Would you like to win tickets to the 100th Chelsea Flower Show?

April24

Chelsea Flower Show 2012 by Karen Roe
I was contacted by Jacques Vert, who has launched a competition to win a pair of tickets to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for Friday 24th May. I’m posting this competition because, from the buzz on Twitter and Facebook, it seems a lot of folks may have missed their chance to pick up tickets for this year’s show.

If you’d like to be in with a chance to win two all-day tickets, you need to fill in your details on the Jacques Vert blog before the closing date at midnight on 7th May.

Apologies if you live abroad, because the competition is open only to UK entrants aged 18 and over. See the competition for more details.

Good luck! I’m attending my first-ever Chelsea this year and I’m positive I’ll find dozens of design and planting ideas for my own tiny space. If you or a friend still need tickets, don’t forget to enter before 7 May.

Main image: Chelsea Flower Show 2012 by Karen Roe

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Gardeners World 2011: maybe it will grow on me

March13

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Have you seen the 2011 season of Gardeners World, just aired? I know it’s easier to sit behind a keyboard and critique than get behind a camera and make it, but here’s what I would’ve done differently (and what they may still have in store for the coming season, who knows?):

Monty and someone else in his own garden — how much chemistry can one man have with his buxus? Let’s see some kind of occasional assistant working alongside Monty in his lovely garden (and why not call Monty’s garden Ivington, since that’s what it’s really called, viz The Ivington Diaries? The makey-uppy Longmeadow name is not keeping it real — a bad start when the new GW needs to build trust. Monty has since tweeted that Longmeadow is the old name of the garden…I think that needs saying on air)

Joe Swift at his best — What did you think of Rachel de Thame and Joe Swift being sent off around the country as jobbing gardeners in otherwise immaculate NGS Gardens? Feels too low-level for these skilled folk. This idea is a boring bit they’ve lifted from the otherwise quite watchable Open Gardens show (where candidate gardens compete to make it into the National Gardens Scheme’s Yellow Book, which lists gardens that open for charity). The idea feels awkwardly pasted into Gardeners World as busy work for Rachel and Joe. I’d love to see Joe designing, maybe in urban spaces. In my opinion he excels at it, and I want to see more of it.

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Bring back Alys Fowler — I was racking my brains Saturday night thinking how GW could have kept Alys and made better use of her on the show. Doing urban gardens with Joe Swift would have been a no-brainer. A visit to my local Dobbies showed a vast section of seeds devoted just to the urban gardener, as well as balcony boxes and other small-space accoutrements. Can anyone doubt that urban gardening is a massive upwards trend? Alys’s credentials speak for themselves in that area, and Joe would be a perfect partner. As it is, both Alys and Toby Buckland are the babies sitting in a puddle of bathwater on the kerb. Mistake.

A woman in her garden — Rachel de Thame is beautiful, but I’m tired of hearing that her looks are the only reason she’s back on air. She’s a knowledgeable writer, gardener and broadcaster and just a couple years ago she took on her dream patch in the country. Why aren’t we seeing Rachel in her own garden, designing that young space? If you want to be a sexist pig about it, it would provide plenty of opportunity for shirtsleeves and ogling. But if instead, like me, you identify with young mothers who struggle to find time for children, work and the garden, Rachel in her own space would strike the perfect note, shirtsleeves or no.

Carol and more Carol — I loved the BBC red button coverage of Chelsea Flower Show a couple years ago, where Carol Klein just roamed about and wowed over the plants. It’s good that Gardeners World now has her visiting open gardens; hopefully it’ll provide plenty of opportunity for her to talk about plants with fellow experts. But wouldn’t it be good to also see Carol working alongside Rachel in Rachel’s garden, as some kind of learned-oracle presence? Carol is too established to be an assistant, but she could be an advisor, and the partnership would offer a lovely older/younger woman dynamic that I bet millions would relate to — including Carol, who often speaks of her own time gardening with her late mother.

It’s absolutely right that Gardeners World is centered around a stunning garden, a strong personality and skilled gardener with vision, passion and knowledge to share, like Monty Don. But how many gardeners out there have Monty-scale dilemmas (“what shall I do with my large garden and mature pleached limes?”) Sure, have Monty’s garden as the standard to which we can aspire, but use the rest of the show to strike notes which really resonate with the people filling their trolleys at the garden centre, online and off-line.

Speaking of online: Attn gardeners world producer Gill Tierney, why not take a leaf out of the book of Later with Jools Holland and display a twitter hashtag at the start of Gardeners World – can I suggest #BBCGW? You might be surprised who’s watching and tweeting. You were quick enough to broadcast an e-mail address where viewers can send in gardening dilemmas that may be featured on the show. (How many days will it take the intern to go through that inbox?) Instead of just inviting work for themselves, why doesn’t the GW production team use technology to take the temperature of the twittersphere, and eavesdrop on what people really think of GW?

I’ll be watching GW, but if they want to win more hearts and minds than just mine, they’ll have to dig a little deeper.

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Planting sweet peas like the pros

October15

Click for larger imageIt’s incredibly satisfying to see autumn sown sweet peas soar into the sky as soon as early June, and I’ve tried to get organised every October for the last few years to start my seeds off in good time. During some of the televised coverage of Chelsea 2008, Derek Heathcote of Eagle Sweet Peas explained the best way to do autumn sowings. I was recording all the coverage at the time and am so glad I kept it for reference, because Derek’s method is fast and it works — no fiddly soaking or chitting of seeds, great germination rates, and very healthy specimens for planting out in spring. I’ve just discovered that his instructions are also on his website. They differ only slightly from what he said on TV, where he used cheap plastic drinking cups (with a drainage hole cut into the bottom) instead of grow tubes. Derek emphasises how important it is to get the new plants out into a cold greenhouse once they’ve germinated. They don’t need mollycoddling! I’ll be back to Derek’s website later — for cut sweet peas, he offers tips on how to get rid of the black pollen beetles that always hitch a ride onto the flowers and end up crawling about your kitchen table.

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