Any Other Topics: Kent Garden Show
Started by: Tim IngramGo to latest contribution by Paul Lewis, 28 May 2013, 10:56. Go to bottom of this page.
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The Kent Garden Show, held at the Kent Showground at Detling, just north of Maidstone, is now in its 20th year. This though is the first year I have been - the reason, I was involved in a display put on by the Kent Hardy Plant Society. There has been a long and honourable overlap between the AGS and HPS, with many eminent horticulturists contributing to both - thus Jack Elliott, who was President of both, and involved in the launching of 'The Plantfinder', and Roy Lancaster, now President of the HPS. In Kent many of us involved in running the AGS Groups also help, or have helped, run the HPS.
Amongst the more homogeneous range of nurseries there were a number of much greater interest to the plantsman, especially some of the really good displays in the Floral Pavilion. Next to the HPS display, Sue and Richard Proctor from Huddersfield, had a fine collection of hostas; outside Trewidden Nursery brought various Proteaceae and Restios, a brave journey from the wilds of Cornwall; Kent's own Madrona Nursery, widely known for the cultivation and propagation of unusual woody species in particular, had curiousities like Acanthus sennii as well as the very popular Dicentra hybrid 'King of Hearts'.
The HPS display was simple, groups of sun-loving and shade-loving plants separated by a dramatic specimen of Hosta 'Sum & Substance', but generated a lot of interest and won a Platinum Medal. The natural arrangement of plants, what you might find in a garden, was a great contrast to many of the nursery displays, as you might expect - and for once (because of much larger and striking posters) visitors didn't come out with the frustrating questions 'and which nursery are you?' and how much are the plants?'. The interest was generally real and encouraging.
Tom Hart-Dyke from Lullingstone may be known for his exploits in South American, but is also a very good grower of plants, as these few pictures show. The forth plant could well have been on his display but was actually shown by Plantbase, in East Sussex, who you could say satisfy the plant needs that no other nurseries do. Some really extraordinary and different species like this Solanum pyracanthum
Probably the most extraordinary, and really rather appealing, display was that by Just Air Plants. These are plants I for one have no experience of but the attraction of them is obvious and these were beautifully presented.
The question arises - well what of a display of alpine plants? These plants are so specialist and nurseries now so few and far between that it would probably be a difficult exercise without considerable co-operation. For the forseeable future then it is probably unlikely that such a stand would see its way to the Kent Garden Show. But it could be as exciting to do as the HPS display was in a very different way, if the reason was simply to share in the magic of the plants first and foremost. It would help maintain that heterogeniety in the gardening world that tends to be lost unless people are shown where gardening can go.
I raised the question of an Alpine display at the Kent Garden Show in 2013 and this is indeed something we are planning. This though is part of a much wider drive we are making to encourage gardeners to become more interested in growing alpines in Kent, which dates back to the Garden Safari we have held in the last few years. This has had an effect on raising the profile of the Society and also in bringing more of us together to think of other possibilities - and in particular having a stand at the KGS. To make this as effective as possible we have made closer links between the different Kent Groups, especially in producing a leaflet that describes our activities and that we can distribute in significant numbers. This has been an ongoing, and not always an easy process, and the reason I say this is that such leaflets are picked up by us all and thrown away all the time, but when you actually are involved in putting them together and distributing them your attitude is rather different - they have to be as attractive and stimulating as possible, and be based on enthusiasm and a really strong desire to share the Society with new members. So we hope with this, and some good ideas for a display, the AGS might come across with renewed vigour in the county. I talked elsewhere about 'fashion', and it only takes alpines to begin to come back into fashion again for their true beauty and fascination to captivate a whole new group of gardeners.
Four rhododendrons arrived from Millais nursery today; Rh. ?Razorbill?, Rh. ?Robert Seleger?, Rh. calostratum subsp. keleticum (Rock 58), and Rh. trichostomon ?Collingwood Ingram?. On the old adage that one must speculate to accumulate these are destined, if they flower at the correct time, for the display we are planning at the Kent Garden Show this summer. Of these the only one I have grown before is Rh. trichostomon, which has small clustered heads of flowers, very reminiscent of a small daphne. In fact the plants cost no more than a decent meal out, and we generally indulge ourselves in the garden rather than elsewhere. They were chosen for their late flowering, and reasonably dwarf habit, but in fact are of very fine quality and larger than I anticipated. The idea is that they will be used in a fishbox trough to illustrate part of the diversity of plants that appeal to alpine gardeners. Another four or five species and hybrids have been ordered from Glendoick, and between them at least several should be looking good on the day in late May. Afterwards a suitable place is available to plant them out in the garden to provide potential propagation material for the nursery, and to give some experience of a range of plants that we have not grown significantly before.
Another group of plants that we anticipate using are Rhodohypoxis in a large drift of mixed colours. It would be valuable to include a few choice dwarf conifers, especially pines, and these with a good mix of alpines from aquilegias to campanulas, dianthus to primulas, should give a wealth of interest.
It is the imagination behind a display like this that is likely to capture attention, and even with a large variety of plant material and careful planning, the finished article only comes together on the day itself, with the combination of views of those involved. So it is up to us to put across our enthusiasm and wonder about these plants, and why it is that other gardeners should consider growing them. You would imagine that this would be easy (after all the plants are very beautiful), but even the RHS has a membership only a third of the RSPB, and the AGS perhaps 2% of the RHS. A few rare birds, large displays of fuchsias and pelargoniums, and the ?delights? of cheap bargains on Dutch trolleys, and alpines have a hard time getting a look in. The best reason for doing a display like this is for one?s own satisfaction, and because of what it might lead onto next.
The Garden Design Journal is publishing a short piece entitled ?The New Alpine Sand Garden?, based on what I have written elsewhere in these pages, with the subsiduary line that ?It?s a long time since alpine and rock garden plants have been used seriously in garden design?. It wouldn?t be a bad time to remedy that. Much garden design is on the small scale, and the perennial advocation is how alpines and small perennials can be ideal for such gardens. But without good examples and some media attention the extent to which gardeners are likely to take them up is bound to be limited.
Our preparations for the Kent Garden Show are proceeding apace. We now have a more solid plan after discussing possibilities, and this centers around a small crevice garden that we will construct and plant on site. On either side of this will be pre-planted fish-box troughs covered in hypertufa, and possibly an example showing how these are made, and we hope, if the timing is right, a number of specimen plants in clay pots (will those Lewisias look right on the night?). Some shallow pans planted with sempervivums, and perhaps some similar to those exhibited at the Shows with a range of alpines planted between stones or in tufa, will add variety. Having not done this before the display will be a definite learning experience and the area of 12ft x 5ft will need a good bit of plant material to fill it. Some thin and uniform pieces of stone will make an area of alpine pavement, a feature that was very successful on an HPS Chelsea stand many years ago, 'We Made a Garden', based on Margery Fish's famous garden East Lambrook Manor. These two pictures show a (very rough) sketch of the display, to give some ideas, and a selected pile of thin Kentish ragstone, which John and Carolyn Millen are kindly providing (along with sand, gravel and a trailer to carry all this in!). Stone perhaps doesn't carry the connotation that it had for alpine gardeners when the AGS was formed, and then there were serious discussions about whether to call the Society, the 'Alpine' or 'Rock' garden society - and some members regarded the use of stone as the essential artistic element of any garden. Crevice gardens begin to recall this idea but on a much smaller scale than a traditional rock garden.
If we are encouraged enough by doing this and want to repeat it in the future, there will be more time to plan ahead, prepare features and show different aspects of the world of alpines and woodland plants - and the interest and reaction shown this year will tell us if there are those keen gardeners out there who find these plants as fascinating as we do.
None the less there does seem to be more of a groundswell of interest now; Ross Barbour, who wrote about the crevice garden at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire in the March Journal, has also described it in the May Somerset Country Gardener, with the beguiling title 'Calling for an alpine rennaisance'. Even Gardener's World in rather half-hearted fashion, has discussed alpines in a couple of episodes. But how much more instructive to have a whole programme devoted to alpine plants and gardening, which after all is no trivial pursuit, and could extend into a Natural History of these plants too. There are even garden designers toying with ideas for small outdoor gardens at Chelsea based around alpine plants. Even if the famous rock garden bank is a thing of the past, using alpines in more naturalistic displays, appropriate to a small garden setting, would be novel and exciting amongst the more flamboyant charms of Chelsea. A rennaisance? Well maybe.
'The best laid plans...' - Rhododendron 'Razorbill' is a superb plant but is coming into flower much too early for the Kent Garden Show. Other plants, as we watch them, are being moved into the coolest and warmest spots appropriately to try and hold them back or bring them on as necessary. This one of the most difficult things about doing such a display, and a reason to have as much plant material as possible to choose from (and for the same reason, as many people involved in helping).
Paul Lewis (for whom see elsewhere on this website) has a number of Fishbox troughs for the display that will be planted up, and brings the eye and experience of a Garden Designer and maker (along with a long time love of alpines). In addition we have this rather superb trough, a fishbox coated in hypertufa, which was made by David Hoare and Eric Jarrett at a Mid-Kent Group meeting and raffled off. The original idea was to plant it up like others but it could be even more interesting to plant part of it to illustrate the compost used and planting technique, and keep another half empty to illustrate the construction of the trough. The hypertufa is nicely weathered and more attractive than the same coating on the Butler sink it is resting on.
Some forays to local alpine nurseries (few and far between) will hopefully also provide us with plants, if we can judge flowering time well. Even more we will have the opportunity to sell plants and ideally would like to have examples of those on display. Apart from contributing to the cost of the stand, this must also be a strong attraction to encourage viewers to think of joining our Groups and the Society - at least maybe some time down the line.
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