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Sally Nex Sally Nex | 07:00 UK time, Saturday, 7 May 2011

In the news...

It's official: this April was the warmest, and the11th driest, in a century, adding to the growing din of climatic records shattering. Recent years have seen the coldest December, second-warmest winter (2006), and two wettest summers (2008 and 2009).

For gardeners, of course, long dry springs spell disaster for newly-transplanted seedlings, to say nothing of shoulders aching from all those watering cans. But that's nothing compared to the disaster wrought on the scenic beauty of the Brecon Beacons, Berkshire, Lancashire, the Scottish Highlands and elsewhere by fire. That long-awaited bubble of low pressure, arriving about now on the coasts of Wales, will be very welcome indeed.

Orchid © Keith Alexander

© Keith Alexander

Traditional orchards, in which sheep graze peacefully under gnarled apple trees blessed with names like 'Pitmaston Pineapple', are a quintessentially English scene.

But over half have vanished since the 1950s, and now Natural England has commissioned the first full inventory to find out what's left. It's a grim picture. Around half are in 'poor' condition – neglected, and sometimes abandoned. Just one in ten of the country's 35,378 orchards are judged 'excellent' if you want to find out how your county's orchards did, log on to the survey website.

And finally, congratulations to Colin Roberts, whose dreamy picture of sea thrifts streaming out into the horizon won him the title of 2011 International Garden Photographer of the Year. All the finalists' photographs can be seen here and at a special exhibition opening at Kew Gardens in London, opening next weekend.

Elsewhere on the web...
It's at times like this that garden designers who opt to build a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show must wonder why, oh why, they ever agreed to do it. With just two weeks to go, the first contractors are on site and this year's horticultural concoctions are rising from the grass lawns of the Royal Hospital Chelsea site.

The Crocus team has started work on Luciano Giubbilei's hotly-anticipated garden for Laurent-Perrier – like many, they've been struggling with the soaring temperatures. And the first of the Chelsea video diaries have emerged; Cleve West has been putting the finishing touches to his water features, while Anne-Marie Powell, designing her first full show garden, has been bouncing around on large red cushions.

And there's plenty away from the show gardens to look forward to; not least, legendary planthunters Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones, who are bringing plants from their nursery at Crûg Farm in north Wales to Chelsea for the first time this year. Can't wait.

Out and about...
Dust off your trolleys out and sharpen your elbows: this week sees the first major show of the year, the RHS Malvern Spring Flower Show at the Three Counties Showground in Worcestershire.

This year's show gardens include a shepherd's hut complete with real lambs, a Tudor parterre, and a garden of prehistoric plants, as well as the always-intriguing selection of innovative small gardens from the Chris Beardshaw Mentoring Scholarship hopefuls. And at the heart of the show, the huge, spectacular floral marquee, packed with around 100 of the country's finest nurseries and surely an unmissable highlight of the show season.

If you can't get to Worcestershire, there's always the fine Spring Plant and Gardens Fair tomorrow at the Garden Museum in Lambeth, London, where specialist nurseries will be selling rare and unusual plants. There are more chances to buy that perfect plant this week at RHS Garden Rosemoor in Devon, Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire and Lullingstone Castle in Kent – all with fabulous gardens attached to visit too.

Sally Nex is a garden writer and blogger and part of the BBC Gardening team.


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