Free Talks

Free Talks daily at the Garden show, please scroll down for more information about each talk.

Derry Watkins, 2pm Friday – On South lawn in the Talk & Demo tent

Stansted Estate, 2pm Saturday – On South lawn in the Talk & Demo tent

Ben Cross, 2pm Sunday – On South lawn in the Talk & Demo tent

Derry Watkins, 2pm Friday

On South Lawn in the Talks & Demos tent

‘Late Summer Colour’

In 1993 Derry won a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to spend three months in South Africa looking for new plants to introduce into horticulture.  In 1995 she went back, seed collecting in the Drakensberg.  In 1996 she and her husband bought a derelict barn to convert into a house, and they have converted the fields into a garden and a ‘Special Plants’ nursery and online seed shop near Bath in Southwest England. Now it’s a thriving garden, home and business. Derry has introduced many plants from her plant collecting trips to South Africa and elsewhere. The result is a collection of unusual plants from all over the world, including an amazing range of hardy herbaceous and rockery plants as well as many tender perennials for terrace and conservatory.

“Derry Watkins is mad about plants, and you can see this in her ever-evolving collection. The nursery, small, compact and overflowing, spills almost imperceptibly into Derry’s garden, which billows downhill and away below the house.”  ……….Dan Pearson, The Observer, 12 August 2012

Derry herself writes:

For forty years I have been avidly and unashamedly plantaholic. About twenty-five years ago I started the Nursery as a way of justifying all the plants I just had to buy. Against everyone’s advice, I began by specializing in tender perennials – plants which need frost protection in winter. Irritating because you must remember to take cuttings and bring them inside, delightful because they are some of the longest blooming and most beautiful of all plants.

Of course, I also grow many hardy plants as well, usually those which are difficult to find elsewhere. I only grow plants I love at the moment, so the list is always changing. Recently both grasses and biennials have taken more and more prominence. I did a black and white exhibit at Chelsea, came home and made a black and white border in the garden and as a result have a minor avalanche of very dark and very pale foliage plants. In 1999 we started selling seeds as well as plants.

Sue Elcock, nursery manager, keeps us afloat when I think we will drown in plants. Her unflappable efficiency and warm humour, keep all the parttime helpers happy and busy, allowing me to go off collecting more plants with a clear conscience. In 1993 I won a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to spend three months plant hunting in South Africa, and I have been back since collecting seeds. Trips to India, Nepal, Chile, Turkey and Bulgaria have resulted in many new plants.

The nursery is organized according to the needs of the plants – ‘Plants for Damp Shade’, ‘ Plants for Dry Sun’, ‘Tender Plants’ etc. Come and visit and see if you don’t think we are well named – Special Plants!

Stansted House & Estate, 2pm Saturday

On South lawn in the talks and Demo tent

‘Behind the scenes at Stansted House & Estate’ –  how the house, ground, park & forestry are managed and run

Stansted is a Grade II* Listed Edwardian country house set on a 1,800-acre estate within the South Downs National Park. The house began as a hunting lodge in the 11th century, but was developed over many hundreds of years.

It sits on the Hampshire/Sussex border between Chichester and Portsmouth overlooking the coast. It offers a great day out for the family, residential and commercial space to let in a heritage setting, plus many other events and local attractions.

In 1983 the 10th Earl of Bessborough gave Stansted Park, the Arboretum, his family home and its beautiful contents to the public. The state rooms are furnished as though the 10th Earl was still at home giving the visitor a real sense of a bygone era, the extensive Servants’ Quarters below stairs are brought to life by the very knowledgeable and friendly stewards that will guide you through the vibrant history of Stansted Park.

About Stansted Forest

For hundreds of years sweet chestnut has been traditionally managed in Stansted Forest.
At one time hundreds of thousands of fencing stakes were produced every year and gave employment to numerous coppice workers. The areas to be worked would be cut in the winter when the sap is down. In spring dozens of new shoots appear around the base of the cut stools and grow vigorously sometimes to six or seven feet in the first season. The area would be ready to cut again fourteen to sixteen years later.

 “A perfect example of modern woodland management, I would say” – Richard Williamson, 2011

Conservation and Wildlife

Alongside commercial benefits, an attractive patchwork of different ages of coppice builds up to create a pleasing subtly changing landscape. Wildlife benefits as spring flowers such as wood anemone and primrose bloom in profusion on newly cut areas and foxgloves make a show in years two and three. Butterflies and other insects thrive in the newly created glades and birds find nest sites as the re-growth reaches a thicket stage.

Later, when the canopy closes and less light reaches the woodland floor, fungi find the damp conditions more suitable and specialist insects make use of the area.

Sweet Chestnut Coppice Products

Stansted Park Estate cuts 8 -10 acres of coppice annually to sustain the ancient coppice system. The installation of a bio-fuel heating system for the mansion and ancillary buildings, using wood chips as a renewable fuel, has kick-started this process. This truly sustainable product can be used split or in the round for many garden applications such as pergolas and fruit frames. For an enclosed stove it makes an excellent source of fuel.

Ben Cross, 2pm Sunday

On South lawn in the talks and Demo tent

‘British Alstroemeria & The UK Cut-Flower Industry’ ‘British Flowers Rock’

Ben Cross from Crosslands Flower Nursery, a 4th generation horticulturalist based in Walberton near Arundel, West Sussex. Ben is a tireless campaigner for British Flowers.
Ben studied and worked in marine science and oceanography before returning to tend more than thirty different varieties of alstroemerias under 3 acres of glass all year round. 30 years ago there were lots of similar nurseries growing cut flowers all over the UK but the trend for importing cut flowers grown in Kenya, Colombia and Ecuador has sadly led to their demise. Ben’s nursery tours and talks are popular with flower clubs and horticultural societies who flock to see one of the few surviving old style horticultural establishments. ‘I feel very passionate about keeping the nursery going. It is a lifestyle like farming, not a job’ says Ben with heartfelt passion.


Steve & Val Bradley – Gardening Doctors

Daily 10.00am – 12.30pm – 1.30pm – 4.00pm, find Steve & Val on South Lawn in the Gardening Doctors tent

Gardening Doctor Surgery with Steve & Val Bradley : Pick up top tips and friendly advice from the Gardening Doctors who will be on hand on South Lawn to answer any question relating to your plants or garden…bring your plants and questions along!

The Gardening Doctors, Steve Bradley

Steve Bradley grew up on a nursery, spent over 20 years teaching horticulture at colleges around England and is now a freelance garden writer and broadcaster. He studied horticulture at Writtle, Cannington and Pershore Colleges, achieving the RHS Master of Horticulture Diploma. He appeared on two TV series: Plant Life and Garden Doctors, three official Chelsea Flower Show videos and has made multiple gardening videos.

He can be found most Sunday mornings on BBC local radio in Kent or Surrey / Sussex, where he answers live phone-in questions. He has written (or co-written) around 50 books on a wide range of topics including pruning, pests & diseases, a revision of the famous Grafter’s Handbook and updates of some of the ever-popular ‘Expert’ books. Since 2002, he has been Gardening Correspondent for the Sun newspaper with wife Val and Peter Seabrook.

The Gardening Doctors, Val Bradley

Val Bradley is a freelance garden writer who has been gardening since she could hold a trowel. Since training at Askham Bryan College, she has worked in garden centres and nurseries (including RHS Wisley), taught at horticultural college and written (or co-written) books on many aspects of gardening including houseplants, tools, fragrant plants and town gardens. She has also written magazine articles, answered live phone-in questions on local BBC radio and been resident expert on a magazine website forum. Since 2002 she has been Gardening Correspondent for The Sun newspaper with husband Steve and Peter Seabrook. Find her on Twitter @valgardening or see the website

Find them in the GARDENING DOCTOR TENT on South Lawn. Bring your ailing plants along; guaranteed to solve all your gardening problems! Note from the Garden Show organisers: ‘there is nothing that these two experts don’t know about gardening!’

Val and Steve are  busy rewriting the famous Gardening Expert books first made popular by Dr David Hessayon. Come and talk to them about it!