Gardeners’ World Live goes back in time

There’s more than a whiff of nostalgia about this year’s Gardeners’ World Live. With the BBC programme celebrating its 50th anniversary, the show is looking back at gardening over the decades.

One of the displays I’m most looking forward to is the Anniversary Garden, which will show just how much gardening has changed over the 50 years.

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Designed by Professor David Stevens and built by Peter Dowle, who last week won gold and Best in Show for his meditation garden at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival a few weeks ago, it’s being billed as “a brief history of modern gardens” and will have five ‘vignettes’ from the different decades.

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Starting with the 1960s – who remembers colourful bedding and crazy paving? – it will move on to the 1970s and heather collections, outdoor rooms from the 1980s, growing environmental awareness and the garden ‘make-over’ of the 1990s, while the 2000s has a renewed interest in growing vegetables and herbs.

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It’s not just gardening trends that are being remembered, the changing Gardeners’ World line-up is also being commemorated. Plants named after presenters, including ‘Geoff Hamilton’, ‘Alan Titchmarsh’ and  ‘Percy Thrower’ roses, and ‘Monty Don’ sweet pea, have been woven into the planting in ‘The Nostalgia Garden’.

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Rosa ‘Geoff Hamilton’.

Designer Paul Stone has set it firmly in the 1960s with a village scene that has a classic Mini Cooper, period garage and even a Flymo – the first was sold 50 years ago.

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The Nostalgia Garden

And the party theme continues into the Floral Marquee with a three-tier birthday cake made of peonies and a garden party with British cut flowers. There will also be the chance to buy a piece of ‘Spiced Beetroot’ birthday cake made by Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain for the GWL show.

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There’ll be plenty of inspiration for grow your own

Meanwhile, ‘Gardeners’ Gold’ will be launched by Harkness Roses and Roses UK as part of the Rose Festival.

The Gardeners’ World anniversary is also the starting point for the popular Beautiful Borders feature. These small space designs show what you can achieve in the tiniest of plots.

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The Magnolias is a tribute to Percy Thrower

Among this year’s entries is ‘The Magnolias’, a homage to Percy Thrower by three Pershore College students, a modern-style rock garden for an urban site, and a garden that celebrates Monty’s dog Nigel that includes a raised border shaped like a bone.

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This border is inspired by Monty Don’s dog Nigel

More inspiration for those with limited space will come from the five designs on ’APL Avenue’ where landscapers and designers put forward ideas for either a small front or back garden – all built with a limited budget.

Jamie Langlands’ design has a magical folly

Among the entries is one by Jamie Langlands of Cotswold firm Pro Gardens. The ‘CLIC Sargent’ Garden has a magical folly at its heart and aims to inspire imagination and adventure for a young family.

The other designs range from a wildlife friendly urban plot and a “hipster back garden” with a floating lounging platform, to a modern back garden with an outdoor kitchen and a garden for art lovers with decking that converts to lounge chairs.

• Gardeners’ World Live 2017 is at the NEC Birmingham from June 15-18. There will be talks, growing advice, including how to grow veg in containers with Matt Biggs, nursery exhibits and free entry to the neighbouring BBC Good Food Show. For more details, see the website.

Ticket giveaway

I have six pairs of tickets to give away, valid for any day except Saturday June 17. See my Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram feeds for more details. (Click on the links at the top of the site.)

RHS Chelsea 2017 – in among the flowers

Cotswold gardens are generally big on herbaceous perennials so I love the chance to see something a bit different. The Great Pavilion at RHS Chelsea 2017 didn’t disappoint.

From specialist collections by expert growers to striking floristry and innovative ways to display plants, there was plenty to see this year.

Here are just some of the things that caught my eye.

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The waterlilies on Waterside Nursery’s stand were serenely floating amidst all the bustle of the show.

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And I loved the shaggy heads of this Eriophorum angustifolium, a British native.

The orchid display by the Eric Young Orchid Foundation was attracting a lot of attention. This is Paphiopedilum ‘Saint Saviour’.

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There were some interesting ideas for plant displays. This is a ‘living wall’ of thyme created by using Wonderwall planters.

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Or how about these ideas for house plants?

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It was put together by Indoor Garden Design and Ikea.

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I loved the idea of hanging plants. This was above a bed.

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And this makes a change from a budgie.

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The British Florist Association is celebrating a century of flowers and this display was put together by floristry tutors and students at Moreton Morrell in Warwickshire.

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As usual, the Birmingham City Council stand was eye-catching.

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The Interflora exhibit had a lot of cameras out.

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Of course, if it’s Chelsea there have to be roses. This is Peter Beales’ display.

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The delicacy of ‘The Fairy’ is a change from the larger blooms I generally see.

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This is also a beauty – ‘Rose Ball’.

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I’m planting lots more dahlias this year and, looking at the National Chrysanthemum Society’s stand, I may be branching out into those as well. This is ‘Vanilla Sorbet’.

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I also fell in love with Fibrex Nurseries’ new yellow pelargonium ‘Rushmoor Amazon’.

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Gardens may have moved on from tulips but I couldn’t resist photographing this on Avon Bulbs’ exhibit. It’s ‘Hemisphere’.

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And I love iris but seem to have mainly purple. These from Cayeux are definitely on my shopping list!

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RHS Chelsea 2017 the show gardens in pictures

RHS Chelsea 2017: the gardens in pictures

How to grow vegetables in containers

Grow your own is a big theme of BBC Gardeners’ World Live and ahead of the show I talked to Matt Biggs about how lack of space needn’t be problem.

It’s easy to assume that to grow vegetables you need space – an allotment or a back garden turned over to spuds and carrots. That’s difficult with gardens getting ever smaller and waiting lists for allotments while those living in flats may have only a balcony. The answer, believes Matt Biggs, is growing vegetables in containers.

“We’re trying to encourage everyone to grow vegetables and this can be done irrespective of the amount of space you’ve got,” he says.

“Just because you have a small back garden you’re not excluded. Come on in and join the fun.”

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Matt will be demonstrating how to plant up herbs and vegetables in containers

Matt, one of the regulars on Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time, will be exploring how to do it and what to grow in daily talks on the VegTrug Grow Your Own Stage at BBC Gardeners’ World Live.

It’s important not to think you can become self-sufficient in veg, he tells me, but to choose things that are family favourites, are difficult to find in the shops, or that simply taste better when they are freshly picked.

“Grow your favourite vegetables rather than the things you think you ought to grow,” he advises.

Fast maturing or what he calls “high value” crops are better than things that are cheap to buy or that will occupy the container for months – main crop potatoes and parsnips are just two examples of crops to avoid.

Keeping a note of what you’ve grown and what worked will enable you to build up your own list of what works well in your garden.

Among his top tips are carrots, beetroot – “pick them when they are the size of golf balls” – and lettuce, particularly ‘cut-and-come-again’. Sweetcorn would be another ideal crop as it begins to lose sweetness as soon as it’s picked.

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Peas and mangetout are ideal for growing in containers

Other suggestions for vegetables in containers include mangetout, peas, runner beans, endive and chard, while Matt says strawberries are ideal for hanging baskets where they are out of reach of slugs.

It also makes sense to choose mini veg varieties or those that have been bred for small spaces, such as broad bean ‘The Sutton’. Look out also for those with disease resistance.

If you can’t get mini veg seed, just pick before the crops reach full maturity and sow again.

“If you harvest when they’re small, you get better quality, they’re more tender and tasty.”

The key to success when it comes to vegetables in containers is not to sow the whole packet at once but to keep repeating every few weeks.

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Chard is a colourful crop for a container

“People do forget to succession sow and to sow a little and often,” says Matt.

When it comes to containers, anything goes as long as it has good drainage and is as big as space will allow. Try recycling old wooden boxes – line them first with polythene to prevent water loss – or hunt out some of the many colourful plastic containers on sale.

“I would avoid metal because it will heat up in the sunshine and will scorch fibrous roots and dry out the compost but apart from that you can just use your imagination and make it fun.”

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Try putting strawberries in a hanging basket

Matt advised filling your containers with compost designed for vegetables, or making your own by mixing organic matter, such as homemade compost, with a John Innes soil-based compost to give it more substance.

Once planted, choose a sunny spot and check plants daily for pests, diseases and water – an irrigation system saves time and water. Then, just keep harvesting and sowing.

“Don’t be frightened to do it,” he says. “The lovely thing about gardening is it’s not failure it’s gaining experience. Always be prepared to have a go, learn from what happens and enjoy it.”

BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2017 is at the NEC Birmingham from June 15-18. There will be talks, growing advice, nursery exhibits and free entry to the neighbouring BBC Good Food Show. For more details, see the website.

Ticket giveaway

I have six pairs of tickets to BBC Gardeners’ World Live to give away, valid for any day except Saturday June 17. See my Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram feeds for more details and to enter. (Click on the links at the top of the site.)

In the frame – RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2017

RHS Malvern Spring Festival – a sneak preview

I admit to being a little unsure about this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival. It was so good last year: stand-out gardens; a marquee full of tempting flowers; perfect weather. Would Jane Furze manage to meet let alone exceed that in her first year running the festival?

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Peter Dowle’s best in show garden

I was lucky enough to be allowed a sneak preview before it opens and first impressions are good, very good.

For the first time in the nearly 30 years that I’ve been visiting, Malvern seems to be looking outwards and finally making the most of its enviable setting. From nearly every point on the Three Counties Showground you are aware of the Malvern Hills in the background.

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The hills are a backdrop to the gardens

Continuing a move started a couple of years ago, the show gardens are positioned to be against the hills and elsewhere views have been kept clear of tents, stands and trailers, the necessary but ugly mechanics of a garden show.

Then there’s the feeling of space. Obviously, this was helped today by the fact that visitors were not on site but there’s the sense that even when the crowds arrive – advance ticket sales are already up on last year – there will be none of the past cramped atmosphere.

It is, says Jane with a smile, exactly what she had hoped for.

“We’ve opened the site up and created much more open space.”

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The festival seems to blend in with the hills

Permanent showground trees have been incorporated into the vista, filling the middle ground and linking the site to the hills.

“We’re in a really beautiful site and I wanted to make sure that location stood out. Everything is placed in the frame of the hills.”

Exhibitors’ vehicles, which used to occupy a fairly central area, have been banished out of sight and a vast swathe of grass has been left in front of the Floral Marquee.

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I love the detail on the gardens – this is from Sue Jollans

And what of that marquee? When I spoke to Jane a few months ago, she was excited about one of her major rejigs, namely the design of Malvern’s equivalent to Chelsea’s Great Pavilion.

It has changed shape and site on the ground several times over Malvern’s 32-year history. I think it’s finally right. The long 190m vista from one end to the other is knockout – even when the exhibits were still being put together – and the shape means nurseries are no longer in danger of being tucked away in a corner and easily missed. And as for the space outside, the marquee now has room to breathe, while keeping trade stands to a minimum means the hills are beautifully on show.

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The flowers are always a favourite with me

Jane confessed that her main worry before the festival had been the weather. Even that has worked in her favour. Today was a perfect sunny day with the forecast looking good. The forecast for the festival also seems to be set fair.

So, what are the ‘not-to-be-missed’ features? Here are just some of the things that caught my eye.

The gardens

The best thing about RHS Malvern gardens is the chance to get up really close – and usually from more than one side.

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Part of Villaggio Verde’s garden

Small enough to be relevant to the average gardener, they are nonetheless packed full of ideas.

And don’t miss Jekka McVicar’s Health and Wellbeing garden. She’s completely revamped what had been a rather neglected permanent feature. Now it’s full of edible and medicinal herbs with plenty of places to sit.

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Jane Furze (right) chats with Jekka on her garden

The garden, with a greenhouse donated by Hartley Botanic, will be cared for in the future by Pathways, a day service for adults with learning difficulties,

“I’m very pleased with it,” says Jekka. “It’s come up really well.”

Edible borders

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The Incredible Edible Bristol border

In the same vein, there are edible borders at this year’s festival. Created by community groups, including Incredible Edible Bristol and Garden Organic, they are putting the spotlight on community projects that promote food-growing.

The flowers

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The lupins are beautiful

For me, the Floral Marquee is the highlight of RHS Malvern. There’s plenty to see with exhibits of everything from cacti to clematis. At its heart is the Plant Finders Parlour, designed by Joe Swift, and set to be the stage for talks.

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Fibrex Nurseries is the featured Master Grower

Don’t miss the special Master Grower exhibit by Fibrex Nurseries. Part of a rolling programme across RHS shows, it explains a bit about the history of the family nursery and the behind-the-scenes work.

I also spotted stand-out lupins on W&S Lockyer’s stand and some irresistible peonies.

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I loved the peonies

British Flowers

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Jonathan Moseley is celebrating British-grown flowers

British flower growers are back at RHS Malvern in force. The austere surroundings of the Wye Hall have been cleverly disguised by Peter Dowle, giving the hall a Victorian street market feel.

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The floral fountain is spectacular

Don’t miss the spectacular floral fountain, designed by leading florist Jonathan Moseley. Hundreds of blooms in glass holders hang from the ceiling, slowly rotating as they catch a breeze. Simply mesmerising.

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Some of the glass holders

RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 11-14. For details, see the website

For show garden results see here

RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2017 – the results

Top honours at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival have gone to Peter Dowle’s tranquil Japanese-style retreat.

‘At One with . . . A Meditation Garden’ has won gold and the coveted Best in Show award.

Peter, who runs Howle Hill Nursery in was delighted with the win – his second best in show at RHS Malvern.

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Peter Dowle on his award-winning garden

“It’s absolutely fabulous news and great for all the team – it was a huge team effort as always.”

And despite it being his 12th RHS gold, the thrill has not diminished: “Every gold is special,” he said.

“We’re looking forward to a fabulous festival.”

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Sue Jollans won gold

There was gold also for Painswick designer Sue Jollans on her second time at Malvern and after a gap of 10 years.

The Refuge highlights the plight of refugees and the journey they take in search of sanctuary.

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Villaggio Verde’s garden

A Mediterranean retreat by Villaggio Verde picked up a silver-gilt. There was silver for Buckfast Abbey’s Millennium Garden and the Treehouse Garden by Tim Lawrence.

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The Treehouse Garden by Mark Eveleigh
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Buckfast Abbey’s garden celebrates its millennium

A Garden Framed by Tim Lawrence, inspired by the idea of gardens as art, won bronze.

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A Garden Framed won bronze

In the Spa Garden category, gold and Best in Show went to Russian duo Denis Kalshnikov and Ekaterina Bolotova. They were invited to exhibit at Malvern as part of a collaboration with the Moscow Flower Show.

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A Russian design duo created the Molecular Garden

Annette Baines-Stiller got silver for her garden inspired by the poetry of Ted Hughes.

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The poetry of Ted Hughes inspired this garden

There was bronze for The Ocean Garden by Damien Michel and Keith Browning’s eye-catching Bubble Drops.

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The Ocean Garden by Damien Michel
The brightly coloured Bubble Drops by Keith Browning

The RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 11-14. For details, visit the website.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 – the Cotswold link

RHS shows come fast and furious at this time of year and while RHS Malvern may have only just closed, work on building gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is nearing the final judging deadline.

And there’s plenty of input from the Cotswolds this year with exhibits from the region across the show.

The gardens

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Cheltenham-based designer Chris Beardshaw will be planting to the sound of music on his third show garden for Morgan Stanley.

Members of the National Youth Orchestra have produced a piece of music based on their interpretation of his garden and this will influence where individual plants are based.

“That piece of music will help to direct how we formulate the drifts of plants in the planting of the garden itself,” explains Chris.

The garden has three distinct areas and, unusually for Chelsea, can be viewed on three sides. At one end is a naturalistic woodland, while the opposite side has a formal sun terrace garden. Linking the two is a green oak asymmetrical building.

Like his previous two gold medal-winning gardens for Morgan Stanley, the design has been inspired by one of the three strands of the firm’s outreach programme.

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Chris on last year’s garden

The 2015 design looked at well-being and was part of a much larger community garden in Poplar. Last year’s garden, which was relocated to Great Ormond Street Hospital, focused on health and this year’s entry explores education, with a basis in fractal geometry.

“There is an assumption that nature is chaotic and a garden is ordered and in fact that could not be further from the truth. Everything in nature has a pattern and order it’s just that it does not necessarily conform to an artificial geometry that we impose,” says Chris.

And in a move back to his horticultural roots, he’s growing more than 2,000 herbaceous plants himself in borrowed glasshouses at The Nursery at Miserden rather than leaving it to a commercial grower.

“Looking after the plants is obviously very time consuming when we are so busy with everything else. And is quite challenging as we have to work with the changing weather conditions – holding back some species, while coaxing on others. But for me the planting is the aspect of any show garden creation I love the most and this year will be even more special and rewarding.”

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Sculptor Darren Rumley

Concrete isn’t usually thought of as beautiful but Darren Rumley turns it into art.

The sculptor from Stroud is making his RHS Chelsea debut on award-winning designer Sarah Eberley’s artisan garden.

Spotted by Sarah at the RHS Tatton show, he has been commissioned to produce a seat for her garden for Viking Cruises celebrating Gaudi and Barcelona’s modern arts movement.

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The Viking Cruises garden

“I am a massive fan of concrete as a material and his work stood out for me,” explains Sarah.

The glass fibre reinforced concrete will be shaped using a silicon mould to produce a sculpted seat.

“It’s something very different and not what I’ve done before,” says Darren, of One Artisan

With fewer show gardens than in previous years – eight down from 17 in 2016 – the RHS has brought in five gardens to fill the space, a move last seen in 2009 with the ‘Credit Crunch Gardens’.

Celebrating Radio 2’s 50th anniversary, the ‘BBC Radio 2 Feel Good Gardens’, which won’t be judged, will be half the size of a show garden and aim to demonstrate the role gardens have in promoting a feeling of well-being.

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Jo Whiley’s garden

Each has been named after a presenter and has a different theme. The Jo Whiley Scent Garden is designed by Tamara Bridge and Kate Savill, who have asked fragrance designer Jo Malone for help.

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Sarah Raven has designed Anneka Rice’s garden

The Anneka Rice Colour Cutting Garden is being designed by Sarah Raven and will concentrate on plants that can be cut and will flower again.

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Jeremy Vine’s garden

Matt Keightley is designing The Jeremy Vine Texture Garden with bold geometric forms against soft planting.

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The Zoe Ball garden

James Alexander-Sinclair is aiming to reproduce the feeling of music vibrating through your body in The Zoe Ball Listening Garden. While visitors won’t be able to hear the music of the last 50 years of Radio 2, it will produce patterns in the water feature and will be felt through the floor.

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Chris Evans’ garden

And Chris Evans will be broadcasting from his garden on Press Day. The Chris Evans Taste Garden has been designed by Jon Wheatley as an allotment-style plot with a range of fruit flowers and vegetables. Bake Off Queen Mary Berry has been consulted on the tastiest plants.

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The Great Pavilion will see its first fully revolving exhibit with a display by Linda Marsh from Cheltenham, which celebrates 60 years of the Hardy Plant Society.

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In another first, each plant will have a QR code to enable visitors to access cultivation notes via their smart phones.

“We want to show that we’re innovative and moving with the times,” she explains.

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Linda Marsh

Linda, part of the Worcester HPS, which was chosen to put together the exhibit, is using 60 different plants in a fiery palate of purple, red and orange, with highlights of white.

Members have been growing the plants since October both in their own gardens and in glasshouses lent to them by Cotswold Garden Flowers nursery.

Fibrex Nurseries are no strangers to Chelsea but this year will be extra special.

The nursery, based at Pebworth near Evesham, is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its National Collection of Pelargoniums and fittingly the display will resemble a celebration cake.

Rather than its usual ‘against the wall’ pitch, the family-run nursery will have a free-standing display featuring pelargoniums in a tiered arrangement.

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P. ‘Rushmoor Amazon’

Among the four new varieties being launched, is ‘Rushmoor Amazon’, with large yellow blooms.

Another nursery marking an anniversary at the show is Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, which will be putting on its 25th display.

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100 years of The British Florist Association will be celebrated

Also celebrating is The British Florist Association, which will highlight its 100th anniversary with a 2.5m-high display using more than 6,000 cut flowers in pink, orange and green.

Visitors will be able to look through circles of flowers onto the RHS Chelsea Florist of the Year competition entries.

And Hillier is hoping to add to its 71 consecutive golds with a bold display, designed by Sarah Eberle, featuring a 4m-high metallic spring.

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The Hillier display is built around a huge spring

Weighing in at more than a tonne, the coils will span the length of the display and will carry water into a pond at one end.

There will also be a ‘Memory Tree’ where visitors can hang a signed copper tag with a book below for them to add their favourite garden memory.

Alan Titchmarsh will be the first to add his memory to the Davidia involucrata, or Pocket Handkerchief Tree, and tags added by other designers and personalities will be auctioned after the show in aid of the Wessex Cancer Trust.

And there’s also . . .

Cotswold flower arranger Jayne Morriss, from Brimscombe Hill, near Stroud, is making her 10th appearance at the show with an entry in the Enchanted Garden class of the flower arranging competition. She’s interpreted it as ‘Puck’s Hollow’ and is planning to create a green and white display with a small pool, delphiniums and roses.

Mickleton-based Phil Britt, a member of Chipping Campden and District Flower Arranging Society, is also putting his floral art skills to the test in the same contest.

Cotswold wire sculptor Rupert Till from will be displaying his garden artwork and Cheltenham sculptor Chris Lisney will be unveiling three new pieces at RHS Chelsea. One is a sphere with a branch and a perched bird, while the other two show girls, one dancing with a perched bird and the other balanced on a book.

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Chris Lisney working on one of his sculptures

There will be garden antiques from Architectural Heritage, based at Taddington, and artist Jaci Hogan, based at South Cerney, will be showing her flower paintings on everything from cards to tablemats.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from May 23-27. For more details, visit the website.

This post was updated on May 18.

RHS Malvern Spring Festival gardens 2017

One of the joys of the RHS Malvern Spring Festival is the chance to get some design and planting inspiration from the show gardens.

Their new site at the festival gives them a beautiful Malvern Hills backdrop while plenty of space on the Three Counties Showground means they are easy to navigate.

This year, there’s the added bonus of the new Spa Gardens contest, which is billed as the perfect forum for up-and-coming new talent.

RHS Malvern Show gardens

Meditation, gardens as art and the plight of refugees are just some of the themes behind the show gardens at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival.

There are six gardens in the contest with designs from several former gold medal and Best in Show winners.

The Refuge

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The current refugee crisis has prompted Gloucestershire designer Sue Jollans to return to Malvern for the first time since winning a gold medal and Best in Show in 2008.

Designed to celebrate Britain’s history as a refuge for those in need, the garden features a boardwalk over wildflowers and corten steel pools with a ripple effect in the water. Moving through the garden over the boardwalk symbolises the journey across water many refugees make.

At its heart is a Middle Eastern-style bread oven and a communal area.

“It is a space that is intended to feel safe, grounded in the British countryside,” explains Sue, who is based in Painswick. “The oven was inspired by Help Refugees UK distributing bread griddles in the Greek refugee camps, which brought people together to make bread.”

Sue is hoping the garden will be relocated after the show at an organisation that helps refugees.

Tree House Garden 

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Last year’s Best in Show winner, Mark Eveleigh, is bringing a tree house and hot tub to the show with a garden inspired by Malvern’s history as a spa town.

Using the nearby Victorian St Ann’s Well as his starting point, he has given the theme a modern twist with an octagonal tree house and a wood-fired hot tub.

Although the garden is being judged by the RHS, it will be kept as a permanent feature at the showground.

“The fact that this will live on and evolve does appeal to me,” says Mark.

At One with A Meditation Garden 

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The theme of spa is also behind this year’s design by Peter Dowle, which is designed to be a quiet retreat within a larger garden.

There will be three stone pieces by sculptor Matthew Maddocks, a 16m-long water feature and huge rocks from the Forest of Dean while planting will include Peter’s trademark acers and other large “statement” plants from his Howle Hill Nursery.

“We’re hoping for something quite dramatic,” he says.

The Retreat 

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Olive tree specialists Villaggio Verde are regulars at RHS Malvern but this year sees a move away from their usual recreation of a Mediterranean scene.

Instead, they are using the spa theme to create a modern private garden designed for well-being and health.

Olives and planting associated with aromatherapy, including lavender, bay and rosemary, will surround a salt water hydrotherapy pool while a lounging area will be cooled by mist.

“It’s a step out of our comfort zone,” admits Villaggio’s owner Jason Hales.

Buckfast Abbey Millennium Garden

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Devon’s Buckfast Abbey is making its flower show debut with a garden to celebrate its millennium in 2018.

Designed by Maia Hall, it allows visitors to look through a Gothic arch ‘windows’ onto a tranquil garden where a stag, echoing the abbey’s logo, drinks at a pool.

A meandering path, suggesting a river bed, a glade of silver birch and a planting scheme in blue and white contribute to the feeling of peace.

Head gardener Aaron Southgate says the idea was to combine a sense of spirituality and naturalness.

He explains that the gardens – which total 35 acres at the Benedictine monastery – are often used by local people.

“The gardens are a tranquil, peaceful space for prayer and reflection.

“We felt we wanted to tell the world about them a bit more.”

A Garden Framed

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Designer Tim Lawrence is planning a something different for RHS Malvern with his exploration of gardens as art.

More an art installation than a typical show garden, it is a series of four framed ‘pictures’ of plants, rocks and wood set around large tree sculpture.

“This is a garden for people to find some peace and space to reflect,” he says. “It’s not necessarily a garden to walk around or go through but a garden where you sit and are still.”

It’s the first time Bristol-based Tim has made a show garden and he says the garden has been inspired by his love of not only plants but also Japanese art and design.

RHS Malvern Spa Gardens

The new Spa Gardens contest not only gives designers the chance to take part in an RHS show, the winner will also get the opportunity to exhibit at Russia’s top horticultural event.

A link with the Moscow Flower Show means the Malvern winner will be invited to build a sponsored garden in Russia in June.

Meanwhile, as part of the exchange, one of the four gardens in the Malvern contest has been created by two Russian designers, who are being mentored by top UK designer Jo Thompson.

All the contestants have been asked to give a modern interpretation of Malvern’s Victorian spa heritage and were given a busary to help fund their entry.

Molecular Garden

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Design duo Denis Kalashnikov and Ekaterina Bolotova are creating a garden for relaxing in after spa treatments at a Russian resort.

While it is enclosed to give seclusion for guests, the hilly landscape beyond is suggested in the curved shapes of loungers while a timber panel symbolises the rising sun.

Ocean Garden

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The Art Deco architecture of Miami has inspired designer Michel Damien’s entry to RHS Malvern.

There are strong lines and sinewy curves throughout the garden, which is seen as a modern spa garden with links to the past, as well as water in pools and as ‘tram lines’.

To counterbalance the hard landscaping, Michel is using blocks of colour, with plants that have an architectural quality.

I Follow the Waters and the Wind

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The poetry of Ted Hughes lies behind Annette Baines-Stiller’s garden, which explores the experience of countryside walks, such as those in the Malvern Hills, with the feel of the wind and sound of water.

Designed to look as though it is floating, the garden has undulating paths and water collecting in a rock pool.

The planting will include one ‘cool’ area of pink, lilac and spring and a ‘hot’ area of red, orange and yellow.

Bubble Drops

RHS malvern

One of the most eye-catching designs that this year’s RHS Malvern looks set to be Keith Browning’s entry.

He’s hoping to encourage visitors to think about shape, materials and structure with a colourful structure made of laminated timber.

Designed to be perplexing, it celebrates water, which is essential for life, and is inspired by natural Jurassic rock formations.

The RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2017 runs from May 11-14. For more details, visit the website.

Find out what Jane Furze, the new head of the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, has planned for 2017 here

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RHS Malvern Spring Festival – a new direction

Several months into her new role heading up the RHS Malvern Spring Festival Jane Furze still seems surprised at her good luck. It is, she explains, a perfect job.

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Jane Furze

“I’m a keen gardener and I’ve been coming to Malvern for nearly 25 years. It’s a dream job for me, turning a very loyal visitor into running the show.”

She’s putting her first-hand experience to good use in shaping Malvern’s future course. It has, she believes, the potential to be somewhere that can offer something different to the other RHS events.

“I want Malvern to be increasingly a place where you walk around and think ‘Gosh, I couldn’t have seen that anywhere else’,” says the former head of Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Key to achieving this is the introduction of features that go beyond the show gardens, expert talks and nursery stands for which RHS Malvern Spring Festival is well known.

Running as a unifying thread through this year’s show is a spa theme, harking back to the town’s heritage as a Victorian spa resort.

“We have a number of people who have produced key horticultural features based on that theme,” says Jane. “These are very new and very much an addition to any sort of content we’ve done in the past.”

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Jekka McVicar’s garden will be a permanent feature

Herb expert Jekka McVicar is building a garden that explores the use of herbs in health and well-being. A permanent feature, it will be used after the show by a day care service working with people with learning difficulties.

“They will be the main caretakers of the garden so it has a longevity to it.”

British flower growers will again have a big presence. Growers and florists from across the region will put on displays and talks in the Wye Hall, which is being decorated to resemble a Victorian arcade by award-winning designer Peter Dowle.

At its heart is what Jane hopes will be a show-stopping spectacle by top florist Jonathan Moseley. The ‘Floral Fountain’ is a 7m-high cascade of flowers, greenery and crystals that will flow down from the roof into a fountain and lily pool.

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The Floral Fountain will celebrate British flower growers

“I’m just looking forward to walking in and that scent just hitting me. It will be amazing.”

The Floral Marquee will also have a central display, this time designed by Joe Swift who has drawn inspiration from Victorian plant hunters. His Plant Finder Parlour has a central space for hosting talks and what Jane describes as ‘window displays’, including an auricular theatre, showcasing plants that were brought back to this country.

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The Plant Finder Parlour will be used for talks

The marquee itself, which will house nearly 70 nurseries, has been redesigned following several years where it drew criticism from growers and visitors who found it difficult to navigate. Now it is a simple rectangle with a vista down its 190m length.

“It makes it easier for visitors and for the nurseries because they are not in a corner that people might miss.

“It will be a really stunning feature in its own right.”

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The Wye Hall will be designed by Peter Dowle who won gold with this garden last year

And it’s not just flower-growing that Jane wants to promote. Grow your own is also high on the RHS Malvern Spring Festival agenda with the Grow Zone hosting a country and wildlife garden designed by Jon Wheatley and ‘edible beds’ produced by a range of organisations, including Incredible Edible Bristol. Meanwhile, designer and RHS judge Paul Hervey-Brookes is hosting a Growing Challenge to encourage novice gardeners.

It fits well with RHS Malvern’s image as a launchpad. It has long been the place for young designers – Chris Beardshaw, Diarmuid Gavin and Paul are among those who started their design careers at the show – and Jane believes it’s an important part of the Malvern ethos.

There will be an international flavour to the new Spa Gardens with the start of a three-year link to the Moscow Flower Show. Top designer Jo Thompson will mentor a Russian design duo building a garden at Malvern and one of the Malvern designers will be given the chance to show in Moscow. There will also be a Russian school taking part in the school garden contest.

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Show gardens are one of the highlights of Malvern

“I would love more of that in the future,” says Jane. “Cultures do have different perspectives, different ways of thinking about design and as a visitor that’s interesting.”

There are 10 show gardens this year among them one celebrating the millennium of Buckfast Abbey, spa-themed designs by Peter Dowle and Villaggio Verde, and a garden highlighting the plight of refugees by Painswick designer Sue Jollans, 10 years after she won Best in Show at Malvern.

Jane has kept their location the same with the Malvern Hills as a backdrop: “I see no reason to change that as it’s really good location.”

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The Malverns make a stunning backdrop to the show

What she has done is tweak the layout elsewhere to ensure visitors encounter garden features as soon as they arrive; feeling she sometimes had to walk a long way to find the gardening was something she disliked as a visitor in the past.

Changes are also planned to ease congestion that has resulted from more visitors: “I think one of the joys of Malvern is the space so I’ve just been keen to open up areas.”

With a month to go until the four-day show Jane is quietly confident except for one thing: the weather.

“I’m just praying for sunshine. It’s the one thing I want.”

The RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 11 to May 14 2017. For more information and ticket details, see here

I’ve been looking at what’s planned for gardens at the festival.

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