How to make the most of your visit to a summer garden show

Summer is show time for gardeners. Top designer Paul Hervey-Brookes tells Hannah Stephenson how best to prepare.

GOING to a garden show this summer? A wonderful line-up of garden shows awaits us this year — from the horticultural jewels in the crown of Chelsea (May 21-25), Mallow Home & Garden Festival (May 24-26) and Bloom (May 30-June 3).

But if you don’t plan your visit carefully you can get lost in the hubbub, unable to take in the glories of the show gardens and find it difficult to navigate your way through the floral marquees, ending up missing more than you see.

With this in mind, award-winning garden designer and plantsman Paul Hervey-Brookes, who is designing The Art Of Viking garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, offers visitors these tips on how to get the best out of the top horticultural shows across the country.

Dress for comfort

You’re going to be on your feet for a lot of the day, so wear trainers or something comfortable. “Think about taking a fold-up stool that you can carry easily, because there are never enough seats,” Hervey-Brookes advises. If it’s going to be a scorcher, bring a hat, parasol and suntan lotion.

List of priorities

Write a list of the things you really don’t want to miss, so you don’t get waylaid by other eye-catching distractions at the start of your day. If you’re looking for alliums, find where the allium stand is in the marquee and head for it. Buy a programme with a show map to pinpoint where the plants or show gardens are that you want to view and do these first.

“There’s so much at the shows, sometimes you can go with a plan in mind and it gets completely curveballed,” says Hervey-Brookes.

“If you’re going for garden inspiration, head for the show gardens. If you’re going to look for particular plants, then the gardening society tent or floral marquee are the places to go.

“Spend half the day doing the things on your list and the rest of the day allowing yourself time to discover something you weren’t expecting. Show gardens demonstrate plants you may not be aware of in combinations you may not have thought of.”

Notes and pictures

Make a note of plants and how they might be used and don’t forget to take photographs. “I always take a picture of the plant I like on my phone and a picture of the label immediately after,” he says.

Creative spaces

“The reality of life is that gardens are going to get smaller — new houses are being built which have small gardens — and first-time gardeners should maybe head for the smaller gardens at the shows, which really are creative spaces,” Hervey-Brookes suggests.

“They give you really good inspirational ideas in the ways the spaces are used and the combination of materials and architectural details.” Ask designers for information. Don’t be shy. Many designers will be at their show garden. Feel free to approach them and get valuable information for free.

Beat the crowds

If you’re going all day, the main show gardens of major shows like Chelsea tend to be less busy late afternoon, so bide your time looking at the smaller Artisan Gardens in the wooded area of the grounds or the Space to Grow gardens which promote health and wellbeing.

Bag a bargain

As well as a great day out, a trip to a garden show will also offer you plenty of bargains, says Hervey-Brookes.

You’ll get inspiration and ideas and you’ll be buying plants grown in Ireland, sometimes from seed, or cuttings, that are really good value and are supporting a small business.You’ll also benefit from the grower’s knowledge.

Attend on the last day and you can pick up bargains from the people who are dismantling the show gardens, and trade-stand plants which have been used as decoration.

“Go armed with bags to carry away what you’ve got, and you can really get some serious bargains,” advises Hervey-Brookes.

“Four-wheel carts are very useful!”

And don’t be afraid to haggle if you want to buy a job lot.

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