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At The Royal Horticultural Society

February 12, 2018
by the gentle author

If you crave the arrival of spring, I recommend a visit to one of my favourite events of the year, the Royal Horticultural Society Early Spring Plant Fair which runs until Wednesday

There may yet be another month before spring begins, but inside the Royal Horticutural Hall in Victoria it arrives with a vengeance today. The occasion is the Royal Horticultural Society Early Spring Plant Fair held each year at this time, which gives specialist nurseries the opportunity to display a prime selection of their spring-flowering varieties and introduce new hybrids to the gardening world.

No experience in London can compare with the excitement of joining the excited throng at opening time on the first day, entering the great hall where shafts of dazzling sunshine descend to illuminate the woodland displays placed strategically upon the north side to catch the light. Each one a miracle of horticultural perfection, as if sections of a garden have been transported from heaven to earth. Immaculate plant specimens jostle side by side in landscapes unsullied by any weed, every one in full bloom and arranged in an aesthetic approximation of nature, complete with a picturesque twisted old gate, a slate path and dead beech leaves arranged for pleasing effect.

Awestruck by rare snowdrops and exotic coloured primroses, passionate gardeners stand in wonder at the bounty and perfection of this temporary arcadia, and I am one of them. Let me confess, I am more of a winter gardener than of any other season because it touches my heart to witness those flowers that bloom in spite of the icy blast. I treasure these harbingers of the spring that dare to show their faces in the depths of winter and so I find myself among kindred spirits at the Royal Horticultural Hall each year.

Yet these flowers are not merely for display, each of the growers also has a stall where plants could be bought. Clearly an overwhelming emotional occasion for some, “It’s like being let loose in a sweet shop,” I overheard one horticulturalist exclaim as they struggled to retain self-control, “but I’m not gong to buy anything until I have seen everything.” Before long, crowds gather at each stall, inducing first-day-of-the-sales-like excitement as aficionados pored over the new varieties, deliberating which to choose and how many to carry off. It would be too easy to get seduced by the singular merits of that striped blue primula without addressing the question of how it might harmonise with the yellow primroses at home.

For the nurserymen and women who nurtured these prized specimens in glasshouses and poly-tunnels through the long dark winter months, this is their moment of consummation. Double-gold-medal-winner Catherine Sanderson of ‘Cath’s Garden Plants’ was ecstatic – “The mild winter has meant this is the first year we have had all the colours of primulas on sale,” she assured me as I took her portrait with her proud rainbow display of perfect specimens.

As a child, I was fascinated by the Christmas Roses that flowered in my grandmother’s garden in this season and, as a consequence, Hellebores have remained a life-long favourite of mine. So I always carry off exotic additions to a growing collection which thrive in the shady conditions of my Spitalfields garden – most recently, Harvington Double White Speckled and Harvington Double White.

Unlike the English seasons, this annual event is a reliable fixture in the calendar and you can guarantee I shall be back at the Royal Horticultural Hall next year, secure in my expectation of a glorious excess of uplifting spring flowers irrespective of the weather.

Double-gold-medal-winner Catherine Sanderson of ‘Cath’s Garden Plants’

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10 Responses leave one →
  1. Lyn in Yorkshire permalink
    February 12, 2018

    Another wonderful post from Spitalfields Life. Another heartfelt ‘thanks’ from me

  2. Helen Breen permalink
    February 12, 2018

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, many thanks for that glimpse of spring from the Royal Horticultural Society’s Early Spring Plant Fair. With gorgeous pics, of course.

    Reminds me of Shelley’s eternal question in his “Ode to the West Wind” –
    “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

  3. February 12, 2018

    I am envious! Here in the Hudson Valley, we don’t dare plant anything until right before Memorial Day…..but (like you) we have started plotting and dreaming of getting our hands in the soil and deciding on color schemes, etc.
    I loved seeing the gleeful smiles on many of the customers.
    Thanks for the colorful blast of optimism today, as ever.

  4. Adele permalink
    February 12, 2018

    Gorgeous – my dream is to own a little garden filled with a profusion of color.

  5. February 12, 2018

    Can’t get there this year, alas – but your photos are a consolation!

  6. Jean Wilson permalink
    February 12, 2018

    Thanks for a taste of the excitement and vibrancy of the fair! Wish I was there!

  7. February 12, 2018

    Cheery pictures – thank you! We are under snow here in Southern Ontario.

  8. Debra Matheney permalink
    February 12, 2018

    Lovely. Got my day off to a beautiful start. Thanks!

  9. jackiej permalink
    February 12, 2018

    what a lovely sight! those beautiful plants in such delightful displays would be sooo tempting – it’s just as well I’m not able to attend.

  10. Marcia Howard permalink
    February 21, 2018

    Flower heaven! Lovely to see ‘pussy willow’ (Salix) in the photos too. Gardening has been a lifelong passion with me, but my current garden in North Yorkshire can be 6 weeks behind my previous home in Berkshire. Thankfully my deep purple hellebores already brighten my days, as do my snowdrops, and some early primroses.

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