Showtime: Grand Designs Live

At the last place I worked, one of the TV programmes bound to set tongues wagging the next day was Grand Designs. It's perfect viewing - and discussion - fodder: hosted by an intelligent, thoughtful presenter with jaw dropping projects (self-build homes or major refurbishments) and lots of high drama along the way. Each episode follows a project over a number months - sometimes years - from inception through (usually) to completion with Kevin McLeod's concluding analysis of the result.

So when James mentioned he was to feature at the show version of the programme at the NEC (aka National Exhibition Centre - you can also read about our first ever meeting there), I needed no further incentive to go and see for myself.

However, I was Mrs Grumpy by the time I arrived at the above view of the NEC. Note to the organisers: please do not put on your event at the same time as The Horse of the Year Show. It took me an hour to drive the last 3 miles, only then to be herded into the car park furthest away from the show hall. The public planting above which greeted me at the end of my long walk didn't help either. Nor did the design of the 'show' garden housing the day's gardening events. Half of the space was wasted (in my view) with a rather forlorn looking garden and the other half was extremely 'intimate' - as described on the show's website - housing a beekeeping area, a space for consultations with designers, plus a small presentation theatre.

I soon met up with James - who cheered me up instantly - swiftly followed by unexpectedly bumping into Claire and her partner Mark. They then introduced me to Nina, who organises the Malvern shows. Three delightful companions for a good natter and a quick review of the show. Soon it was time for James to strut his stuff on stage on the subject of Design Your Garden in 10 Easy Steps. This is a well-worn topic in our gardening magazines, but thankfully he came up with a fresh set of ideas and was much appreciated by the audience from what I overheard.

Later on I stopped by to listen to Maren Hallenga and Hugo Bugg. They did a whistlestop tour of garden design through the ages and then showed how both formal and informal elements from these were used in their design at Future Gardens. I'm always fascinated to see these glimpses of design in action and their show garden, Narratives of Nature, was good one. As James said, a couple of designers to watch out for in the future. Incidentally, Future Gardens won't be showcasing a fresh set of gardens next year and it looks like you'll have a chance to see some of this year's crop in 2010 too. It'll be interesting to see how they fare over the winter.

I also managed a rushed tour around the exhibits. If you've been to the Ideal Home Show, you'll know what this was like. There's a lot of tat and it's very much like being trapped in a home shopping channel. This feeling was heightened at the end as the way out wasn't that clear and I wasn't the only one going round in circles trying to find the exit. However there were occasional gems thrown in - it's just a matter of finding them - like the exhibits about the Hab project, a new sustainable housing community in Swindon. Actually, the best part of the show was the talks and not just the garden ones.

My product of the show is the Veg-Table, despite the dreadful pun. It's a raised bed on legs for vegetable growing which at first glance I dismissed as being too niche. However, I quickly realised this is just what NAH's aunt would love to have. She gave up her allotment a couple of years ago at the age of 82, having broken her hip whilst out with her local rambling club and she really misses growing her own vegetables. I think this solution will be perfect for her. My they're having a laugh product of the show - and boy the competition for this award was tough - is the pictured living fence. I've managed to do the same in my garden at a fraction of the price, simply by letting nature take over my fence panels.

It was a good day overall, but the people I met and listened to were the main reason for that, rather than what I saw.


  1. yes but more importantly, Hugo and Malin, are they are a couple? or just partners at work? A small posse of people spent Future gardens opening day completely fascinated by this deeply important question

  2. Emmat - I know, I spent a lot of time asking the same question!!!!!


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