A treat of a day at Hortus Loci

You know when you have that feeling upon you in the cold darker days in late winter.  That feeling that says you need a treat, something to look forward to, something that you can look forward to.  That was how I felt when I saw the advert for the Gardens Illustrated Reader Day Chelsea Plant Preview at Hortus Loci.  The agenda for the day was to have a guided tour of the nursery by CEO of the nursery, Mark Straver, then after lunch there would be conversations chaired by Anne-Marie Powell with Mark Gregory and Tamara Bridge.  I looked at the date, I checked my diary and booked my tickets.  I have been on many Gardens Illustrated reader days over the years and I have always enjoyed them.  I have also wanted to visit Hortus Loci for a long time; it is a bit of hike from where I live and so having a definite reason to go was the push I needed.
Hortus Loci is a plant centre open to the public and a wholesale nursery that sources and supplies plants for designers for all kinds of projects and also show gardens such as RHS Chelsea, Hampton Court etc.  They pride themselves on being able to source the best and most innovative trend-setting plants from around the world.
The day started sunny but rain was threatened, thankfully the weather behaved and the rain did not start until after lunch when we were listening to the talks.  Mark Straver took us firstly to look at the big trees waiting to go out to a variety of projects.  The size of the root ball never looks big enough when you see the height of the tree, but they know what they are doing and Mark talked us through how using trees like this works.  We were there mainly to talk about Chelsea Flower Show and one of the questions was around what do they do with the plants after the show is finished.  Mark said that they brought them back to the nursery and potted them on to bring them back to health.  There is waste at these shows, this is sadly inevitable, but where it can be reduced and best of all avoided, it is always a good thing.
I loved walking around the nursery,
and seeing the variety of plants they had,
and looking at the scale of it all.
Mark explained that each show garden needs around 4,000 plants.  So they allocate around 10,000 plants per garden to make sure they have enough at the right point in growth at the right time; and then they actually grow around 30,000 to ensure that if something goes wrong with one group they have enough of something else.  Just think about that for a moment and also think of the stress of making sure that the plants do what is needed when it is needed.

The talks were skillfully chaired by Anne-Marie Powell, who kept everything to time and made sure that everyone who wanted to ask questions had the opportunity to do so.  The first talk was from Tamara Bridge who is the planting advisor to the 'Ikea and Tom Dixon Gardening will save the world' Garden.  This is going to be the first RHS Chelsea Flower Show show garden that is in the Pavilion rather than outside on main avenue.  The garden uses the principles of forest gardening and how to grow food within an urban environment.  The containers used in the garden are already available on sale and so the principles should be able to be replicated.  The garden is designed to be walked through and it is on two levels and, very excitingly, you should be able to walk onto the higher level which will be very interesting to do as you can look down into the garden and across the Pavilion itself.  Tamara has a designed several gardens previously including the Jo Whiley Scent Garden a couple of years ago at Chelsea, a garden I remember liking very much at the time.

The second talk was from Mark Gregory, who won the Peoples' Choice Award last year with the 'Welcome to Yorkshire' garden and this year he is designing and building for this sponsor again.  Mark is also building the neighbouring garden as his company is a design and build company.
The garden this year features a narrow canal complete with lock gates.  A part of Yorkshire's industrial heritage.  It is described as a 'slice of Yorkshire' and I can see why.  Mark explained why these gardens matter so much to Yorkshire tourism as it is a £9 million industry for the area.  The point of the garden is to make people think about how beautiful Yorkshire is and want to visit.  The development of this garden is being featured on the BBC 1 'Road to Chelsea' programme being broadcast on the 12th May, which I look forward to seeing.  The build of Mark's garden starts from 30th April and I wish both Mark and Tamara every success.

The day included many fascinating insights into being a show garden grower, constructor and designer.  There was a lot about how flexible you have to be as plants often refuse to be predictable; about how the weather matters so much, from a cold spring to a sudden heatwave and what they might do to your planting scheme.  There was also a discussion about the judging and how medals are awarded which is more complex than I had previously appreciated.

There was so much more to the day than this and it is not possible to cover everything and actually I do not want to.  I did not go on the day to review it, I went to enjoy myself so these are just a few of the highlights.

I am already excited about going to the show and I will be reporting back on what these gardens look like in reality and how they are received by the judges and the public.


  1. Fascinating article! What a wonderful opportunity to attend this very informative event. I love reading your very informative updates.

  2. Great article, summed up the day perfectly.

  3. The scale is mind-blowing. It must be a very exciting company to work for.

  4. Excellent Post
    Looking forward to your further tips on similar topics Thanks…
    Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips
    I really appreciate it.


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