Garden’s Illustrated Festival

Set in the beautiful Wiltshire town of Malmesbury, Garden’s illustrated magazine held the inaugural Garden’s Illustrated Festival over two days in April.

The garden team were delighted to be asked to help answer questions at the ”Design and Plant Clinic’ throughout the day on Saturday. Josh, Helen and myself volunteered to split the day between us. In the end the lure of a weekend of horticultural inspiration proved too much and six of the Garden team journeyed west.

We found a small campsite on the edge of the town with a view over to the imposing Abbey. Throughout the afternoon the Sissinghurst gardeners arrived at the campsite and were soon joined by Great Dixter gardeners, Lewis, Rachael and garden designer Adele Ford. Once the tents were up we celebrated with gin and tonics all round – but there wasn’t much time to relax before the first lecture began. Our head gardener , Troy was in conversation with designer Dan Pearson, discussing how to return the feel of Sissinghurst to a place of refuge and beauty, as Vita’s grandson Adam Nicolson once said ‘part of the substance of life and not some horticultural display cabinet’ facilitated by Chris Marchant from Orchardene Nursery. The lecture took place in the abby and photos of Sissinghurst, past and present, rolled passed on the projector as Troy and Dan talked – things seemed to be off to an impressive start!Malmesbury Abbey

Abbey ceiling

I am not sure if there is a collective noun for a gathering of gardeners but whatever it may be, such a group is a wonderful thing. Great Dixter gardeners past and present, Sissinghurst gardeners and two of our garden volunteers, Philippa and Keith, joined up again for horticultural discussions, thoughts on that evenings lecture, lectures planned for tomorrow, garden travels and plants seen.

Luckily, the campsite was only a field away.


After a chilly night we were all ready for the day. Bridget and I set off over the field for our first lecture with Derry Watkins held in the Assembly Room. Derry is an enthusiastic and wonderful speaker and we both enjoyed her lecture on plant introductions.

This was my only lecture but throughout the day the other gardeners listened to more speakers including: Tom Stuart-Smith, Anna Pavord, Tom Mitchell, Annie Guilfoyle, Fergus Garett and Noel Kingsbury. Nobody was disappointed – if only we were able to attend all the lectures!

The town of Malmesbury became a surreal place for me as my gardening heroes strolled by and authors of some of my many gardening books sat drinking coffee, bumping into gardening friends and colleagues throughout the day all in such beautiful surroundings. The festival marquee was packed with plants, crafts people and gardening tools. The Abbey House Gardens were also open but the guided tours were fully booked early on. Jo and I visited by ourselves and enjoyed the colourful and well-tended gardens.

I left Jo relaxing in the gardens while I went for my shift at the ‘Design Clinic’ as a garden expert. The ‘Design Clinic’ was made up of two garden designers and two gardeners, one from Great Dixter and one from Sissinghurst. We had a wide range of questions and everyone seemed grateful for the opportunity to chat and get some answers.

As the festival ended, Josh, Helen, Jo, Pete and Bridget went off to find Cricklade meadows to see the Fritillaria melagris growing wild – it has the largest population of Snake’s Head fritillary (Fritillaria mealeagris) in the country and is also a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). Meanwhile, I started dinner!


We had a chilly but happy evening around the camp fires. I hope this is the first of many.



Claire – Gardener