And they're off!

Ascot racecourse launched its first-ever spring garden show on Friday 13 April (OK, the gala evening was the night before), and I went along with my daughter and my friend Helen, aka The Patient Gardener.
To be honest, we weren't sure what to expect. There didn't seem to be a lot of advance chatter about it on social media, so our hopes were not high, especially as the weather in the UK has been so awful this winter.

So we were pleasantly surprised to find that we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Everything seemed to be well-organised for a start - it was easy to park, we manage to locate the press desk and get our passes without any trouble, and there was a lovely friendly lady looking after the press tent refreshments.
It is sad but true that if you can get the press into your event, and give them tea and cake, you are halfway to a critical success. I am always a pushover for tea and cake, but I genuinely felt this was an event I'd like to visit again.
First, the exhibitors included some of the best nurseries: Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants, Heucheraholics, Jacques Amand and Avon Bulbs, to name but three. I was also thrilled to see Architectural Plants there, with managing director Guy Watts even giving a talk on caring for palms.

 There weren't many show gardens, but they were very well sited. The college entries from Capel Manor, Writtle and Pershore etc for the Young Gardener of the Year competition were on the first floor of the grandstand, opposite the gin bar, while the main show gardens were in front of the grandstand.
The one snag about putting show gardens on the first floor was that the rear of the garden was silhouetted against the daylight, but they got so much footfall, I think it made up for this.
You could look down on the main gardens from the first floor, which gave an additional interesting perspective, like looking at a 3D version of the design.
I was particularly impressed by Tom Hill's "On Point" garden, which used strong, angular shapes to create a surprisingly relaxed space.

I loved Kate Gould's Corten structures in her "Garden For All Seasons", and the way she had picked up the rust colour of the steel in the 'Orange Princess' tulips, contrasting them with the bright blue flowers of brunnera, which look just like forget-me-nots.

Like Gould, Joe Perkins and Pip Probert had sensibly used classic spring and woodland style planting. Probert's design for Yardley included a rustic oak table, and a rill which carried water from a fountain at one end of her garden along the top of the table and out the other end into a stone well.

The interesting thing about spring colour - such as rich purples, primrose yellow, and the lime-green of euphorbia flowers - is that it looks good (thank heavens) under a grey sky. Joe Perkins' planting celebrated this, using varieties such as Euphorbia characias 'Black Pearl' which has additional interest in the form of black markings on the nectar glands.
He had also positioned his Magnolia 'Merrill' against yew hedges, which made the white flowers gleam against the dark-green background. So often, gimmicks get in the way, whereas something unforced and natural always looks good.

Perhaps because the Ascot show is new, the ratio of plants to tat was refreshingly high, which meant you didn't have to waste valuable time footslogging round acres of stalls selling rubbish.
We even had enough energy to go off to The Savill Garden in Windsor Great Park and have a wander round.
I'd never been, but it is well worth a visit. There's something about borders full of new young shoots that is very optimistic, and the bright yellow, green and white of the skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) looked almost unreal.
A few of the rhododendrons were already in flower in the Spring Wood, and in every part of the garden, there was that sense that spring was on the tip of everyone's tongue.


  1. So glad to hear you went to this - I was rather concerned after reading about your pelvis woes in your previous post that you were confined to barracks. I thought this looked like it was going to be a super show and you've proved it was. Sadly I'm still not cleared to drive so my plans to be there were thwarted. See you soon, funny to think it'll be hundreds of miles away in Austin rather than just up the road in Bibury :)

    1. Back is fine - just required a bit of manipulation and no weight-lifting for a couple of weeks. Bumped into Caro Shrives and Alison Levey in the press centre – they both asked after you!

  2. Austin rather than just up the road in Bibury :)


  3. Sounds like a wonderful outing - I agree with you that it seems the longer a show has been on, the more commercialized it gets. Would you believe that there was a "fake grass" booth at a recent show I went too? I couldn't believe it either and felt the need to walk on the other side of the path, just to stay well clear of it!


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