And so it begins...

Brilliant Borders - Birmingham

Brilliant Borders - Birmingham - Credit: Archant

Although most gardeners won’t have been discouraged from pottering in their gardens over the winter months by the cold, wet weather, the coming of May really heralds the start of gardening season for me.

The Malvern Show at the start of the month kick starts several months of fantastic flower shows – a real showcase of the garden design talents, and the wonderful plant producers that we have in this country. Last week was the fabulous RHS Chelsea Flower Show – the real jewel in the crown of the gardening year – for many it is a chance to watch as celebrities tell us how much they enjoy their gardens, and stand for photo calls in front of the many show gardens. For the more green fingered among us, it is a chance to really appreciate fantastic design – some to our taste, and some not, and an opportunity to greedily make lists of wonderful plants that we want to buy for our own gardens – hoards of plant catalogues make their way home with gardeners who attended Chelsea last week, and lists will be being made! We have Hampton Court, and Tatton Park still to come, and of course BBC Gardeners’ World Live, which takes place in Birmingham, and gives us amateur gardeners a chance to listen to the professionals giving talks, and advice, as well as being able to look around yet more wonderful show gardens.

One of our own local garden designers – Judy Shardlow has taken on the challenge of exhibiting a show garden at Gardeners’ World Live this year. I met with Judy to discuss her design, and the process that she had been through to be chosen. I was fascinated to hear all about the business that Judy runs, and the clients that she helps with her garden “coaching” business. “Coaching” is a term that we have become familiar with, I am sure you will all be familiar with the idea of personal fitness coaching, and life coaching, and maybe some of you will have even been to see a job “coach” who has helped with your CV when you were looking to change your job. I was completely unaware of garden coaching. Judy explained to me how her garden coaching works – she works with clients who want to garden, or who might move into a house which has an established garden, but have no idea how to tackle it. I think if you asked most people, they would say that they would like to have a lovely garden, but a lot of people don’t know where to start.

Judy’s enthusiasm for gardening is infectious. Chatting to her; it’s easy to see what her clients like about her. Even over our brief lunch, which was supposed to be about her – I came away feeling like I wanted to get straight back into my garden. She has a passion for plants, and you can tell how easy it would be to while away the hours with her, planting in your own garden. She offers advice on design, but it’s also a teaching process for those who don’t know about gardening, or who need a little guidance. She told me how she can talk through options with clients – perhaps they are wanting to plant a flower bed, and rather than just choosing the plants for them – she will discuss which structure would work, and what options are available – whether they want to plant for colour, or structure, and which plants will work well in the conditions that they have in that particular part of their garden.

Some of Judy’s clients will already have some gardening experience, and some might just want a little confidence building in their gardening ability. We might not all be brave enough to make bold changes in our garden, and then it’s a great idea to have someone to come and work with you. To have a standard garden designer, you might think that someone will come in and completely change what you have currently got, whereas Judy would come and work with you to create the final result.

I wanted to get an idea from one of Judy’s clients to find out what they get from the coaching. Lorna Clarkson receives garden coaching from Judy, and she told me her reason for using Judy: “I had always liked nice gardens but did not really know what to do and was always hesitant in case I killed things. I knew what I liked and did not like but did not know how to achieve what I wanted. I also don’t have a lot of time so coaching seemed a good use of time to make swift progress. Which I feel I have.”

On top of the coaching, Judy has been busy designing her garden for BBC Gardeners’ World Live, which will be open the second week of June, in Birmingham. Judy has designed her Garden; “Beautiful Borders” on the iconic building The Cube, which is taken from Birmingham city centre. Judy’s design features planting which echoes Birmingham’s history with jewellery, and also the cross design from The Cube itself. Judy explained to me that when you are putting together a garden for a show, you have to ask people for help along the way. She has been lucky to have help from Crocus for the plants, and our very own St Albans Van and Car Hire who are kindly assisting her with the transportation for the show.

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I loved hearing all about the design process for the garden – it was really interesting to see how these gardens are put together. I can’t wait to go along to the show to see how it has all come together, and I will be keeping you updated with how Judy and her garden get on!

If you want to go along to Gardeners’ World Live to see Judy and her fabulous design, it runs between 12th – 15th June, and tickets can be purchased online at

Focus on: The RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Last week I was lucky enough to go to The Chelsea Flower Show on press day. The gardens were glorious as always, and you may have seen in a recent edition of The Herts Advertiser that another of our local designers; Kate Gould, was working with Alan Titchmarsh on the garden “From the moors to the sea”. When looking around the gardens, it was easy to see that this garden would be popular with the public (the garden was an exhibit on behalf of the RHS, and as such wasn’t eligible for a medal). The garden was full of lovely touches – such as the signpost “to the hills, and far away”, which I understand was a nod to Beatrix Potter – with a signpost featuring in the Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle.

My other favourite garden, which proved to be voted the people’s favourite as well, was the garden designed by Matthew Keightley on behalf of Help for Heroes, entitled “Hope on the horizon”. The planting in the garden was incredible, and the sentiment behind the garden very moving. I felt truly emotional whilst looking at it, and I could have stood there for hours enjoying the calm that it evoked.

If you missed out on Chelsea, and would like to go to an RHS show – Hampton Court isn’t far off, and the sunshine is far more likely!

Things to do this month:

Make sure you keep tubs and baskets well watered. Even if it has been raining, these might not have got the water they need.

If you have planted potatoes, you should be able to dig your first “earlies”

Sweetpeas will be starting to grow upwards, so make sure you tie them into canes, and remove tendrils to promote better flowers.

With the rain we have had, and the sunshine (we hope), it’s a good time to tidy up the edges of lawns.

If you are growing strawberries, you can put straw underneath them to reduce the risk of rot.