister taking a photo moment

I hear that the Hampton Court Garden Show in July is bigger and better. Another road trip I hope!