June must have been my busiest month so far, I think I have only spent seven days at home over the last four weeks. Chelsea Flower Show feels like a distant memory now, especially since I have visited two more RHS shows since then.
The month started with building my own small show garden at BBC Gardener’s World Live. With the generous backing of Homebase, New Forest Nursery and extra hands provided by other members of the Academy, the garden won an RHS Gold Medal and received fantastic comments from visitors to the show.
There was no time to sit back and relax once the show had finished. Still buzzing from the experience I headed from Birmingham to Barnsdale to spend fours days away with the Garden Academy.
Our first day at Barnsdale was with Adam Frost. The first task he gave us was to explore the gardens and create planting schemes of around six plants, including a shrub and/or a small tree. A great exercise to start looking at how plants can be grouped and to get us thinking about important factors, like year-round interest. It was also a brilliant excuse to admire Barnsdale. It is hard to believe how much everything had grown since we last visited the gardens back in April, the borders have transformed from the fresh growth of late spring to the commotion of every plant fighting to be the star of the show.
In the afternoon Adam took us for a walk to show us how much of his inspiration comes from nature. It was really eye opening to look at how plants naturally grow together in the wild and then think about how we could apply those same principles to a planting scheme in a garden.
The rest of our week at Barnsdale was spent completing the final instalment of our RHS Level 1 qualification. We learnt about soft and semi-ripe cuttings, as well as refreshing our knowledge of hardwood cuttings, which we learnt back in October. We also thinned seedlings, created our own quirky displays of bedding plants, practiced sharpening tools and learnt about a range of common garden diseases. It’s a shame that the RHS training has come to an end. I think we all thoroughly enjoyed the things we learnt, as well as our garden walks and talks with our fantastic teacher, Chris from More Performance.
After a couple of days back at home, mainly spent catching up on two weeks-worth of washing, we were all back on the road again.
Our second week started with a careers day, discovering our strengths, skills and values surrounding the jobs we want to pursue in the future. My biggest lesson learnt from the day: ‘Your greatest room for growth comes from your strengths’. Although there are still a couple of months left on the Academy, I think we are all starting to consider (and worry about) what we want to do next.
After our career day our next stop was the National Plant Show at Stoneleigh Park. The show, aimed at commercial buyers, gives growers (mainly UK based) the opportunity to showcase what they specialise in growing, as well as shout about new and lesser-known plant varieties. It was a great opportunity for us to say hello to nurseries we have already visited, plus look for plants and products that we thought would be good additions to Homebase Garden Centres. For me, it was a side of the industry I had not thought about before and clearly a great way for buyers to meet nurseries and see stock with out having to drive all over the country.
From Stoneleigh Park we drove up to York, the furthest north the Academy will go and definitely a long way from my home in Somerset. There we visited two very different suppliers, plant growers Johnsons of Whixley and aggregate and paving manufacturers, Brett Landscaping. Both days were really helpful and they both involved getting ‘hands-on’ with the products. At Johnsons we helped to pot-on plants from multiple plug trays into individual pots. Then at Bretts we we laid a patio. It was really satisfying to already have an understanding of how to lay paying from our time helping Adam Frost in his garden, but really good to go over the skill again and learn about how not to lay paving too. I think Bretts has to be one of my favourite supplier visits. I found the factory, which runs 22 hours a day, absolutely fascinating. From the robotic arms that pick up the paving slabs and move them around, to the enormous kiln that dries all the paving, the fact that the only need for human skill was to turn the machines on in the morning and fix anything that does go wrong was amazing to see.
Our busy month finished on a high note, with a couple of days spent volunteering at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. We were fortunate enough to receive our introduction training on Press Preview day, giving us the afternoon to walk around the show with out crowds of people jostling to get the best view of each garden. The next two days were spent selling badges on behalf of the RHS, who, as I’m sure a lot of us forget, are a charity. The weather was absolutely scorching, although there was a fantastic summery atmosphere, with visitors picnicking beside the Long Water whilst music from the bandstands drifted around the showground. There were some fantastic gardens and displays in the floral marquees; the dedicated rose marquee, warmed by the hot sun, was like visiting a perfume factory. I particularly loved all the smaller show gardens. I thought they were all very unique and exiting designs, with a really high attention to detail and finish.
July will be our last collection of supplier visits, then we spend the remainder of our time back in store before the Academy comes to an end in September. None of us can believe how quickly the last few months have gone.