A Day At Gardeners' World Live

So, it's not Chelsea, but BBC's Gardeners' World Live at the NEC in Birmingham is still one of the foremost gardening events in the UK. And everything's judged to RHS standard too, with medals awarded to exhibitors using the same guidelines used at other RHS shows. So, if you can't get to one of the bigger shows, or you're still new to gardening, it's a sensible and very enjoyable alternative or starting point.

This was the third year I'd visited and I've seen it at its best and its worst. The first year we endured a torrential downpour for much of the day which meant everyone was crammed into the indoor attractions and only the hardiest perennials ventured as far as the show gardens. Last year, the sun shone brightly all day and most visitors spent all day outside – the hall air conditioning not proving sufficient to keep several thousand people cool for very long at all. This year was a mixture of both. Several short showers punctuated an otherwise sunny day. But anyone who's spent any amount of time out in the garden weeding, or pruning or planting isn't about to be put off by a little bit of rain. 

The Floral Marquee had some pretty unusual exhibits this year – including this wonderful 'floral' display of vegetables.

So, after a quick stop off in the adjoining BBC Summer Good Food Live event (gardeners and foodies get admission to both events) to grab a picnic for later, it was out into the gardens.The show is divided into several, easily digestible areas. One of the favourites is the Floral Marquee where exhibitors display their plants and flowers beautifully, and you can grab a bargain or two as well. Pretty much every plant you can see on show in the marquee is available to buy. I was in the hunt for a new heuchera – a species with which I fell in love with (some might say became a bit obsessed with) on my first visit to the show. I've been 'collecting' ever since and was not disappointed. In fact there were several new varieties and it was difficult to decide what to take away. But, after careful examination, and much umming and ahhing, I was able to come away with my prize.

Back out in the show gardens things were beginning to get busy. This year saw a good balance between very sculptural, more avant garde designs and very traditional, heavily planted cottage-style gardens. Many of the designers are on-hand to explain their designs throughout the show, so, if a particular plant catches your eye, you'll be able to replicate it at home. 

Since the entire show is organised and sponsored by the BBC Gardeners' World programme, you will probably see evidence of filming as you walk around. This year we became part of the crowd as lead presenter Monty Don recorded a piece to camera about a show garden based on his own garden.

There was a surprising amount of hard work undertaken for what turned out to be just a 2-minute segment on last Friday's show.

One show garden was made entirely of grass – not all of it natural.

Monty Don, Gardeners' World's lead presenter records a piece to camera surrounded by 'background artistes' – that's the crowd to the rest of you! We had to wait until it was televised to hear what he was saying – Monty was mic-ed up to enable him to speak at normal volume.

 A gorgeous display of sweet peas in the Floral Marquee.

 It was all explained to us by the very jolly BBC crew. Three run-throughs are required - aerial shot, normal shot and close-up. But it was fascinating nonetheless and a chance to take part in a tv classic was quite a draw. Could I see myself on tv? No, not really. I was the person standing behind the two very striking (and tall) blonde ladies. But never mind, I know I was there!

Because we ate early on, we were able to take advantage of the grassed picnic area, but for those choosing to eat after the first shower, things were a lot more crowded.

 So it really pays to do a bit of pre-planning and, should you decide to visit next year, you can do all your research online at the dedicated BBC website.

One service that's particularly worth taking advantage of, is the plant creche. Because you'll likely be some way away from your car or coach park, you'll soon tire of carrying all those plants, ornaments and tools around the show, so leave your purchases at the creche and pick them up on your way home again. Granted to will probably have to queue up to use this service, but you'll thank yourself at the end of the day. Another great, and popular, service is the 'Bring and Buy Tent'. Here, you can donate any leftover seedlings, unwanted plants and extras where they will be sold in aid of the BBC's Children In Need Appeal.

This show garden, based on a rubbish-strewn traffic island, used many unusual containers from abandoned shopping trolleys to old pipes.

The queue at the Bring & Buy Tent was long all day – but particularly so when the celebrity gardeners were in attendance.

 I picked up a lovely, and very healthy veronica plant. There are experts (some of whom you will recognise from the television) on hand to advise you on how to care for your new plant and you'll have plenty of fun picking out the perfect specimen for your own patch. 

And when you've bought all the plants you've got room for, you can head over to the smaller stalls offering all manner of things from giant giraffe garden statues and gazebos to anti-snail matting and garden clogs.And elsewhere in the grounds there are talks and displays on everything from beekeeping to growing your own. Inside the huge hall there is a special area dedicated to Countryfile – the popular rural affairs programme - and this year attendees could learn all about the threat to the British ladybird population from the foreign arrival the harlequin, adopt a honey beehive and find out how to improve the eco-friendliness of our homes.

The thing about this show is that it's accessible. It doesn't matter whether you're a seasoned gardener looking for that rare new plant, or a casual beginner just looking for a place to start, Gardeners' World Live is the place to be. Next year, why don't you give it a look?

This baby rabbit came down to see what all the fuss was about.

Several show gardens were based on natural planting. This 'wild meadow'  was so realistic that it was hard to believe that it had only been in place for a week. Eventually, it became a temporary home to the slightly bewildered wild baby rabbit.

This fabulous show garden was used to promote gardening within schools. Were lessons really ever this much fun?

 Using old rail wagon and sleepers as containers, this show garden was a throwback to the old station masters' gardens that used to stand beside every railway station.