All aboard: A horticultural trip through the summer


Gloria Dolores! Blimey, in May the gardening world does go bonkers. Things are whooshing past like those fast, non-stopping trains that run down the middle rails in quiet country stations.

Rail services that have already left us standing include the Chelsea Flower Show, that TGV of bonkers gnomery and floral art with thousands of pounds' worth of show gardens and celebrity galas thrown in.

If you're suffering that anxious feeling in the centre of your ribcage because you're standing on the wrong platform and you've just watched the right train leaving, join the RHS now to secure 2014 Chelsea tickets, at least. Or visit to buy tickets for this year's remaining RHS flower shows at Hampton Court and Tatton Park, both distinguished floral bunfights with delicious qualities of their own.

And if you find yourself unable to catch either of those, consider making a dash for this year's Chelsea Fringe (, a record-breaking steam locomotive pulling a selection of eccentric carriages.

Back, wackier and more widely spread than for last year's debut, there are events as far afield as Bristol, Canterbury and Vienna (compost-themed), and activities ranging from balcony allotment advice to downloadable garden trails to Zumba in the park. Last year's highlight was the bicycling beer garden. This year's top tip? Battersea Power Station will let you in through a secret new door to a post-industrial landscape including a "Podhenge". Events run to 9 June and its website is helpful and useable, which is more than you can say for First Great Western.

The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew ( also started chuffing away last week with its IncrEdibles festival. This is a proper holiday seaside special, including a Tutti Frutti boating lake sporting a giant pineapple, taking bookings for rowers until 1 September. Along with the Global Kitchen Garden and some bouncy orange rubber carrots, this is a fun day out for kids and grown-ups with some relatively sensible thought behind it, too.

Or what about Dan Pearson's sleek Milan Trenitalia of an exhibition at London's Garden Museum ( a collection of plans, photographs and designs from many of his most interesting projects. "Green Fuse: the Work of Dan Pearson" runs to 20 October, and includes the nowadays-customary domestic schemes for Russian plutocrats, as well as a jaw-dropping national park in Japan. Pearson has added a fresh border to the front of the museum, too, so for a moment you can enjoy that newly minted feeling for yourself.

Finally, there's all the golden afternoons and home-made-cakes-in-the-rain potential of the NGS scheme, with its celebrated "Yellow Book" listing gardens opening from 15-16 June across England and Wales. Again, it has a great website (, which includes images, helpful to decide where you want to while away an hour or two.

With all this pizzazz and Carmen Miranda-ness (those are the technical terms), it's easy to forget that now is also the best moment to sit in your own garden. Preferably in a deckchair, with the sun shining, and holding a long cool drink.

At Chelsea last week, Mark Diacono of Otter Farm in Devon took over the stand of Pennard Plants, his West Country neighbours, to make a Wincanton Minty Apple Mojito that packed a punch. Apple juice, ice, rum, sugar (what looked like a half a bag to me) and mint.

"Moroccan mint", Diacono tried to specify, raising his voice to be heard over the heckling of a bevy of ladies waiting in high heels for the first proper drink of the day. "More rum!" yelled the bevy, as one. Which would seem a perfectly appropriate slogan with which to see in Flaming June.

Three more to train your sights on

Bluebell railway in Sussex stops at Sheffield Park, famous for its Capability Brown landscapes and fabulous azaleas. Trains now run direct from East Grinstead; £16.50 gives you rail travel and garden admission.

Exbury Gardens in the New Forest runs a tiny but gorgeous steam-train tour of the estate, taking in a mile-and-a-quarter of rhododendrons: £14.50, including railway.

Venice-Simplon Orient Express is offering a day trip to Chatsworth, one of Britain's most glorious country houses and garden, with a five-course dinner on the way back home. Departs London Victoria at 8.45am on 26 June, £395pp.

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