Things to do: The International Art Fair, the Talking Garden at Highgrove and a new spring ballet

Country Life rounds up the best things to see, do and book over the next few weeks.

Follow our quick links to find things to do by region:

South East and Home Counties
Northern England
Cotswolds and the Midlands
West Country
East Anglia


February 8 – March 8 – Kew Orchid Festival 2020: Indonesia, London TW9

This year’s showcase is inspired by Indonesia’s rainforests, orangutans, active volcanoes, carni-vorous plants and 5,000 species of orchid. Included with general admission.

February 27 – The Poet, the Lover and the Patriot: Lord Byron, Chiswick Auctions, South Kensington, Fulham Road, London SW3

A private collection of works relating to the Romantic poet will be offered for sale – highlights include a gold-and-enamel locket featuring a lock of his hair, a pocket watch bearing his crest and a letter from Byron to Francis Hodgson.

February 27 – Late Night Jazz: O’Higgins and Luft Play Monk and Trane, Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London SW7

Dave O’Higgins and Rob Luft pay tribute to Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, with rare cuts and a special focus on the late 1950s. Doors open at 9.10pm, tickets from £12.

February 27–March 1 — Collect: The International Art Fair for Modern Craft and Design, Somerset House, London WC2

International galleries present ceramics, glass, metal, wood and textiles, made in the past five years by artists from Sweden, Uganda and Japan, in the beautiful rooms of the fair’s new venue. There will also be installations on show and a programme of talks. General admission £23.

Until February 28 — ‘William Van Sommer: Colour in the Garden’, RHS Lindley Library, Vincent Square, London SW1

See photographs that were among the first to capture gardens, plants, flowers and landscapes in colour.

February 20 – March 6 – New paintings by Frances Macdonald, Portland Gallery, Bennet Street, London SW1

Bold and vibrant pallet-knife paintings, capturing the drama of Scotland’s west coast.

February 20–27 – ‘Into a Land of Pure Magic’, Olympia Auctions, Blythe Road, London W14

The late Nell Gifford, co-founder of Giffords Circus, produced 60 paintings and drawings, including watercolours and balletic inks of horses and acrobats, which will be auctioned online from February 10–28.

March 10 — Lunch and conversation with Sophie Conran, The Kensington Hotel, London

An afternoon talking all things chic and stylish with British designer and cook Sophie Conran over lunch at the Town House restaurant in the elegant setting of one of London’s finest boutique hotels. Tickets £40.

Get tickets (via Eventbrite)

Until March 27 – ‘James Turrell’, Pace Gallery, Burlington Gardens, London W1

Solo show by the artist who describes his works as an investigation of light, employing space, colour and perception.

March 28–April 15 – Rusalka, London Coliseum, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2

English National Opera presents Dvorák’s haunting tale of a love-struck water-nymph who chooses to become human. Tickets from £10.

November 15–May 4, 2020 – ‘George IV: Art & Spectacle’, The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London SW1

Exploration of the monarch’s public image and the art that inspired him against a backdrop of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Includes Dutch masterpieces, French porcelain, books, drawings and watercolours. Adult tickets £13.50.

Until August 31, 2020 – ‘Abba: Super Troupers the Exhibition’, The O2, Peninsula Square, London SE10

Immersive experience bringing to life the Swedish pop sensations through their music, costumes, gold discs, memorabilia and lots more, delving into the story of each band member. Adult tickets £27.

South East & Home Counties

January 25–March 1 – The Giant Houseplant Takeover, RHS Garden Wisley, Woking, Surrey

The Victorian glasshouse will be overrun with houseplants growing in unusual places – such as up the staircase, in an armchair and through the ceiling – to encourage visitors to let their imaginations roam. Standard admission applies.

February 15–23 – Living with Nature, Hever Castle & Gardens, Edenbridge, Kent

Follow a nature trail to discover wildlife and animal tracks, watch a falconry display and enjoy workshops and face painting. Standard admission applies.

Until February 23 – ‘The Show Goes On: A Theatre of Portraits by The Royal Society of Portrait Painters, The Watts Gallery, Compton, Surrey

See artists’ representations of the likes of Sammy Davis Jr, Ken Dodd, John Osborne, Celia Imrie and Oliver Ford Davies.

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Drawing on the techniques and stylistic changes to portraiture in the early 20th century, join us on Wednesday 29 January (7pm) for a panel discussion in the historic Watts Gallery, as we explore the influence of William Orpen and his contemporaries on portrait painting today. Chaired by our Brice Chief Curator, Dr Cicely Robinson, speakers will include members of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Anastasia Pollard RP and Peter Kuhfeld RP (winner of the Ondaatje Prize for Portraiture 2019), as well as Charlie Schaffer, winner of the BP Portrait Prize 2019. Click the link in our bio to find out more. ___ @rsportraitpainters #Watts #WattsGallery #Surrey #Guildford #SurreyHills #EveningEvent #Talk #Lecture #PanelDiscussion #ContemporaryArt #ContemporaryPainting #ContemporaryPortraiture #Portraiture #Portraits #TheRoyalSocietyOfPortraitPainting #WilliamOrpen Image: Anastasia Pollard, Organia.

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Until February 23, 2020 – ‘Treasures of Osterley: Rise of a Banking Family’, Osterley Park, Isleworth, Middlesex

Art works, lacquer furniture, Chinese porcelain plates and a 17th-century French ebony cabinet from the Child family’s collection.

February 25–March 3 – Bronze casting including wax sculpting, West Dean College, Chichester, West Sussex

Join Shane Whitehead to learn how to create a cast-bronze sculpture using the lost-wax process, including a basic grounding in the technique and resulting in at least one small completed piece. £983pp.

Until March 1, 2020 – ‘Talking Maps’, The Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, Oxfordshire

Ancient, pre-modern and contemporary maps, plus imaginary and war maps, taken from the Libraries’ collection of more than 1.3 million examples. Highlights include the Gough Map – the earliest to recognisably show Great Britain – and fictional maps by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

March 3 – Max Raabe & Palast Orchester, Congress Theatre, Eastbourne, East Sussex

The German singer and his accompanying white-tie orchestra perform the songs of the 1920s and 1930s, before moving on to appear at Cadogan Hall, London SW1 (March 4), Symphony Hall, Birmingham (March 5) and The Brigewater Hall, Manchester (March 6). From 7.30pm, tickets from £22.50.

Until March 22, 2020 – ‘Painting by the Thames: Swan Upping at Cookham’, Stanley Spencer Gallery, Maidenhead, Berkshire

A collection of paintings and drawings focusing on Spencer’s inspiration, the River Thames, as well as marking the centenary of the completion of the titular work.

Until March 22 – ‘Jeremy Gardiner: South by Southwest’, St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, Hampshire

Coastal landscapes from Kent to Cornwall, inspired by the artist’s explorations and travel posters, as well as guidebooks, postcards and ViewMaster reels, which will also be on show.

March 25 and April 3 – Magnolia Tour, Borde Hill Garden, Haywards Heath, West Sussex

Learn about the history of some 180 trees and shrubs, such as Magnolia sprengeri var. diva, the goddess magnolia. The Magnolia Gardiner Grove, planted two years ago with 48 specimens, will also be coming into bloom. 11am–12 noon, adult tickets £12, advance booking required.

Until March 29 – ‘Jake Wood-Evans: Relic’, The Gallery, Winchester Discovery Centre, Hampshire

More than 20 new works, including large-scale paintings and a series of curved canvases, fusing mythical and religious Baroque imagery with Modernist sensibilities.

April 5, 2020 – Bringing the House Down, Glyndebourne, Lewes, East Sussex

Special concert in aid of the Meath Epilepsy Charity, featuring arias and ensembles from opera and musicals, plus Classic FM presenter John Suchet. From 3pm, tickets from £40.

Until April 18 – ‘Microsculpture: The Insect Portraits of Levon Biss’, Willis Museum and Sainsbury Gallery, Basingstoke, Hampshire

This collection of images, created in collaboration with Oxford University Museum of Natural History, reveals the microscopic detail of insects using large-format photographic prints.

July 8–12 – Henley Festival, River & Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

This year’s line up includes appearances from Madness, James Blunt, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Kathy Sledge, Myleene Klass, Rory Bremner and Milton Jones, plus food by Angela Hartnett. General admission from £50.


December 7–February 15 – The Snow Queen, various venues

Hans Christian Andersen’s family-friendly fairy tale is brought to life by the Scottish Ballet to mark its 50th year, set to the music of Rimsky-Korsakov. Tickets from £19.

Northern England

November 16–February 23, 2020 – ‘Norman Cornish: The Definitive Collection’ The Bowes Museum, Teesdale, Co Durham

Retrospective of the artist’s work – portraits, industrial scenes and landscapes – almost 100 years after his birth, focusing on mining conditions and his local village. Adult museum entry £14.

February 14–March 1 – Dark Skies Festival, North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales

More than 100 events, including stargazing, Go Ape in the dark, night navigation, ghost walks and moonlit trail rides.

Until March 15 – ‘Saad Qureshi: Something About Paradise’, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, West Yorkshire

Exploration of paradise through three ‘monumental organic forms’ composed of landscapes and buildings, plus seven ornate wooden gates in the 18th-century chapel.

Until March 29 – ‘Geoffrey Willey: A Life Through the Lens’, Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton le Hole, North Yorkshire

Explore the photographer’s life and passion for the countryside through his own images and film, which he left to the museum when he died, at the age of 103, in 2015.

Until April 20 – ‘The Art of the Brick’ , Great Northern Warehouse, Peter Street, Manchester

Nathan Sawaya’s extraordinary sculptures made from millions of Lego bricks – including an interpretation of the Mona Lisa – return to the UK. Adult tickets £14.50.

Cotswolds and the Midlands

February 8–April 19 – ‘Dissent and Displacement: A Modern Story’, New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester, Leicestershire

Major new show by artist Monica Petzal, celebrating storytelling and reflection in large-scale panels, inspired by the museum’s German Expressionist collections.

Until February 23, 2020 – ‘Melvyn Evans: Imprinting the Land’, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, West Yorkshire

Drawings, paintings and bold lino prints inspired by the Yorkshire landscape and coastline, including the fossilised ruins of the submerged Doggerland causeway.

Until February 23, 2020 – ‘Sargy Mann: Let It Be Felt That The Painter Was There’, Attenborough Arts Centre, University of Leicester, Leicestershire

Largest public showing of the artist’s work, with unseen archival material, photographs and audio recordings, plus depictions of his home in Peckham in South London.

Until February 29 – ‘Jenny Wheatley NEAC: Journey’, Fosse Gallery, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire

The first solo show by the British painter, comprising some 50 works capturing fishing boats, the Highlands and exotic Indian palaces.

March 13–15 – Spring Wellness Retreat, Daylesford, Kingham, Gloucestershire

Immerse yourself in crystal sound healing, yoga, meditation, a massage and a wellness workshop, as well as a cookery class, Market Garden tour and supper at The Wild Rabbit. £1,800pp including food, accommodation and activities.

April 22 – 26 – Talking Gardens, Highgrove, Tetbury, Gloucestershire

Horticultural talks from the likes of Country Life contributor Alan Titchmarsh, Roy Lancaster and Rachel de Thame. Each event includes a tour of the gardens, as well as lunch or afternoon tea. Tickets from £95.

West Country

February 18–22 – Sarum Lights, Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire

‘Fully immersive light and sound spectacular’, using themed soundscapes and light projections located in different areas around the building to explore the cathedral’s history. Adult tickets from £5, time slots available from 7pm–9pm.

Until February 25 — ‘Ernest Gimson: Observation, Imagination and Making’, The Wilson, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Explores the works of a key designer of the Arts-and-Crafts movement, focusing on his architecture, textiles, metalwork and plaster. Adult tickets £5.

February 26–29 – Frost and Fire: Experimental Landscape Painting with Anthony Garratt, Dartington Hall, Totnes, Devon

Four-day course focusing on contemporary painting techniques using acrylics and water-based oils, suitable for both beginners and more experienced artists. £485pp including materials.

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Rise in late-born baby hedgehogs means many may struggle to survive winter. Warmer weather this year has led to growing numbers of hoglets being born later in the year and being too small to cope with the coming cold. 'If you see any out during daylight hours they need help,’ says Taz Clarke, a volunteer at Suffolk Hedgehog Hospital. ‘Any hedgehogs under 650g are not big enough to hibernate.' Charities like the Suffolk Hedgehog Hospital need help and donations; everything from kitten and puppy food to hot water bottles. You can also help by making a few changes to your garden; leaving out a little dog or cat food to help them gain weight before winter and ensuring there are small holes in your fences (if your pets allow for it) to aid them in moving freely between green spaces. You could even install a hedgehog house if you wanted a winter lodger. You can find more tips for helping hedgehogs on our website. · · · 📷 by Alamy @suffolkhedgehoghospital #hedgehog #helpthehedgehog #suffolkhedgehoghospital #gardenchanges #nature #helpnature #CountryLifeNews

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February 28–March 31 – Essex Book Festival, various venues

More than 100 events at 40 different venues, covering fiction, non-fiction, current affairs and poetry. Guest speakers include Val McDermid, A. N. Wilson, Kenan Malik, Louise Hare and Jess Phillips. Ticket prices vary, see website for the full programme and to book tickets.


April 4 – Dorset Hedgehog Conference, The Dorford Centre, Dorchester, Dorset

The best opportunity to find out all about hedgehogs, including how we can help them. In response to the steep decline in the UK’s hedgehog population the Dorset Mammal Group (DMG) is pioneering a successful approach to hedgehog conservation in Dorset, which co-ordinates community action, skilled hedgehog rescuers and veterinary practices.  DMG will be sharing this strategy and placing it in the national scientific context of hedgehog decline at the conference. £25 per ticket, email  or use the link below.

Until April 12 – ‘Beyond the Vessel: Narratives in Contemporary European Ceramics’, Messums Wiltshire, Tisbury

Works in clay by 14 artists commenting on modern-day issues, such as pollution and war, yet still drawing inspiration from ancient mythology.

April 22 — Spring in a Devon garden, Hayne, Zeal Monachorum, Devon

Enjoy talks from Noel Kingsbury and Christine Skelmersdale on perennials and bulbs, plus a walk around the garden with owner Milla Herniman. Tickets £150.

April 24 –  Forage and Feast, The Gurnard’s Head, Zennor, Cornwall

Walk the local footpaths, hedgerows and shorelines, foraging for ingredients with Caroline Davey of the Fat Hen wild-cookery school, before returning for lunch. From 10am, £65pp.

East Anglia

June 19–20 – Garden Museum Literary Festival, Helmingham Hall, Stowmarket, Suffolk

An exploration of 500 years of garden history, including talks from garden designers, gardeners, novelists and artists. Adult tickets from £110.


February 20 – April 23 – Lady Chatterley’s Lover, various venues

New stage adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s controversial novel, exploring war, love, female sexuality and toxic masculinity.

Until May 26 – Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour, various venues

Screenings of short adventure films featuring spectacular cinematography, from skydiving in Mexico to ice skating on frozen Swedish fjords, will be shown around England, Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

March 14 – May 16 – Geisha, various venues

Northern Ballet premieres the new production, which tells the story of Okichi and Aiko in 19th-century Japan. After the world premiere at Leeds Grand Theatre, the ballet will visit Sheffield, London, Edinburgh and Cardiff. Tickets from £10.