Last week a lot of garden journalists emerged blinking into the open for the first major press event of the year: the Garden Press Event at the Barbican in London.
It was all a bit of a shock to the system: previously this has been held in the genteel surroundings of the RHS’s Horticultural Halls in Westminster, where they have such things as marble staircases and mezzanines.
No such luck at the altar to 70s brutalism that is The Barbican: I emerged from the tube station to plunge headlong into the demi-world of concrete and steel and unforgiving lighting that is this most urban of cityscapes. A curious choice for a show that embraces the wildlife-friendly, the environmentally considerate and the beautiful, perhaps.
But once you’re inside, you forget all that and immerse yourself in a gardeners’ sweetshop of delights, offered this year by a record-breaking 90 exhibitors. This show is getting bigger and better all the time: it’s already become unmissable for anyone involved in the garden media.
New ideas were everywhere: so here’s my pick of the ones that caught my eye.
Mini beehives: not for honeybees (they’re much too small) but for bumblebees. As we all know they’re in a bit of a pickle at the moment, and there’s lots gardeners can do to help them out. Which is fine if you have a local population of bumblebees: if not, these ones come with fuzzy bees already installed.Here they are: that black blob in the middle. See? Just under that clear plastic lumpy bit? OK, so photographing bumblebees in a plastic box turns out to be something of a challenge, but anyway: this is the insert inside each of those little boxes above. They only stay in the box a year as they don’t return to the same nest twice: but in that time they’ll multiply to 200+ bumblebees in a good year, and you’ll have done your bit for the environment. Oh yes, and you can get refills. (www.dragonfli.co.uk) Clematis root shaders: Those nice people at Crocus have impeccable good taste and their stand was once again a mouthwatering selection of things I could have snapped up and squirrelled off home with right away (sadly, they weren’t looking the other way, and my bag wasn’t big enough. Shame). Among the handsomest and most innovative, I thought, were these half-pot terracotta root shaders: as we all know, clematis like their roots in the shade and their heads in the sun, so these were just the thing. (www.crocus.co.uk) Stylish ways with apple crates: Not really, strictly speaking, a product on display this one: just a very, very chic idea from the stylist who put together the Homebase stand. All you do is get one of those big wooden apple crates, paint it a distressed off white, then nail it on a wall. Hey presto: instant shelf for your garden lantern, perhaps some potted auriculas, a well-chosen sculpture… (www.homebase.co.uk)
Online veg planning for schools: There’s now quite a choice of online planning tools for veg growers out there (I’m a dedicated fan of www.growveg.com) but this one caught my eye as one of the better ones if you’re just starting out. Growmatic has been helping Irish veg gardeners for the last four years: its first venture in the UK looks very promising. You can use it whatever sort of veg gardener you are, but what I really liked was that it gives school gardeners the chance to programme in the school term – so you can plan to grow crops that do their stuff while the kids are there to enjoy it. Could become a must-have tool for school gardening clubs everywhere. (www.quickcrop.co.uk)
Automatic growbag waterer: Perhaps not the prettiest of exhibits on display – but definitely one of the more practical. This odd-looking contraption takes the idea of the reservoir-based automatic watering container and adapts it to use with growbags: simple, but possibly a lifesaver when you’re trying to sustain thirsty tomatoes in not-quite-enough compost. You plonk the grow bag on those yellow plastic thingies, which pierce the bag and go up into the compost. Then just fill the reservoir and the water is wicked up via the green capillary matting into the growbag where it’s needed. It holds a hefty 15 litres, enough to keep things ticking over nicely for up to 14 days if it’s not too sunny (about a week if it is). You could always hide it behind a bit of woven wicker hurdle or something. (www.hozelock.com).