“Plums” Yelled The Admiral “Bring Me Plums”

I am sitting in the Novotel at Grand Designs, well not exactly at Grand Designs but very close.

There are a number of interesting things happening at the show including the customary handsome display of hot tubs. I am running a very smart Garden Design studio with my name on a big yellow cube dangling from the ceiling.


The form is that there are four newly qualified garden designers giving free consultations while I hover and offer sage advice when required. All very jolly, you can come and take advantage of all this if you hurry: the show runs until Sunday night and Three Men are cavorting on stage in the afternoon.

The Novotel meanwhile has surprised me. My first impression was that it was the sort of place where former communist apparatchiks would come to drink themselves stupid, cavort with doughy thighed good time girls and, in certain cases, fling themselves from windows. Actually it is quiet, cleanish and has a view of the Victoria dock. The breakfast, however, is utterly loathsome: in particular the scrambled eggs.

After Sunday there is Malvern to look forward to next week. This will be my seventh Malvern (I think) in which time it has changed a great deal. This year there is more serious side to the show as the theme of Biodiversity runs through the things that are happening in the theatre: this leaves no room for Joe Swift and I to do flower arranging. This will doubtless come as a huge relief to the ranks of Floral Artists out there as we did little to promote high standards in the world of competitive floristry. Instead there will be wise words from Matthew Wilson and Jekka McVicar (on Thursday), Chris Beardshaw (on Friday), Joe Swift (on Saturday) and Mike Dilger and Terry Walton (on Sunday).

I will be flitting around doing links and other stuff including an interview with Sue Biggs on Friday morning: she is, as I am sure you know, the Director General of the RHS and a thoroughly good egg. If you wish to ask searching questions about the future of the organisation then this is the place to be – hecklers welcome.

We also have a book slot where I chat to various garden writers and you get the chance to buy signed copies of their glossy ouevres. Included are the Guardian Royal Bouquet correspondent, Lia Leendertz. Martyn Cox (who writes a couple of books a week), Noel Kingsbury (also very prolific but with a Phd: Martyn just has a gelled forelock),) Anne Wareham who will talk about her book -The Bad Tempered Gardener – which is opinionated and alternately annoying and amusing (a bit like picking a scab) and Mark “Veg Head” Diacono whose book, the Taste of the Unexpected, is quite old now but still very readable(ii)

I am exhausted already. I am hoping that there will be various bloggers and Twitterati loafing about as well.

I have also found some time this week to visit Arundel. Rather a pretty town with a castle and softly flowing river overlooked by gentle Sussex countryside blah, blah, blah. There is also a rather remarkable garden belonging to the Duke of Norfolk and designed by Julian and Isabel Bannerman.

My visit was quite fleeting so this will not be any more than a quick postcard but, in brief: Trademark whopping oak structures, some very floaty planting (excluding a rather ugly variegated elder at one point) and some spectacular fountains including a dancing coronet – a gold crown rotating on top of a high power jet of water surrounded by exquisite shell work.

Proper Bannerman showmanship in other words. Beautifully constructed, theatrical and exciting.

There is, however, a strange arrangement of rock and palm trees sitting in the middle of a grass labyrinth which I really could not fathom. Why was it there? It seemed like a step too far. There may well be a perfectly logical explanation but it looked cluttered and detracted from both surroundings and labyrinth. I must do some research to discover what is going on.

I am listening to the gentle hum of the air conditioning as I cannot work out how to open the window, nor can I understand the taps. There seems to be no clear indication which way is hot and which way cold so I am skittering between third degree burns and hypothermia. At the risk of sounding like a disgruntled old Colborn: what is wrong with having one tap labelled ‘Hot’ and one ‘Cold’.

The picture is of ants on peony buds.

(i) I was reminded by @nicelittleplace on Twitter the other day that the abbreviative noun for a group of floral artists is Flarts. As is “Over there is the Flart tent”. This is not intended to be at all pejorative but merely affectionate. The other acronym is for the Chris Beardshaw Scholarship Gardens who are known as the CBeebies.

(ii) It also has many other uses for those who have been given a copy as a gift but prefer not to read such stuff. For example, as a chopping board, a waterproof hat, a partially effective cricket box, a frisbee, an oven glove and a way of ironing out unruly body hair. It has also just been nominated for yet another award (yawn) this time by the Guild of Food Writers. I think it unlikely that any of the other authors (not even Anne) are in the running for that one. Bravo.