It’s Showtime!

004My 12 entries in the Cheltenham Horticultural Society Summer Flower & Craft Show this year only produced modest results compared to last year but a second and three third places was more than a lot of people achieved so I suppose I should be pleased. That’s the trouble with having a competitive nature though, only winning will do!006

I was amazed that my ‘provided by the Society’ fuchsia came third considering the size of the class so this is definitely a thumbs up for comfrey feed and regular pinching-out.057       My Eucomis bicolour which has grown splendidly this year only managed second place again but I hope it will be third time lucky next year by which time it should have produced several flower spikes like the one which won!Fire & Brimstone

The vase of flowers representing Fire & Brimstone was placed third and is still going strong in the dining room at home! I like classes like this where you can use your imagination and raid the garden for exciting colour combinations.008

My clever wife, however, won two first prizes and two third places! Her knitted top beat several other beautiful garments including her baby jacket which came third.012

And in the cookery section her redcurrant jam won first prize, a major achievement considering it was a last minute decision to enter, she had never made it before, we had not tasted it and she was up against seasoned jam-makers! Doubly satisfying because we grew the redcurrants as well.A Packed Hall for the Results

Our shows are always held in the beautiful surroundings of the Pittville Pump Room which, as the name suggests, was built as one of several spas in the mid 1800’s for wealthy Victorians to ‘take the waters’. If you have never tasted spa water you haven’t missed a thing; it is foul-tasting brownish salty water which looks disgusting and leaves a horrible after-taste.Harrels Hardy Plants Stall

There are always plenty of plants for sale from local nurseries and our own member’s stall so no-one goes home empty handed. Trophy Winners August 2013

The Deputy Mayor and his wife handed out the prizes and trophies and another great show came to a close.

Glenfall House

060A short drive from the centre of Cheltenham there is a Grade 2 listed Arts & Crafts house set in 4 acres of landscaped gardens which is a Diocesan retreat, conference centre and place of rest and reflection. 055                                                                                                The house and gardens have largely been maintained by volunteers for many years but despite heroic efforts by The Friends Of Glenfall House Trust, ever increasing costs have caused the centre to close at the end of the month. We decided to visit their Open Garden yesterday to show our support.070

We enjoyed the variety of planting in beautiful surroundings with wonderful ornamental trees and wide herbaceous borders and island beds. 092                                                       The formal mixed with the informal, rose beds and wisteria walk, orchards and prairie planting there was something for everyone.063

The house is famous for the views of the Severn Valley and the Cotswold Hills and the following photo shows why.073                                                                                                     It is sad that the retreat has to close but when you turn the page another chapter begins.

Sandywell Barn House

001The garden visiting season is well under way and I decided to get my ‘looking for new ideas’ head on and take a look at Sandywell Barn House just a couple of miles from home but, remarkably for such a wealthy town, the one and only private garden which opens for the National Gardens Scheme charity in Cheltenham.

This two and a half acre walled garden is the former kitchen garden of Sandywell Park, a grand country house built in 1704 by Henry Brett, an army colonel, Tory politician and ‘man about town’. The Estate was broken up in the 1980’s and the house turned into posh flats. The barn was bought in 1985 by Shirley & Gordon Sills who set about a complete restoration of the garden once their children had grown up and left home. The remarkable transformation from asparagus beds and apple trees to a fully landscaped country garden is a testament to their hard work and dedication over the last fifteen years. 031

Shirley kindly showed us her photograph album charting their progress and it is hard to understand where they found the time, energy and money for such an endeavour in what is, in gardening terms, a relatively short period of time. Shirley is largely self taught although she did attend local gardening courses which helped her understanding of design principles. She is now Assistant County Organiser for the NGS in Gloucestershire and obviously knows a thing or two about how to prepare a garden for opening.041

This is not a review of their garden, more a collection of my thoughts on how and why people like them open their garden for charity, what it takes to do so and a record of the things which made me stop and look and photograph. Despite it being 23 June, gardens are generally a month behind schedule in Cheltenham this year and this one was a further 3 weeks behind that, being 750 feet above the town and very exposed to the elements.


Shirley must have a thing for the ‘Barlow’ series of aquilegias because they were the predominant variety and in all their colours. They certainly seem to stand well in the weather with strong upright stems and durable flowers. I was particularly drawn to the dark red which I believe is called ‘Bordeaux’ and the white form as below.009

Astrantias also play a big part in the spring planting here and the dark red ‘Ruby Wedding’ is one I definitely must get as it is our 40th next year!038

I am not known for my diplomacy skills (!) and am openly critical of gardens I feel are not worthy of opening but this one had me from the moment I went through the gates. Everything was right. The sign boards were timely and well placed, the parking adequate and clearly signed, we were warmly welcomed by the owners and £4 seemed good value compared to some we have been to recently. It was an hour well spent, inspirational and educational, and an example of what can be achieved by an excellent, passionate plantswoman. I have put together a gallery of other photographs which amply demonstrate her skill.005 026 014 035 052 041

Of course, it’s not perfect….nowhere is… and it is always reassuring to find a patch of ground elder, the odd bit of bindweed and particularly at this time of year  aphids!010

A lovely garden, well planned, well executed and well maintained. Good ideas for plant combinations and new plants to try. I couldn’t ask for more.