Gardens: Inspiration rife at country’s biggest show

Binny Plant's romantic garden display at Gardening Scotland 2012. Picture: Contributed
Binny Plant's romantic garden display at Gardening Scotland 2012. Picture: Contributed
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FOR gardeners who have been struggling with the unpredictable weather, expert help will be on hand at Scotland’s biggest horticultural show.

Gardening Scotland, which is being held at The Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh from 31 May-2 June, provides access to the most experienced professionals from the world of horticulture.

From question-and-answer sessions, talks and practical demonstrations by some of the country’s top gardeners in the RHS Gardening Theatre, to workshop sessions in the Floral Hall, the estimated 40,000 visitors will be able to pick up tips and get answers to all their questions.

George Anderson, presenter on BBC2’s Beechgrove Garden and a director of Gardening Scotland 2013, says: “Because of the winter we have had, gardeners will have lost things. This is the one time we have when we can meet and talk to the growers and nurserymen who really know about the plants and can give us first-hand information on cultivating and growing.”

He adds that following one of the weirdest springs in living memory, plants that depend on soil warmth have been appearing at the same time as those that flower according to the light and length of day, resulting in “some of the strangest flowering combinations that most of us will ever have seen”.

However, despite the slow start to the year, Anderson, who will be filming at the show with Beechgrove Garden as well as appearing as a panel member in the RHS Gardening Theatre, says we don’t need to be doing anything different.

“Plants have been here an awful lot longer than us. What they are able to do is slightly adjust their behaviour so they get the best opportunity. A plant is just a very big chemistry set. The things that set it off are heat and daylight. These are the things that trigger growth in plants.”

He adds: “I remember when I had an allotment, I used to rush out and sow all the seeds really early. There was an old guy who used to wander up in the middle of May, dig over his plot and sow all his seeds in one weekend. My seeds would be struggling in the cold soil while his, which were planted in warm soil, were marching up like rows of soldiers.

“There’s no point in rushing. Wait until the conditions are right. That’s what we have got to do this year.”

However, if you have been itching to get your hands dirty but have been frustrated by the fluctuating temperatures, then Lesley Watson, of the independent garden centre New Hopetoun Gardens, suggests bringing your plants on in pots.

“Growing plants in pots is a little bit like having a small child or baby,” she says. “They are completely dependent on you for food, water and warmth but you are in control of these things and have lots of flexibility. They are portable, you can move them around. You can get started in the garden in a way you can’t if you’re putting things in beds.”

She says pots also allow for flexibility when following changing fashions in colours and styles and make perfect personalised gifts for people.

“There are a lot of things you can do with pots, that’s why we’re passionate about them,” she says, referring to the theme of their display at this year’s Gardening Scotland show.

The garden centre, which is based at Newton village near Broxburn, is sponsoring the Floral Hall, where it will be showing two very different ways of planting in pots.

“We have set up displays in two halves to inspire people,” says Watson. “The first half is very chic, continental, with clean lines. The other side is for more traditional tastes, with more conventional frosty, foamy pretties.

“We thought we would put it in two quite distinct styles to reflect how you can organise plants and pots.”

Another way to deal with unpredictable weather is to concentrate on plants more suited to a Scottish climate.

Billy Carruthers, founder of the nursery Binny Plants, near Uphall in West Lothian, says: “I think from what the weathermen say, we have these cycles of good weather, then we hit a period of cold, wet summers. They say there’s a trend towards milder winters and wetter summers. If that’s the case we need to change our planting habits and go for plants like astilbes and plants that do well in a cold, wet summer.

“There’s been a movement away from bedding plants in the last few years because people are finding they are not having much success. They are not flowering well because the summers have been cold and wet.

“People should stick to good tough perennials like astrantias, trollius, hardy geraniums, and keep away from things that like warmer, hotter weather.”

He adds: “If it’s wet, try to avoid plants with full double flowers. That causes problems with rotting. We find that quite often with roses and other plants with double flowers.”

Carruthers, whose nursery specialises in unusual hardy perennials and peonies, will be creating the biggest indoor display in the Floral Hall at the Gardening Scotland show.

In addition to herbaceous plants, he recommends growing ferns and grasses, like carex, miscanthus and molinia, and shrubs such as philadelphus (mock orange), ribes (flowering currant) and hypericum (rose of Sharon).

As well as the 400 exhibitors set to take part in this year’s event, there will be show gardens and appearances by celebrity gardeners Alys Fowler and Katie Rushworth.

Fowler will be talking about her new book Abundance, which gives advice on preserving home-grown produce and Rushworth will be providing tips on creating a family friendly garden.

For those who have been feeling less than optimistic about their gardens, the last word goes to George Anderson.

“I’m never a pessimist about gardening. I’m always interested to see what happens with each changing season.

“This year things are just so different to other years. We have had a long, long, cold spring and we need a boost. I’m sure we will get that as we come into early summer.”

• Advance tickets for Gardening Scotland 2013 can be bought online at: for £14 (Friday) or £12 (Saturday and Sunday) excluding booking fee of 50p per ticket. Alternatively, tickets can be bought on the gate for £16/£14. Children under 16 go free.