RHS London Early Spring Plant Fair 2017


The RHS London shows ought to be a pleasure for me to visit; they take place just five minutes from my office and are genteel, polite affairs, quite unlike the scrum of Chelsea or the hassle of Hampton Court – just how I like my flower shows. However, they are timed in such a way that they always seem to clash with a business trip or manic day at work. So, if I get to visit at all, it’s always in a hurry. The 2017 Early Spring Plant Fair was no exception.

The RHS early spring shows are a shot in the arm for visiting gardeners, a reminder that in a few weeks our own gardens will be bursting with colour again. The focus is on flowering bulbs (particularly snowdrops), camellias, potatoes and early flowering shrubs and perennials. Some of the best and most respected nurseries in the country go along to show and sell their wares.


RHS Lawrence Hall set for spring
RHS Lawrence Hall, set for spring


In recent years the RHS have started experimenting with evening openings. These are a blessing for office workers like myself and those who prefer perusing plants with a glass of prosecco or cold beer in hand. The more relaxed atmosphere is preferable to taking part in the scrum of eager beavers that can form during the daytime. Occasionally one even spots a celebrity quietly admiring the flowers. Whether these ‘after hours’ shows are lucrative for the RHS it’s hard to tell, but they are a lovely way to conclude the working day. This week’s late event was on Monday night, before the show opened officially on Tuesday.


Avon Bulbs' gold medal winning display of galanthus
Avon Bulbs’ gold medal winning display of galanthus


For fully paid-up galanthophiles there was everything on offer from freshly dug bundles of Galanthus elwesii wrapped in damp newspaper, to rare treasures costing £40, £50, or £60. I didn’t indulge – there are many other flowers I’d make a collection of before I turned to snowdrops – but I had to admire Avon Bulbs’ gold medal winning display which included Galanthus ‘Moortown Mighty’ and G. ‘Trumps’. Harvey’s Garden Plants were awarded Silver-Gilt for a stand incorporating a particularly handsome form of G. elwesii named ‘Yvonne Hay’ bearing huge flowers above broad, silver-green leaves.


Galanthus 'Moortown Mighty'
Galanthus ‘Moortown Mighty’
Galanthus 'Yvonne Hay'
Galanthus ‘Yvonne Hay’
Galanthus 'Trumps'
Galanthus ‘Trumps’


Jacques Amand staged their usual tour de force display of Iris reticulata, I. histrioides and their hybrids, earning them a gold medal. There were more introductions from Canadian breeder Alan McMurtrie. These were nice enough, and the colours were unusual, but the flowers did look very small against older varieties. Iris ‘Eyecatcher’ stood out from the crowd, as did I. ‘Frozen Planet’ with ice white and Wedgwood blue flowers, as pale and poised as a prima ballerina. Iris histrioides ‘Katherine’s Gold’ appeared to be a variation on I. ‘Katherine Hodgkin’, with only the faintest amount on blue on the falls and the rest of the flower suffused golden-yellow, fading to milky-white.


Iris 'Eyecatcher'
Iris ‘Eyecatcher’
Iris 'Frozen Planet'
Iris ‘Frozen Planet’
Iris histrioides 'Katherine's Gold'
Iris histrioides ‘Katherine’s Gold’


I didn’t expect to be suckered into buying succulents, but Daniel Jackson of Ottershaw Cacti staged such a maestro display that I could not help myself. Light years away from the dry, dusty arrangements of cacti and succulents that I’ve experienced in the past, Daniel’s display was packed with colour and vitality. Faced with a huge array of plants to select from, I chose Crassula ovata ‘Red Horn’, which has leaves the shape and colour of macaroni dipped in tomato sauce, and Echeveria pulvinata ‘Ruby Blush’. Both are unusual choices for someone with an aversion to variegation, but I put it down to it being the end of a very long day.


Ottershaw Cacti
Ottershaw Cacti


Elsewhere I picked up Streptocarpus ‘White Butterfly’ from Dibleys (also awarded gold) and Pleione grandiflora ‘White Hybrids’ from Jacques Amand / Living Colour Bulbs. Having done a magnificent job of saving money during January (even if I do say so myself), I decided it was high time for a miniature splurge.


Dibley's display of streptocarpus and begonias
Dibleys display of streptocarpus and begonias


The RHS have started charging members £5 for admittance to some of the London shows. I suppose this move was inevitable, but wonder how many people this might discourage. An ‘enhanced show experience’ was promised in return for my plasticised £5 note, but I can’t honestly say I noticed a difference. Asking politely if my ticket might allow me to return another day, I was told, equally politely, ‘no’. This struck me as a tad miserly: I would have spent more had I had the opportunity to return the next day for some of the other plants on offer.


The Chengdu Silk Road Garden, planned for Chelsea 2017
The Chengdu Silk Road Garden, planned for Chelsea 2017


Having left the office almost an hour after I had planned, I was in trouble for getting home late before I had even set foot in Vincent Square. Just 45 minutes after I had arrived, having covered both halls and an exhibition of this year’s Chelsea show garden designs, I was heading back towards the Victoria Line again. At an average of one plant purchase every nine minutes, it was probably just as well as I didn’t have a return ticket.

The good news is that the next event, the RHS Botanical Art Show will be free for RHS members to visit:


Crassula ovata 'Red Horn'
Crassula ovata ‘Red Horn’