I am looking forward to a little flutter at the Races… Racing to Ascot? Racing at Ascot? No, change that to sprinting to the starting line for the Ascot Spring Garden Show and you will realise that in April the famous Berkshire racecourse will be sporting a field of completely different runners and riders.
Billed as a high-quality boutique gardening event, its offer is stylish gardens, top-class nurseries and garden accessories, as well as a theatre of plant advice. Running over three days (13–15 April), at its heart are six gardens curated by award-winning designer Andrew Fisher-Tomlin. His line-up consists of designers: Catherine MacDonald, Landform Consultants; Kate Gould, Kate Gould Gardens; Joe Perkins, Longview Design; Pip Probert, Outer Spaces; Claudia de Yong, APL, and Tom Hill, Tom Hill Garden Design.
In a few weeks these plans and drawings will be on the ground at the first Ascot Spring Garden Show.
In addition, horticultural students from six colleges (Capel Manor, Writtle, Shuttleworth, Pershore, Reaseheath and Myerscough) are taking part in the Young Gardeners of the Year Competition, competing to produce the best garden. The competition pioneered and organised by David Domoney, in association with the Prince of Wales’ Foundation, is now in its eighth year.
The all-new Ascot Spring Garden Show has been planned and designed by Stephen Bennett, who as former Shows Director at the Royal Horticultural Society was responsible for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show and the launch of all other major RHS shows during his tenure.
For this supreme showman it is a dream come true: “Set on the sunny south side of Ascot’s grandstand, the new garden show boasts top quality horticulture with a terrific twist: top-of-the-range facilities for fine dining, entertainment and shopping as well as a local railway station, plenty of car parking and within easy travelling distance of London and the Home Counties. And there will be plants for sale from the specialist exhibitors at a key time of the year for gardening.”
Among the six designers is award-winning Catherine MacDonald, Senior Design and Project manager at Landform Consultants, who barely clears her designs away after this show before she canters off to Chelsea to produce another garden for the non-alcoholic drink producer Seedlip who are also among the exhibitors at Ascot.
Catherine’s garden at Ascot appeals to me as a place in which to unwind and relax. Architectural shrubs and shapely foliage provide cover, while a Zen-like paved path takes you back and forth to the house.
“It’s an interesting challenge for me using an early-season plant palette. Just as most gardeners are longing for spring in their gardens, I am trying to source plants that will offer that burst of colour, such as spring-flowering bulbs, to combine with the more structural form of shrubs. I am also using some spring gems that my previous high-summer designs haven’t allowed for, such as Brunnera macrophylla ‘Alexander’s Great’ and hellebores.”
Forming part of the historic Crown Estate, Ascot is also working closely with its neighbours The Savill Garden and The Valley Gardens at Windsor Great Park to create horticultural content and gardening advice. Keeper of The Gardens John Anderson; Assistant Keeper of The Gardens Harvey Stephens and Crown Estate Gardeners Michelle Cleave and Patricia Craven are taking part in the Talks Theatre alongside David Domoney, Pippa Greenwood and Simon Lycett.
Tools, greenhouses, machinery, sculpture and plants, plants and more plants are among the sure bets and racing certainties at the show. One of my favourite herb growers, Pepperpot Herbs, will be there, as will Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, Avon Bulbs and Architectural Plants.
There is going to be something for all tastes and budgets and there will also be tea and cake… Show-goers can enjoy a botanical-themed Afternoon Tea designed by the Ascot chefs, in partnership with pastry chef Claire Clark, especially for the Ascot Spring Garden Show. The Parade Ring Restaurant is the venue, the perfect spot for tea, and an accompanying glass of Champagne or Prosecco (£45 or £35 per person). Sittings are at 1pm and 3pm each day. Pre-booking advised!
When I arrived from South Africa in the 1970s my sporty parents decided that part of my education should be a trip to Royal Ascot, to take part in one of the annual summer season events. I think that the tickets for the Royal Enclosure were available by ballot through our national embassy. Duly dressed to the nines – Pa sporting natty top hat and tails and Ma and I in the most finery we could muster – we had a glittering day at the races. So it will be with that day in mind that I make a return trip to Ascot to enjoy the launch of the first Ascot Spring Garden Show on 13 April 2018.