Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bordering on fantastic!

On Monday I was up bright and early judging at the BBC Gardener's World Show at the NEC, Birmingham.  In true British flower show style, the morning was chilly and damp with enough light rain in the air to make us all start with waterproofs! This time I was judging the Birmingham borders, and as today's title suggests, most of these really were fantastic.

These are small plots but marked under similar exacting criteria to exhibition gardens at all the big flower shows and some were very much show standard - just smaller! Design and construction is mostly by  groups of students or small landscape companies and is an excellent and affordable entry to the show world. We awarded two Golds, four Silver Gilts, four Silvers and three Bronze. None of them were below these standards, so we didn't have to give any 'No Awards' as they are called.

The top award and a well deserved Gold Medal, went to 'Beating the Doldrums', a planting scheme based on sailing with wonderful waving grasses, sympathetic planting and some great seaside props. One could just imagine a sailing enthusiast constructing a garden like this in a small city centre plot to remind of happy weekends away sailing.

Beating the Doldrums

Beating the Doldrums

Beating the doldrums
'Smoke and Mirrors - through the Looking Glass' also achieved a well deserved Gold, portraying changes in the journey of life. The mirrors reflect our current feelings but shield from the future. The flowering smokebush hides our feelings and the river of lavender simulates life's journey. This was a complex but well executed garden. The planting on one side of the double mirrors being more colourful, suggesting happier times. Looking in detail you find the  golden Choisya 'Sundance' on one side and the more muted shades of Choiysa 'Aztec Pearl' on the other. Just one of several clever details.

Smoke and Mirrors - do you see the mirror amongst the climbers?

Smoke and Mirrors

Amongst the Silver Gilts, 'Light the Blue Touch Paper' is a brave attempt to portray fireworks over rooftops using plants. 'Opposites Detract' expresses the serious concern of many at funding cuts for local parks. Whilst the dereliction on one side is sharply contrasted with the clipped culture on the other, it is a pity that the positive had to be illustrated with such an awful example of summer bedding. 'Surrender' portrays' the decline of an abandoned garden as nature takes over. 'There's Sense in that' illustrates how the senses can incorporated into  a garden with colour, scent, movement and sound. Whilst generally well designed, this scheme was spoilt by three poor trees placed in a row along the plot.

Light the Blue Touch Paper

Opposites Detract - awful colour scheme!

Opposites Detract - great detail here


There's sense in that

'The Secret Gardener' was lovely idea (or maybe a true story) about a small beautifully maintained parterre discovered in the midst of a ruined and derelict garden. Sadly there wasn't enough contrast between cultivated and neglected, and insufficient colour.  Silver's were also awarded to the colourful 'Don't Worry - BEE Happy', 'Glass-Flower Stone' and 'No Ball Games'.

The Secret Gardener - so many possibilities

Don't Worry - BEE Happy - judges didn't like the symmetrical and spotty planting

Glass Flower Stone - the glass sculpture is out of the picture - horrible!

No balls games - nice prop but didn't really tell the story
A Bronze went to 'Peter Rabbit Runs Amok in Beatrice Potter's Garden' - a lovely idea but lacking in detail. Pity they didn't realise that the pots of geraniums overturned by Peter in the story are the actually Pelargoniums (usually iluustrated red) and not herbaceous Geraniums. 'Everything Stops for Tea' suggests the time-travelling idea that a garden becomes overgrown whilst the staff stop for tea - great fun. The final bronze went to 'Upsy Daisy' which claimed to celebrate the daisy but featured too many other flowers to be convincing. A child's deckchair  suggests appeal to children but why no traditional daisy chain?

Peter Rabbit - more colour needed

Everything stops for Tea - too much bare soil

Upsy Daisy - more daisies needed!

Whilst some of the beds could do with improvement and there were lost opportunities, the overall standard was impressive and there is lots for the visitor to see and some great ideas to take home!


  1. I went yesterday and it was really interesting to get your different perspective on these gardens as overall I found them really disappointing! Yes there were some good ones (the Doldrums and chimney ones I liked) however others were uninspiring, and stinging nettles in a show garden?

    1. Was told recently of a visitor to a gardening show buying a pot of nettles from a show garden... when pointed out that it was nettles he was asking how by the designer, he still bought them on the basis that he had been given instruction by his wife to buy a plant in the sell off...

  2. Fascinating to hear an insight from one of the judges, on how some displays got more merit than others. I do like the Upsy Daisy deck chair though, but yes, not enough daisies there.