RHS Urban Garden Show & Thoughts on small scale gardening

November 16, 2016

cactus terrarium mid-century bowl west elm

Image: Design Soda

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So, as you have undoubtably noticed, 2016 has definitely been the year that houseplants made a comeback in the fashion stakes. Every top fashion store worth it’s weight has a fiddle leaf tree or some variation of this in its fit, design bloggers have them all over their homes and Instagram feeds, Anthropologie has been leading the way with its indoor living walls for years, and if you don’t own a cactus in your home you are probably old enough to remember the last big houseplant trend in the late seventies/early eighties. For a really long time house plants were seen as a bit naff, back in April when I posted about the plethora of great new artificial plants on the market, I noted that they’d been on my radar for a little over a year and I was still adjusting to the idea of them indoors. As we come to the close of the year (and we have relandscaped our first ever sole-use-garden inbetween) I am wholeheartedly smitten with the green hunger and now have a plant (alongside the cacti we’ve had forever) in just about every room of the house. It seems we all have a craving for calm greenery as adornment in our homes right now.

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RHS Urban garden show, Prick Cactus company

Selection of plants by Cactus sellers Prick.

Image: Design Soda

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There is something about cultural shifts in all of this, despite Brexit and Trump. The slow movement, the ethical living ethos, artisan design, individualism and the absorption with taking care of your mental state in little ways despite the tumultuous events unfolding on the political stage around us are the zeitgeist of the moment, not to mention hygge. House plants are, if you like, a bulwark against all of this political insurmountable-alienating-madness, a harking back to simpler times. Now I know this sounds like a pretty bold statement. It is. But, I think that there is something in it. Interior design is always a reflection of both the taste and mores of the age, and out of all the trends listed above, Slow Living is where it started, houseplants are the most recent stage. Plants are in fact linked to mental wellbeing, just being around natural green in landscapes has been proven to be beneficial to the mind, depleting mental fatigue and replenishing the brains ability to renew and concentrate. 

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cactus installation RHS Urban Garden Show 2016

Cactus installation.

RHS Urban garden show, plant pots and cacti

Beautifully designed plant pots by This Way To The Circu

Images: Design Soda

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Houseplants are also a fantastically useful way of enjoying the outdoors if you are either an urban dweller with limited outdoor (or no outdoor) space, or if you want to bring nature in when it’s too cold to go out. We’ve all heard of the Chelsea Flower Show, but I confess, I was not aware until last week that the RHS hold many more smaller scale shows throughout the year. One of which opened for the first time last weekend as The Urban Garden Show. It’s such a fantastic idea, an event that celebrates small, mainly indoor, gardening and greenery. I was invited along to the preview on Friday where we got to sample a few the fabulous workshops taking place over the weekend. There was much to see and great advice to be sort, for example my terrarium bowl in the kitchen (pictured in the main image) has a shrinking cactus inside, I couldn’t work out why this was (other than blaming the cat for walking through the bowl a few times) but in fact it’s my irrigation, apparently I should have drilled holes in the bottom of the dish to allow it to drain, I have probably drowned that little cactus! Amongst the olive trees with curly stems and a fair few cactus and succulent stalls, house plants, food made from kitchen garden fare and amazing vegan cake were some of the most eye-catching botanical displays. The weekend was packed with talks and workshops, from floral jewellery making, kokadema (the new trend to replace terrariums in 2016 it seems) to living frames packed with succulents (see image below of the one I made) to talks on choosing and caring for plants and social media for gardeners! 

  

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RHS Urban Garden Show 2016 living terrarium frame workshop

Living terrarium frame I made during Blue Leaf plants workshop

Image: Design Soda

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The showstopper for me (and the most intriguing thing I’ve discovered this month) were botanical distillations from Seedlip’. It sounds bizarre, but they are a company who make water that tastes like really nice alcoholic beverages – great if you’re pregnant etc. Using old apothecary techniques, and armed with a 16th century handbook, the founder discovered that water could be distilled in the same way as alcohol and that combining ingredients such as cardamon, smoked oak and grapefruit creates a sophisticated aromatic blend. The company launched through Selfridges last year to sell out success and are now stocked at all the high end retailers and restaurants you’ve heard of, including Heston’s Fat Duck (well, of course). Their latest foray into distilled water is a blend based on peas and hay with spearmint, rosemary and thyme, now I really wasn’t expecting to say this, I was more than a little dubious about top notes of pea and hay, but it was absolutely lush. If you know a tee total-er, this would make a fabulous Xmas pressie, you can buy it here

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RHS Urban garden show, Seedlip distilled botanicals

Image: Design Soda

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The aim of the show, for the RHS, was to encourage people to celebrate house plants as a route to wellbeing, and there is an exhibition currently running alongside the show which celebrates the historical link made by authors over the last five centuries for plants and well being and current scientific knowledge which explains it. We were given a tour of some of the books in the basement archive and there are some amazing examples of both our evolving attitudes to plants in the home (did you know that the Victorians thought house plants in the bedroom could kill you?) and stunning pictorial examples of plants in design. The 1952 special edition of The Architectural Review (pictured below, top and bottom left and centre) could have had me perusing for hours, but there was also a host of later books with brilliantly bizarre titles like ‘Plants as Pets’ or ‘Stop Talking To Your Plants and Listen‘. One design I have to mention in particular, from The Architectural Review, is the cheese plant pattern in the bottom centre (below) just look at how modern it feels, it could have just slipped off a House of Hackney wallpaper roll couldn’t it? I would happily have that on a wall in my home.

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RHS Urban garden show, lindley archive on gardening

Selection of botanical prints in the Lindley Archive, all taken from Architectural Review with the exception of an early Victorian terrarium design.

Image: Design Soda

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So there you go, if political turmoil and design trends haven’t persuaded you, maybe science will, nature is good for the soul and house plants are an easy route to small scale contentment. Go forth and find some greenery to brighten your home during the dark months. If you didn’t get to see the show (which is worth remembering for next year) then all is not lost, you can still visit the RHS and see their current exhibition at the Lindley Library which is public access. If you chance upon the Architectural Review I mentioned in there, don’t expect to want to leave in any hurry!

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RHS Urban garden show 2016

Plants at the entrance to the show

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