Malvern show gardens are one of the highlights of the RHS Malvern Spring Festival. More accessible than those at Chelsea – both in cost and ease of seeing them – they are a source of ideas and the chance for designers to show off their skills. This year’s contest sees nine gardens, three of them built by former Best in Show winners.
Festival Gardens, now in its third year, is for designers who have never built a show garden before. Each is given a £3,000 bursary, expert mentoring and a theme. This year’s is ‘Hidden Gems’.
The Garden of Romance
Visitors will be able to experience the romance of Italy first-hand on Villaggio Verde’s Malvern show garden which will double as a theatre for talks and floral workshops.
It has been inspired by an old monastic cloister garden, neglected in the past but now used for blessings; designer Jason Hales encountered a similar place at a family wedding in Italy.
“The planting has spread and matured and is almost overgrown in some places,” explains Jason, whose firm sells olive trees. “It’s bringing the space alive again and putting it to good use.”
Fittingly, a 400-year-old olive is at the heart of the garden, which will also feature cork oak, Italian cypress, rosemary and roses. Visitors will be able to look into it from the theatre and the cloisters. Adding to the atmosphere will be fantail doves in two dovecots.
The firm is well known at Malvern for its theatrical Mediterranean gardens, which have won three golds and Best in Show last year.
The Sunken Retreat
Fresh greens, cool whites and warm tones of orange will feature in Graduate Gardeners’ Malvern show garden.
‘The Sunken Retreat’ has been designed by Ann Walker as a family entertainment space.
In the middle is a sunken seating area and fire pit under four large Turkish hazels, giving a sense of enclosure.
“You can sit out by the fire pit when it’s a bit colder in the evenings,” says Ann, who won gold and Best in Show for her 2012 Malvern garden.
A second seating area at the front is designed for sunny days and two water features give reflections and movement.
The planting includes shade-tolerant dicentra, Euphorbia Robbiae, ferns, luzula and aquilegias, moving out into orange geum and Anemone sylvestris in the sunnier area along with iris, alliums and clipped yew.
The colour palette is echoed in the hard landscaping with pale York stone and a Corten Steel fire pit and wall, their rusty tones adding to the feeling of warmth.
A Japanese Reflection
The Japanese tradition of shakkei or ‘borrowing the landscape’ will be put to good use in Howle Hill Nursery’s design with the Malvern Hills forming a backdrop to the garden.
This contemporary version of a Japanese style won’t have stone lanterns and deer scarers but will rely on planting to give a sense of place.
At the heart of the garden are a large pool, water cascade and a cedar tea house. Forest of Dean stone will be used as stepping stones, a terrace and paths. Some is sawn to give smooth outline, while other pieces have been gathering moss at the nursery over the past few years.
“It’s going to be a garden that visitors won’t believe has just been put up for the show because it will have that very naturalistic look about it,” explains nursery owner Peter Dowle, who has designed the garden with colleague Richard Jasper. The firm won Best in Show in 2013.
Height will come from acers, bamboos and Scots pine; one is a multi-stemmed specimen that is making its third major show appearance having been used in gardens at both Chelsea and Malvern.
Hakonechloa, ophiopogon and ferns will form a textured understorey of planting along with azaleas, pittosporum, Nandina domestica, osmanthus and euonymus.
The UCARE Garden
Historic oak paneling in Broughton Castle has inspired Emily Sharpe’s garden for cancer charity UCARE.
Box hedges echo the pattern of the drawing room paneling at the home of the charity’s patrons Lord and Lady Saye and Sele.
Angular lines and a formal feel are softened by planting that includes geraniums, camassias and urns filled with pink tulip ‘Caresse’, emblem of the charity, which helps patients with urological cancers.
It was the tulip that inspired the colour scheme of pink, purple and bronze, explains Emily, who won silver gilt and People’s Choice for her Malvern Festival Garden in 2015.
“The planting is quite bright, optimistic and uplifting.”
Height in the garden will be provided by Cornus controversa with structure from Viburnum plicatum and a hornbeam hedge giving shelter.
Milleflori ‘A Garden of One Thousand Flowers’
Glittering glasswork from the Staffordshire Hoards will be depicted in flowers and coloured foliage in the Milleflori garden.
Heuchera, red-leaved malus, acres, germs, euphorbia and dicentra will represent the Milleflori, or one thousand flowers, a type of glasswork made of tiny pieces.
The domed shape is echoed in a central arbour with a stained glass top and a water feature in the middle; access to the garden will be via stepping stones across rills of water.
It’s been designed and built by horticulture tutor Carole Webb and her students on the RHS Level Two course.
Carole is hoping that the sun will light up the glass as the judges approach: “Hopefully, it will shine down and reflect all the beautiful colours on the paving.”
Gardening Amidst Ruins
There will be fauna as well as flora on a garden designed to celebrate the legacy of Capability Brown. As well as the more usual roses, the garden will have a netted area filled with birds.
“We’re not quite sure what yet,” says designer Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, who has created gardens for Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace Gardens. “They will be fancy fowl.”
‘Garden Amidst Ruins’, Todd’s first show garden, celebrates a little known aspect of Brown’s work, creating gardens among ruins, such as old moats, often with birds or animals as part of the design.
Recent archaeological work has uncovered more about these long vanished plots and this is the inspiration behind Todd’s entry in partnership with Historic Royal Palaces and Wyvale Garden Centres.
The roses, which were still fairly novel at the time, are in pots which are partially sunk into the ground and set along gravel paths that snake into the circular plot.
Adding to the feeling of a gardened ruin will be the stump of a 200-year-old black poplar with ivy and geraniums growing out of it.
“There will be a sense of antiquity,” adds Todd.
Macmillan Legacy Garden
His garden may last for only a few days but designer Mark Eveleigh is hoping it will have a timeless quality.
It highlights an appeal for people to remember the cancer charity in their wills and the design reflects this idea of a lasting influence.
Rustic materials and loose, naturalistic planting suggest a garden that was first created in about 1911, the year the charity was founded.
“I’m hoping to achieve a feeling that it’s been there for some years,” says Mark. “I wanted it to be like a lasting legacy, continuing through to the present day.”
Central to the design is an old summerhouse, inspired by a garden he has worked in near the Worcestershire showground.
A gnarled old apple tree, multi-stemmed lilac, soft ferns, red campion, foxgloves, geraniums and sweet woodruff will be used alongside yew and box that will be loosely shaped rather than tightly clipped.
Time Is a Healer
The idea of a garden as a healing space underpins Martyn Wilson’s third Malvern entry.
‘Time is a Healer’ promotes the work of The Primrose Hospice in Bromsgrove and in particular the counselling given to bereaved children.
It’s based on the five stages of grief, as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and the planting reflects the anger and confusion people go through before finding acceptance.
There’s a dark pool for reflection and a specially commissioned sculpture at the centre represents a clock face while its four entrances and exits suggest the different ways people work through grieving.
“The path through the process will not be the same for everybody,” explains Martyn, who got silver gilt for his first show garden last year and silver for a Festival Garden in 2014.
The planting is divided into contrasting palettes: dark coppers and reds for anger and early grief with heuchera, ajuga and black phormium and an element of shock from bright geum; a kaleidoscope of blue nepeta, yellow geum and orange verbascum to suggest confusion; cool white and green across the front with tiarella, Orlaya grandiflora and euphorbia.
The Woodcutter’s Garden
Sustainable living is the theme of Mark Walker’s design for a garden on the edge of woodland.
Wild flowers, including foxgloves and violets, euphorbia, heuchera and geraniums will give a cottagey feel around a central wooden hut and patio made of yew logs.
“It is almost a rural Arts and Crafts garden,” explains Mark, who is based in Somerset.
The Woodcutter’s Garden portrays the home of characters in The Woodcutters Story, which he has written to raise funds for Cancer Research, and is designed to encourage people to think about recycling and sustainable living.
Hidden Gems of Worcestershire
The diverse strengths of Worcestershire are celebrated in Nikki Hollier’s garden, which blends historic agriculture with space-age technology.
Nikki, from Styling Homes and Gardens, is promoting Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership, and the variety in her home county.
A circular seating area is inspired by the concentric rings of a telescope while granite setts represent solar panels used on satellites , both drawn from the work of hi-tech Malvern firm QinetiQ.
The county’s ancient wool trade is depicted with wire sculpture sheep grazing in a meadow-like planting of grasses while Evesham’s horticulture is shown with a dwarf apple tree and the River Severn becomes a ribbon of Festuca glauca and metal trout.
There’s history too with plants, including silver birch, drawn from Capability Brown’s garden at Croome while the overall black and white theme is in tribute to Berrow’s Worcester Journal, the world’s oldest continually published newspaper.
“It’s quite a diverse topic to cover,” she admits, “but I think I’ve done it.”
Christian Dowle, of Garden Inspiration, is building a garden inspired by the historic water spouts of the Malvern Hills.
Designed as a low maintenance space, it will be filled with the sound of water as a water spout, set into a dry stone wall, fills an old stone trough and then overflows into a pool.
There’s a gazebo in one corner made from coppiced wood and looking over a wildflower meadow that leads down to the water. Other plants include azaleas and rhododendrons and grasses are placed to give reflections in the pool.
“It’s all very natural, very rustic,” says Christian, whose brother, Peter, is building a show garden. “It’s a space where you can relax after a hard day.”
The Low Line
A garden high up above the streets of Manhattan was the starting point for Pro-Gardens’ Malvern Festival Garden.
Designer Jamie Langlands explains that the rejuvenation by Piet Oudolf of the High Line, once part of New York’s transport system, was one of his favourites.
“It’s got a slick, contemporary design but with little nods towards the history.”
It’s this fusion of old and new that he is hoping to replicate in the Malvern design, which marries a modern Perspex and aluminium tumbling water feature with an old coach wheel and saddle stone.
Multi-stemmed silver birch will be underplanted with ferns and grasses to give a naturalistic style and a sense of movement.
Surrounding the garden will be solid and slatted fencing, hinting at an urban setting, while decking will give access across the garden.
• For RHS Malvern Spring Festival admission times and prices see Three Counties
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