Chock full of winter joy and surprises

I went on a fantastic road trip with my friend Naomi recently, where we found our mouthwatering itinerary was chock full of winter joy, sneak peeks and surprises...

A quick tour around Hortus Loc

First stop was Hortus Loci in Hampshire where we saw potting up was already in full swing to fill the huge polytunnels with the plants on order for Chelsea Flower Show. 

This year they're growing for IKEA's Gardening Will Save the World, which will be the first show garden in the Great Pavilion judged for a medal. It'll be on 2 levels and include lots of edibles; our guide Danny Green (Show Plant manager) confirmed it should include lingonberries, a signature berry of IKEA's fare whenever I go there. The other main show garden they're growing for is Welcome to Yorkshire which the lovely Mark Gregory is designing again this year. It promises to have a working lock gate as its centre piece - I can't wait to see it in action.

The team are also growing for Malvern Spring Festival - it should be a great start to the show garden year and I look forward to catching up with them there. Are any other bloggers planning on going in May?

Outside in the nursery I loved the amazing espalier trained fruit trees which included figs
 and mulberries.  There was also fantastic food and wonderful cakes prepared for us by Sebastian at The Hobo.CO cafe. Hot water bottles and fleecy blankets kept us warm in the laid back cafe/lounge area whilst we discussed nursery matters with Mark Straver and Robin Wallis.

Gravetye Manor at dusk - the hotel glows its welcome; dusky photograph doesn't do the kitchen garden justice; William Robinson was here; and the garden commands fine views over the High Weald

Then on to Gravetye Manor erstwhile home of gardening and garden writing pioneer William Robinson. If a garden could give you a hug, then this garden is it - even in winter. I was pleased to see how well the new contemporary dining room fits in with its much older surroundings. Old and new can mix well, even when the new is quite bold (see also the Holburne Museum in Bath).

Head Gardener Tom Coward showed us round with pride and enthusiasm in spite of just finishing a busy day's filming for the Chelsea Flower Show coverage. The Manor is one of the inspirational places Sarah Eberle is using for her The Resilience Garden design for the Forestry Commission. This is one of the ways the Commission is celebrating its 100th birthday as well as highlighting the challenges facing our woodlands today. Until we visited I didn't know the Commission manages the wider estate at Gravetye and I look forward to following the show garden in more depth later.

One of my abiding memories of Tom's talk at Bath University Gardening club a couple of years ago is the jaw dropping oval shaped walled kitchen garden. It didn't disappoint even at dusk in January, though sadly my photo doesn't do it justice. Unlike many of its contemporaries, this example isn't sited well away from the main house, but instead is a short walk away poised in pride of place

At the end of our tour Tom kindly arranged tea for us in the Manor's drawing room and it was something else - a real 'pinch me I'm here' moment. We were there twixt afternoon tea and dinner and it felt like we had the place to ourselves with only the sound of the crackling log fire for company. Utter bliss.

Update: Take The Resilience Garden link and the film we saw in the making is now on the website. It gives a lovely view of the garden and forms a great introduction to William Robinson's work and the show garden planned for Chelsea.

A walk through Wakehurst's newly opened winter garden

Next day saw us at Wakehurst in the morning for Kew's launch of their new winter garden, where the weather was obligingly freezing. What you can't see just out of shot by the bench is a huddle of people warming their hands on the firepit brought in specially for the occasion.

It was great to meet Ed Ikin at last (I first came across him when I was at the National Trust's HQ and he was Head Gardener at Nymans) and share his enthusiasm for a completed project and the delight of further ones to come. We learned the team had had a major task in keeping the thousands of plants which make up the winter garden alive during last summer's heat and drought. They did a magnificent job and the garden is set to get even better now it's settled in.

Wakehurst isn't just about the Millennium Seed Bank, there are over 500 acres to explore in what Kew calls their 'wild botanic garden'. With further projects to come such as an American prairie garden grown from collected seed, I'm keen to have a much longer visit next time.

Winter delights at Wisley and a sneak peek at the new Welcome Centre

Final stop was RHS Wisley - as you can see Naomi always looks elegant even when wearing a hi-viz jacket and hard hat, whilst I can't conceal my delight at two days of full-on garden visiting and access all areas.

We were there for a tour around the new Welcome Centre. It's a huge space which will transform the way visitors approach the garden. The building was at the fitting out stage and we had to use our imaginations to visualise how the mud outside will be transformed into Christopher Bradley-Hole's exciting landscape design. The new Centre is due to open in May and I look forward to seeing the transformation later this year, as well as finding out more about the (soon to follow) new science centre.

We also had time for a quick tour around the rock garden, Alpine House and Glasshouse. I took a photo of the crevice gardens outside for comparison of those I'm due to see in Denver later this year (scroll down the link for another sneak peek) and we were surprised to find some of the 'special' snowdrops under lock and key in the Alpine House. Apparently there is a real problem with snowdrop theft at many gardens these days, and this is the RHS's solution to the issue. 

We also had time to review the Thinking Outside the Box trial (note to self: must get an updated plant list for my original post) and see some of the larger LEGOⓇ creations being set up in the Glasshouse. Those of you expecting butterflies at half term this year are in for a surprise!

That's two days of winter inspiration, sneak peeks, surprises and gardens - there's nothing better to help chase away the winter blues. My thanks to Naomi for inviting me along for the ride and everyone at each place we visited who made us most welcome.


  1. This sounds like an absolutely perfect garden/behinds-the-scenes outing. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Lisa - it was wonderful. This was our second winter road trip and they're so worthwhile. Quite different to where you are in Quebec, though we did have a snow taster last weekend!

  2. That sounds a most interesting and informative trip. We hope to visit either Malvern or Chelsea. Himself has never been to the latter so that may turn out to be the deciding factor :)

    1. I hope to go to both; it would be great to see you there :)


Post a Comment

I love hearing from you and welcome thoughtful conversations :)

Comments aiming to link back and give credence to commercial websites will be composted!

Your essential reads

Review: Riverford Recipe Box with guest chef Sarah Raven

Write Away: #SpringNatureDiary

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: 'Just Add Cream'

How to make a show judge's life harder

Tempted by houseplants? Buyer beware

Dessert Apple Jelly: Seasonal Recipe

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: Snowdrop Dreams

How not to look after your Pilea peperomioides