I am off on a trip…
Firstly, it involves a train from Banbury to Heathrow via Hayes and Harlington. Very simple in theory but, as is the way sometimes with the oft laid plans of mice and men, likely to gang aft agley. It is like dominos- one train is ten minutes late so you miss the next train by nine seconds (after a frantic rush across a bridge and a shove through an oncoming crowd ). This means being stranded on an empty platform at Hayes and Harlington for an hour before finally arriving at the airport.

I am going to Moscow to give a seminar nominally entitled Gardening across Continents with the aim to jazz up the world of Russian horticulture. More specifically to talk to them about show gardens, design and planting and also to talk about an exchange we have instigated at Malvern and about which I wrote in my last blog.

Red Square at night

It is an overnight flight- not long, only about 3.5 hours – in that it leaves at 10:30 (london time) and lands at 5.00 in the morning (Moscow time). I, however, am far to old and set in my ways for this sort of interruption to my routine. I go to the hotel and go straight to bed.

It is cold out there: about minus 10. This raises a few sartorial dilemmas: I emerged into the street all wrapped up like a bear in a duvet. Coats, hats, Horatio’s Garden Alpaca Socks (available here and a perfect Christmas Gift), gloves etc. I walk five steps and get into a car so hot that you could probably roast a duck in the glovebox. I then go to an equally hot office followed by a sweltering restaurant, another car and back to a hotel room where, in my absence, a diligent cleaner had cranked up the radiator. I flung open the window and welcomed as much icy air as possible. Tomorrow I will not be so thermally aware. The restaurant, by the way, was next to the Bolshoi Theatre and involved crab from Kamchatka (a species of red king crab that has a leg span of nearly six feet) and six different sorts of caviar.


Theatre filling up

The reason why I am here: I tootle along to the auditorium of the Moscow Museum where there is a milling multitude of assorted interested parties. I am quite happy giving talks of an hour or so but today I am doing four talks of about one and a half hours each plus a two hour Q&A. It is quite tiring – there is a relay of simultaneous  interpreters who do a sterling job trying to keep up with me: they change over every twenty minutes to prevent exhaustion. It is interesting as the audience each have a headset into which the interpreter drips a translation of what I am saying but, like an old fashioned transatlantic telephone call, five seconds after I have spoken which means that timing of jokes and frivolities can be a little tricky. You deliver a punchline, pause for reaction and then, just as you are about to give up, a small section of the audience – those who get the joke – laugh politely.


The main purpose of the day was to drum up some entries for the Malvern/Moscow exchange so many participants brought sketches and ideas which continue to flood in – it will be a good thing and you should all come to the RHS Malvern Spring Festival to see what happens.

I have no idea why there is a chicken on the lollipop stall

We retire to a Chinese restaurant where all the waitresses are dressed up as members of the Red Guard which seems like an odd thing to celebrate. They jazz up their khaki uniforms with very red lipstick. The food is delicious and we then troop off to Red Square where there is a bustling Christmas Market and a skating rink – which was sadly barred to us as it had been booked for some spiffy private party for Prada (I think). We posed for many photographs – for that is one of Russia’s favourite national activities and Valenkis (felt snow boots as worn, if I remember rightly, by Solzhenitsyn in “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch”) were bought for me. The snow is light but the air is a strange dry cold which seems innocuous at first but then gives you a headache and seeps into the bones.
It is fun and I dance with a group of people dressed as Christmassy Cossacks.


And home again – first breakfast in the hotel, an early cab through the appalling Moscow traffic, second breakfast in the Aeroflot Executuve lounge (hmmm.) Third breakfast (strictly speaking an early lunch*) on the aeroplane as we fly through clear skies over miles and miles of snow dusted birch forest. Then an equally fabulous approach to Heathrow all along the river from the Thames barrier. Every landmark is clear and glinting in the sunshine – I can even pick out my mother’s flat.
Then four trains and home again.
The time difference may only be three hours but I feel as if I have been pushed slowly but steadily through a mangle .

Birch forests, lakes and snow
Millennium dome and the Thames

I am listening to Slow Movin’ Outlaw by Waylon Jennings.

The picture is of the Bolshoi theatre.

*Russians have a very charming way of saying lunch. ‘Then we will have a lunch…” pronounced larrrnch. Sometimes it is a “friendly larrrnch”.

This may well be the shortest blog I have ever written.

It is not about President Trump. Nor is about the John Lewis advertisement, Christmas, Autumn leaves or kittens. I have not spared a thought for stewed fruit, the drawbacks of triple cooked chips or small kittens let loose in a wool shop.

Instead it is to draw your attention to the fact that I am giving a seminar in Moscow on 29th November. It will, I presume, be a bit chilly but with luck it will also be stuffed with happy Russian designers, nurseries, horticulturists and students. I also hope for a smattering of potential sponsors because it is all about preparing for next year’s Moscow Flower Show.

The show, which I have judged since its inauguration five years ago, is generally marvellous but needs a bit of a shove to get it to the next level. So two things will happen – I will do quite a lot of talking and looking at show gardens old and new to give inspiration and encouragement to the assembled masses.

Secondly we will talk about a very interesting new exchange programme where one design from a Russian designer will be chosen to be built at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival. The delightful folk in Malvern will give the lucky person a grant and will help in every way they can. The finished garden will take its place centre stage amongst the other gardens in early May.

As a reciprocal arrangement one of the gardens from Malvern will be chosen to be built at the Moscow Flower Show (29th June – 9th July 2017). The equally delightful people in Moscow will also give a grant and turn somersaults to help a British designer exhibit at their show.

It will be an adventure for both parties.

So that is my intention. Why am I telling you this? because I want the word spread near and far so that we can have a seminar buzzing with ideas and excitement and you might just know a Russian designer who might like to attend.

The details are here – in Russian.

Likewise, one of you out there might fancy a bit of a jaunt to Moscow – a city which is indefatigably energetic. So if you fancy taking a garden there then the first thing you should do is apply for space at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival (11th-14th May 2017).

I am listening to Temenuschka Vesselinova playing a Mozart sonata.

The picture is of some cedar cones.

Okay. So there has been a huge gap since my last entry – not that anybody has actually noticed. This is now the cold and miserable Chelsea week – how very English. Lots of talk about droughts and just as people began to take it seriously we get a wet May and it all becomes a joke.

Chelsea was fun although I have a few problems with the show. Firstly  it happens at the same time of year every year which means that (inevitably) the same plants are used every year – we know exactly what we are going to see before we get there. Secondly it all seems much more competitive and the quest for a Gold Medal seems much more important. The Sponsors expect nothing less – which is, I suspect, one of the main reasons why Cancer research changed designers – and the danger is that designers then design to a medal winning formula rather than concentrating on originality. Sometimes I feel that they are too afraid to try anything too outrageous because they know what the RHS is after.

That said I was very taken with Cleve West’s SAGA garden, Tom Stuart-Smith’s Daily Telegraph Garden, Andy Sturgeon’s Cancer research Garden and Chris Beardshaw’s Boveridge House recreation. There were others but I was too cold to remember.

Other exciting things to have happened since last time I wrote this…

Malvern Spring Show – which is always my favourite – mainly because the exceptionally lovely Nina Acton (who is the marketing manager and one of the few exotically blonde Russians in rural Worcestershire) tends to allow me a relatively free rein. As a result there is now a very wonderful theatre set amongst the show gardens around which I am allowed to cavort for four days.

This year we had an erudite debate on the Thursday where Andrew Wilson, Erik de Maeijer, Jane Hudson, Julian Dowle and Roddy llewellyn debated whether “British Garden Owners are ready for modern design”. The answer – which surprised me -was a resounding Yes. Friday was Alan Titchmarsh day which is always exciting as the theatre is positively packed with heaving matronly bosoms and enthusiastic gardeners. Alan is very entertaining especially as he is never quite sure what he will be expected to do until he actually walks onto the stage.

This year I organised a sort of Ready, Steady, Cook thing where he had to make two borders (one sunny, one shady) from a slightly random selection of plants. We had a very jolly day.

Saturday and Sunday are Joe Swift days where we interview the designers of the Show Gardens and also some of the Growers from the Plant Marquee. Joe sits on the stage and asks sensible questions while I tend to roam the audience – seems to work and we have a ball. It is an experience unique to Malvern as no other show has a theatre and no other show gives stage time to Designers and Growers. Sunday was particularly

thrilling as the exuberant ladies from the Floral Art (Flower arranging to most of us) area came on stage to give Joe and I coaching. He did traditional while I did Avant garde – he won the competition with a tasteful arrangement of lilies but my daring and experimental creation (entitled Motorway Bridge on the M5) was artistically triumphant.

Lots of other stuff has happened – lecture in Huddersfield (at Armitages Garden Centre), judged the Garden Photographers Association competition (, lots of work etc etc etc.

Will try to be more attentive. The main picture is of emerging larch at Mount Stuart.