The nursery displays at the Malvern Autumn Show are always the first place I head. Mail order is all very well but nothing beats being able to examine plants and talk to the people who’ve grown them before you buy. And at Malvern there was no shortage of tempting exhibits.
The judges’ favourite was Hampshire Carnivorous Plants’ display of insect-eating plants (pictured above). I confess to finding them somewhat sinister but the colours were stunning and the exhibit richly deserved its Best in Show award – the third at Malvern for grower Matt Soper and number 11 in total.
Elsewhere, Stella Exley, of Hare Spring Cottage Plants, won her first gold with only her third RHS show exhibit; she got silver at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival and Tatton Park earlier this year.
I loved the sense of timelessness she had created. It felt like the corner of a real garden that the owner had just stepped out of for a moment.
The sense of a garden was also apparent on Green Jjam’s stand. This Cotswold-based nursery, which specialises in penstemon, showed how they could be worked through a border with things such as Verbena bonariensis, helianthus and grasses to create a soft, cottage garden-like effect.
And there were plenty of individual plants that caught my eye at the Malvern Autumn Show. Here are just a few I spotted.
I’ve never been too sure about rudbeckia, though my judgement is possibly clouded thanks to my struggles to grow them. It’s the combination of yellow and brown that puts me off so a new variety on Hayloft Plants’ stand really appealed.
Rudbeckia ‘Sophia Yellow’ has an orange central cone instead of the usual dark brown and two-tone petals of yolk and pale yellow, giving a real blast of sunshine colour to a late border.
It grows to about 40cm high and needs more sun than the traditional rudbeckia – so much so that Hayloft are promoting them as ‘Sunbeckia’.
“If you put it in the same category as ‘Goldsturm’, it’s going to struggle,” explained Lark Hanham, of Hayloft.
The Dutch breeders regard it as fully hardy but, until it’s been thoroughly tested in gardens, Lark is advising that it’s hardy to minus seven.
For those who like the familiar brown and yellow combination, ‘Amber Glow’ is a winner. It has a dark brown centre but the yellow petals have striking red-brown markings.
A cool contrast is a Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’. This is so new on the nursery they still have no idea what colour the flowers will be or even what shape. As it’s not hardy, it’s being suggested as a houseplant or as part of a summer border.
New versions of old favourites
I love heucheras: the foliage is good year-round; they have lovely, delicate wands of flowers; the slugs and snails leave them alone. Malvern always has several specialist nurseries, making it easy to compare different varieties.
On Plantagogo’s stand this year, a new heucherella – a cross between a heuchera and a tiarella – was making an impact.
‘Art Nouveau’ is a beefy plant that will eventually get 2-3ft across with large green leaves that have a striking dark marking.
“It will have leaves as big as your hand and lovely white flowers,” said Vicky Fox, who runs the nursery with her husband, Richard.
And if it’s brown hues you want, Heuchera ‘Mega Caramel’ has tints of orange, peach and pink in its foliage.
The display by specialist aster growers Old Court Nurseries was stunning and a worthy gold medal winner.
Among the familiar pink, white and mauve blooms was a new variety, ‘Jessica Jones’, a seedling from ‘Ochtendgloren’ but slightly taller and with larger flowers.
Growing to about 4ft-high, it has dark pink buds that open to paler flowers giving a lovely two-tone effect on the plant.
“It’s a pretty good size, robust and very free flowering,” said Helen Picton from the Colwall-based nursery.
Don’t forget the scent
Another pretty pink bloom that was getting admiring glances was Clematis ‘Manon’ making its Malvern Autumn Show debut on Floyds Climbers and Clematis’ stand.
It has almost pearlescent lavender-pink flowers, which appear from May to September, grows up to 5ft, making it idea for a container, and is best in semi-shade for the best colour.
“It is also good for growing up a low-growing shrub,” said Marcel Floyd.
His tip for growing clematis in a container is to give them two gallons of water once a week and let them dry out, rather than watering daily.
“They don’t like wet feet,” he explained.
But it was a pink jasmine that followed me home from his exhibit. Trachelospermum asiaticum ‘Pink Showers’ is an evergreen that flowers from June to September, is drought and salt-tolerant, and deer-proof. It is also suited to any aspect except north-facing.
Best of all, it has that wonderful jasmine fragrance.
Also beautifully scented was the Actea simplex ‘Brunette’ on Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants.
The creamy wand of flowers is held above deep burgundy-brown leaves. It will grow to around 4ft in height, likes humus-rich soil and needs sunshine to keep good foliage colour.
“It will gradually clump up and can be split after four or five years,” said Rob Hardy.
For those who love honeysuckle but don’t have room for what can be a vigorous climber, one of Newent Plant Centre’s most popular plants could be the answer.
Lonicera periclymenum ‘Honeybush’ doesn’t climb but forms a 3ft by 3ft bush, covered in deep pink and golden blooms.
“It still has that fantastic, intense scent,” said Mark Moir of the nursery, which is now based near Ledbury.
The honeysuckle is deciduous, will flower from July to October and can be grown in pots or in a semi-shaded position in the garden.
“If you want to tidy it up, you can prune it in the spring.”
And among the edibles
Mint is rarely thought of as a thing of beauty yet a new variety on Hooksgreen Herbs’ display was stunning.
Variegated grapefruit mint, which was discovered on the nursery, has pale mauve flowers above green and white foliage, which has a definite hint of citrus.
“At this time of year it goes pink and has good autumn colour,” said Malcolm Dickson.
Finally, I love looking at the veg displays at the Malvern Autumn Show – if only to marvel at their absolute perfection. There’s also usually something a bit different, such as the Karella on W. Robinson & Son’s stand.
Sue Robinson described it as a bitter gourd from India that is used as the base for curries.
“It’s a bit of an acquired taste.”
And if you don’t like the flavour, you could always use this climber as her grandfather used to: as living greenhouse shading in the firm’s glasshouses.
• Read my reflections on the Malvern Autumn Show and its future shape here
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