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Off to the big smoke yesterday for the first major garden press event of the year, The Garden Press Event 2011. It’s a chance to waft around the rather grand Horticultural Halls in Westminster meeting friends (including at least three bloggers – honorary mentions go to Nigel, VP and Kevin) and cadging more glasses of fizzy cocktails than are strictly allowed from the nice people at Hillier’s, who were celebrating the 21st anniversary of their Gardening Club (yes, I’m a member; no, I can’t do that horticultural crossword either). And you also get a sneak peek at what’s new in the gardening world this year.

There were dozens of exhibitors showing off their latest ideas: plus a few, like Hatfield House, who just wanted to build on the huge success they’ve been having following their honourable mention on Alan Titchmarsh’s recent series.

So I thought just for a change, I’d let the day job intervene for a bit: here, with apologies for my lousy photos, are the ones which caught my eye.

Metal bell cloches: Crocus
Ah… I want. I really, really want. Crocus are branching out (if you’ll excuse the pun) into making their own garden products now: and they’re applying their usual sure touch and good taste to all those things you use to protect crops, hold things up and generally primp your plants with.

Normally they look dead ugly but not these: actually I fell in love with these Victorian-style cloches at first sight. You can just see them in that glossy gardening magazine photo, can’t you? I’d probably better mention that I do work for them a bit, and they’re really lovely people. Really, really lovely people. Super, actually. No – really….

Fire pits, Fire Pits UK
Forget the barbecue: soooo 2010. Or not, if you work at the Met Office. This year it’s all about fire pits.

I once went to a party at a South African friend’s house (in Surrey) in January. When he mentioned it was a braai – Afrikaans barbecue – I laughed like a drain. I assumed it must be one of the many eccentricities to which our South African friends are prone due to a terminal state of disbelief about the state of British weather, and we’d end up eating inside like normal people.

But no: he had a fire pit. We basked in the warmth of this wonderful invention into the wee small hours, while behind us the garden turned white with frost.

These ones were particularly wonderful; hand-made, big, beautiful. Roast your chilly English backsides and dream of the Cape.

Inflatable greenhouse, Harrods Horticultural
This was just hilarious. I couldn’t help thinking it was a seriously good idea: if you’re the type who uses a greenhouse to raise your seeds in but then runs out of room in the garden when you go to plant them out, this is perfect: just take it down and stash it under the potting shed bench.

But how long, I ask, could you resist the overwhelming temptation to fill it with large multicoloured plastic balls and jump in?

Garden on a Roll
This got my prize for wackiest idea of the day. I mean, what do you make of a garden that arrives drawn on a bit of paper you attach to the ground?

I really didn’t know quite what to think at first, until I realised I was absolutely not its target audience. They state openly that this is for ‘those with no gardening or plant knowledge, and no desire or time for gardening’.

It’s gardening by numbers: you ring them up, say ‘I’ve got this three-metre border in my garden’, and they send you a big box of plants with a large sheet of paper, marked out with exactly where your plants should be planted. You spread the paper on the ground, plant the plants where you’re told to plant them, water it all in and cover with a mulch: hey-presto, instant garden.

Of course I don’t like it: it takes all the romance, creativity and love out of gardening. But – remember – this is for people who do not understand that there is romance, creativity or indeed love involved in gardening; so what you’re really doing is sneaking it all in through the back door, packaged as an off-the-shelf solution to the weedy mess in the back garden.

And however you do it, at the end of the day you’ve still improved an outdoor space, spread a little plant-driven happiness and – who knows – converted someone who would otherwise remain unenlightened. When you look at it like that, it’s not such a bad thing.

Easiwall System, Treebox
I never realised so many different kinds of vertical planting systems existed in the world.

Nearly every exhibitor seemed to have one. There were bags and boxes, plastic gizmos with pockets and metal sheets with holes in them. Growing up is catching on: but I am more than a little sceptical about the cheap(er) systems you can buy for home gardening.

If you don’t have automatic watering systems, the pockets are often so small you wonder how you can keep them moist enough for the plants to be happy: after all, they’re a quarter the size of hanging baskets and we all know how much of a faff they are.

And if you do have automatic watering systems, the top plants drain all the water out within an hour and the bottom plants are flooded. Besides, they look so ugly: the plastic or metal pockets always show through and I’ve never seen one yet which didn’t have big gaps showing between the plants. Not very wall-like, really, unless you’re into green plastic.

But: while I retain my scepticism, this system looked as good as any. It’s like one of those bookshelves you get in libraries with the leaflets in: a series of long shelves angled outwards (in fact, linked troughs) hooks on to the wall and holds the plants. You’ve still got the watering problem: but at least the roots can spread out sideways and you might – just – have a chance of your plants knitting together and forming something that resembled a wall.

I’ll stop there before I go on and on: though I haven’t mentioned Vitax’s handy little gizmos which fit on your water bottle in summer to trap wasps, or the new blue verbascum from Thompson & Morgan, or the Mr Digwell range of veg seeds just brought out by Kings which have a detachable recipe on the back (why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?). But no doubt the bits I’ve missed out will crop up elsewhere: look out for them coming soon in a gardening magazine near you.