The RHS Garden Harlow Carr column with Liz Thwaite

Children look at Salvia during RHS Garden Harlow Carr's Petal to Pot Summer Garden Party.
Children look at Salvia during RHS Garden Harlow Carr's Petal to Pot Summer Garden Party.

As head of Harlow Carr, many people assume I’m an expert in horticulture and can wax lyrical about the beautiful plants and flowers in the garden. However, nothing could be further from the truth!

The garden expertise lies within our wonderful garden team headed up by curator Paul Cook. My role is a very different one: to manage the whole site and ensure it runs smoothly as a charitable business; that includes overseeing our events programme, education and learning facilities and our shop and plant centre.

That said, I am slowly but surely improving my knowledge of gardening, almost by osmosis as I wander around this wonderful setting that I call work.

This month I’ve been learning all about the symbolic meaning of certain flowers thanks to a fabulous new exhibition running in the Harlow Carr Library until 30 June. The ‘Language of Flowers’ tells the story of the curious 19th Century craze which engaged the Victorians, despite the fact that it had no historical or even mythological basis.

They believed that every flower – and some vegetables – carried a symbolic meaning, and used different flowers as ‘codes’ to exchange messages: the snowdrop signified friendship, a hellebore represented scandal, but a gift of a pumpkin or gourd was considered the height of bad manners! Pop along and find out more – it’s a real eye opener.

Visitors and passers-by on Otley Road may have noticed that something rather large is missing from the garden: our troublesome wind turbine. It’s finally been removed following numerous attempts to get it back in full working order.

The simple truth is that the technology has moved on since we installed the turbine and the cost of continually repairing it far outweigh the benefits.

As we say goodbye to the turbine, we’re saying hello to our latest cohort of work experience students from local secondary schools. The Year 11 pupils spend a week or two with us every year, gaining valuable experience in all aspects of Harlow Carr.

It’s a win-win: we get extra help from enthusiastic young people and they hopefully leave us with a greater insight into the world of work, and perhaps an interest in the world of horticulture.

We’re focusing in on the gardeners of the future in the Shop and Plant Centre too with a brand new children’s gardening and wildlife section which we hope will help to capture the hearts and minds of budding gardeners when they’re at a young age.

The Plant Centre team is excited to be welcoming a little piece of Chelsea by offering plant selections from the world’s most famous flower show for the first time. The ‘Chelsea Favourites’ collection features the most popular plants displayed at the show – from Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ to Salvia ‘Caradona’ – whilst ‘Chelsea Plant of the Year’ includes a choice of winners from the past five years of the show.

However, my personal favourite is garden designer Nigel Dunnett’s collection which features the best plants to introduce colour and interest to front gardens, helping to provide habitats for wildlife and reduce flooding. I must confess that I may be slightly biased as Nigel also happens to be Harlow Carr’s chief master planner!

If you’re lucky enough to be going to Chelsea Flower Show this month (23 – 27 May), make sure you check out Nigel’s ‘RHS Greening Grey Britain Garden’ which demonstrates the benefits of plants and gardens in even the smallest of spaces.