RHS London Early Spring Plant Fair 2016

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The first rule of visiting a flower show is not to go on the last day, unless you’re hoping to bag a bargain. The displays will invariably look worse for wear, and all the best plants will be sold. The second rule is not to leave yourself short of time to soak up the atmosphere and appreciate the wonders before you. Dashing around a flower show is no more enjoyable than running for a bus.

Today I accomplished the breaking of both rules and hence had a rather unsatisfactory canter around the RHS London Early Spring Plant Fair. Activity in my office is reaching fever pitch, so the act of stealing 60 minutes from a 13 hour day filled me with guilt. I’d like to say the fresh air and change of surroundings left me feeling refreshed, but ‘the cough’, as it’s now known, seems to be fuelled by any kind of activity, wholesome or otherwise.

A pollinator friendly garden created by John Cullen Designs
A pollinator-friendly garden created by John Cullen Designs

Evidence of the muddled, winter-cum-spring we’ve been experiencing abounded in the Lindley and Lawrence halls. There were precious few snowdrops and many more hellebores on display compared with previous years. Narcissi, primulas and violets took the place of crocuses and cyclamen on the show benches. There were even restios and South African ericas courtesy of Penberth Plants (formerly Trewidden Nursery) and Watsonias thanks to Kelnan Plants. Both nurseries are situated on the mild, south-westerly tip of Cornwall. Even in my haste I was not too flumoxed to let a trio of Watsonia tabularis pass me by. I have just the right place for them.

Avon Bulbs staged a tremendous display of snowdrops
Avon Bulbs staged a tremendous display of snowdrops

Hats off to Avon Bulbs for presenting the only convincing display of snowdrops. Galanthus ‘Little Ben’ and G. ‘Trumps’ caught my eye. The one benefit of being rushed was that I couldn’t decide which snowdrop I liked the best: hence I came away with none and a slightly healthier bank balance.

Galanthus 'Trumps'
Galanthus ‘Trumps’ exhibited by Avon Bulbs

Alan McMurtrie, the Canadian iris breeder, was at the show with an interesting display of his new hybrids. They are intriguing colours, but the flowers are small and lack the elegance of some older varieties like Iris histrioides ‘George’.  Further hybridisation will soon fix that, I am sure.

Iris 'Mars Landing', bred by Alan McMurtrie. You saw it here first!
Iris ‘Mars Landing’, bred by Alan McMurtrie. You saw it here first!

I enjoyed the display of hepaticas and cyclamen staged by RHS garden Wisley, which demonstrated the charming diversity of these pretty woodland flowers. I have never had the right conditions to grow hepaticas, but wonder if they’d be happy in pots in my cold frame.

A display of hepaticas, crocuses and cyclamen staged by RHS Garden Wisley
A display of hepaticas, crocuses and cyclamen staged by RHS Garden Wisley

I wasn’t convinced that the show justified the use of both horticultural halls, apart from to accommodate the retail stands which seem essential to raise funds these days. However I commend the RHS for their sustained and inventive efforts to reinvigorate the London shows. An exhibition of design sketches and images of Chelsea Flower Show Gardens for 2016 offered a tantalising glimpse of what’s in store for us this May.

Design for The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden by Nick Bailey, Head Gardener at Chelsea Physic Garden
Design for the ‘Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden‘ by Nick Bailey, Head Gardener at Chelsea Physic Garden

Next time I will take my own advice and book a half day off work to enjoy the show at my leisure. Next up is the RHS London Botanical Art Show, from 26-27 February 2016, which will focus entirely on Botanical Art, promoting the world-class Lindley Library collection and highlighting the skills of some of the world’s best botanical artists. I hope to see you there.

All the fun of the fair!
All the fun of the fair!


Categories: Flower Shows, Flowers, Foliage, London, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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22 comments On "RHS London Early Spring Plant Fair 2016"

  1. I went in a similar rush on Tuesday, but I still love that incongruous transition from work to play – walking into the halls and being greeted with that lovely ‘plant-y’ smell.
    What happened to the Tuesday late opening? That always worked for me!

    1. Me too. That would have suited me well, although the light after dark is horrible for photographing anything. I found the plant-y smell a bit lacking this year – perhaps I am recalling later Spring shows. Anyway, better to have dashed around than not visited at all!

  2. Oh what I would have given to have gone over to see the Early Spring flower show. Shame you had to rush through the Show but Tennyson’s ”tis better to have loved than not to have loved at all” comes to mind. Great to see it though through your eyes – enjoyed looking at your photos.

  3. Sorry that you had so little time to run through the Early Spring flower show 🙁
    And with the cough that still does not want to leave you …
    Anyway, you managed to capture the atmosphere of the show. I like the pictures of hellebores, snowdrops and the insect – friendly garden. The “insect hotel” looks great. I think of making a similar one in my garden too.
    Have a nice afternoon and evening.

    1. I liked the insect hotels too. There were several of differing heights which were nicely sculptural. A simple idea which would be so easy to recreate at home.

      Meanwhile I feel like I’ve had this cough for a lifetime and am quite bored of it now!

  4. I like the idea of ‘Mars Landing’! I’d agree with Sally that a brief trip (even with guilt) seems like the perfect compromise.
    I hope you manage to shake off the cough quickly. My home remedies include honey and burning a little eucalyptus radiata oil, or benzoin.

  5. I just started collecting hepaticas last year. Hopefully it won’t become a problem, but after seeing all the different ones in your picture I may have to use some restraint. We have native ones in the woods at the cottage, I love the leaves. They thrive in my backyard in town as well, I planted them right beside the chair I use for breakfast and lunch, so I don’t miss a moment of the joy when they are in bloom. I wish our early spring garden festivals were more like yours. There certainly will not be lavish displays of snowdrop varieties, or a hepatica in sight. There may be a couple of different hellebores to pick from, if you are very lucky. A short visit to the show is better than nothing.

    1. Yes, you are right Lisa. I especially liked Hepatica nobilis var. japonica ‘Utyuu’ which had single purple flowers with white highlights. You are lucky to be able to see them growing wild as well as having the right conditions to enjoy them in the garden.

  6. What lovely photos you have treated us to, especially that Hellebore which I covert. I think you were owed more than an hour – in my previous life of working too long hours I tried to remember ‘Take time to smell the flowers’, though more than one boss thought it one of my more daft statements. Hope that cough is gone soon.

  7. Iris Mars Landing blew me away with its striking but unusual color combination – wow. And, I can’t tell you how sorry I am that the cough is still lingering. Maybe you have to move from drinking juices to something harder. That way even if you don’t feel well you won’t care. 🙂

    1. I’m pleased you like Mars Landing Judy. The colours are quite a departure from the norm. I’m off to see Martha tonight (I have a new rag doll for her) so will report back on your lovely gifts. I am drinking a G&T, which seems to have temporarily stopped me from coughing!

  8. The sketch of the Mathematics Garden really caught my attention. Thanks for including it; the spiral emphasis appeals to me. Lots of snowdrops appearing here in the Ozarks. I’m not sure what type they are, but their appearance is certainly welcome. Spring is definitely on Her way. Hope that cough disappears soon!!

    1. Thank you Jan. I am hoping to do a proper update on this year’s Chelsea show gardens soon. Hopefully you’ll discover more designs that appeal to you. Happy to hear the snowdrops are out in Arkansas. The landscape where you are looks stunning from what I can see on Google.

      1. I look forward to your updates, Dan! I’m glad you had the chance to check out the NW Arkansas landscape images on google. I feel fortunate to be here . . . just as I feel sure that you appreciate your country retreat!

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