RHS London Early Spring Plant Fair 2016

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’.Β  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!