RHS Malvern gets romantic

Weddings are preoccupying Jonathan Moseley when I call to chat about the Malvern spring festival. No particular wedding, you understand, but the whole paraphernalia surrounding them and in particular the flowers.

Forget traditional roses or lilies, the award-winning florist and judge on BBC’s Big Allotment Challenge believes brides should be choosing seasonal – and preferably British – flowers for the big day.

“There’s a whole host of things out there,” he says. “Every bride has got her own individual personality, so have flowers. Let’s marry those flowers to that bride’s quirky style.”

Malvern spring festival
Jonathan will be hosting floral workshops and demonstrations

It’s a message he will be promoting at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival where he is part of a move to reinvigorate the cut flower element – “I hate flower shows with competitive entries that look like they’re in a museum”.

It follows success at the autumn show where Jonathan hosted floristry workshops and demonstrations alongside the floral art displays.

“It had a real buzz, a real energy to it.”

‘Grow Your Own Wedding’ will have talks and demonstrations from florists, floristry colleges and British flower growers with advice on raising your own cut flowers, or sourcing something individual for bouquets and buttonholes.

To make sure it’s at the heart of the four-day event, it will all take place in one of the show gardens, ‘The Garden of Romance’, which will become a floral theatre. Designed by award-winning Jason Hales, of Villaggio Verde, it is based on an rustic Italian cloister garden.

It’s an unusual use of a space that is normally off-limits to the public and one that Jonathan believes will be a “real treat” for visitors and a natural setting for the floristry industry.

“A garden is the inspiration for any florist who is worth their salt. Certainly, for anybody who’s a supporter and user of natural material, a garden is the starting point for it all.”

And it’s these garden flowers that he believes should be used more in weddings: “I’m a great believer in bringing back some of the wonderful perennials.”

malvern spring
Jonathan believes brides should be adventurous when it comes to flowers

These include larkspar, and peonies, which he describes as “absolutely adorable, the most amazing flowers”.

Roses are not off the list, just the usual tight buds. Instead, he suggests opting for blousy, old-fashioned English roses to add a touch of romance and nostalgia.

Annuals, such as scabious and cornflowers, are another often overlooked area.

“They have that just picked look that’s so fresh, so energising and just like a wedding should be.”

And we shouldn’t be worried about them lasting, says Jonathan, who points out that the transience of flowers is part of their charm.

“If a wedding bouquet looks absolutely stunning for that day, does it matter if it’s going to be dead the following day? It’s done its job.”

More important is choosing flowers that fit with the season; an October wedding, he suggests, should make full use of dahlias, autumn foliage, seedheads, grasses and berries.

Indeed, flowers are only one part of a successful display.

malvern spring
Flowers don’t have to be exotic to make a striking arrangement

“It’s like watching a production. Flowers are the divas, they’re the star performers but no production exists with the orchestra, the choreographer and the make-up artist. All those things, like the grasses, the seed heads and the foliage, they’re all the back-up cast but they’re absolutely vital because they allow those few special flowers to really stand out.”

Among the experts on hand at the Malvern spring festival to offer advice on everything from successional sowing to flower combinations will be Georgie Newbury, author of ‘Grow Your Own Wedding’, South Gloucestershire-based Organic Blooms from South Gloucestershire, Far Hill Flowers, near Chepstow, Great British Florist, who raise cut flowers in Herefordshire, and Flowers from the Farm, a network of farmers and smallholders who together promote locally grown cut flowers.

“When I first started in floristry I could go down to my local wholesale market and there would be a whole load of British-grown flowers there and I think we should get that back,” says Jonathan, whose passion for plants began with the present of a greenhouse for his eleventh birthday.

malvern spring
The Malvern Hills make a spectacular backdrop to the show

“There is still a British flower market out there. It’s in its infancy but we want to see that grow from strength-to-strength.

“I want to see British flowers back in supermarkets, back on street corners, outside your local village shop. It makes people connect with nature and realise that sweetpeas are in summer, cornflowers are in summer, daffodils are this time of year. It’s bringing that seasonality back into people’s lives.”

And if the idea of growing your own is a step too far, Jonathan suggests asking a grower to produce them for you: “It can become a really personal experience where you’ve got a real bond, a real connection to those flowers.”

With a wedding often the first time some people really think about flowers, he’s hoping it could signal the start of more than one life-long relationship.

“What we are trying to do at Malvern is to make people realise that flowers are important, that they’re there for anybody to enjoy any age, any gender and that there’s no point in your life when you can’t get excited about flowers and get in touch with flowers.”

RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 5-8. For ticket details, visit http://www.threecounties.co.uk/rhsmalvern/

Jonathan will be taking questions about ‘Grow Your Own Wedding’ via Twitter @jpmoseley

Container gardening

Container gardening is one of the best ways to expand both what you grow and the space available. Pots, windowboxes and wall-mounted containers mean you can provide just the right growing conditions be they soil type or position, brighten up the dullest of patios and grow in even limited space.

It’s also a great way of keeping an ever-changing display as flowering plants that are past their best can be replaced with others that are just coming into bloom. And you don’t need dozens of expensive pots to achieve this: keep your plants in ordinary plastic and slip them inside something fancier. This is particularly good for bulbs, which can be hidden out of sight to die back.

container gardening
Pots are a good way of brightening up a path

I use pots a lot. Hostas, which would not survive the attentions of slugs and snails in my crammed borders, are grouped in a shady corner where I can keep a closer eye on them. Acid-lovers, such as camellias, would hate my Cotswold ground and putting them in a pot of ericaceous compost is far easier than making an acid bed and far better than going without their spring blooms. In the summer, containers of cheerful pelargoniums give the air of a Mediterranean holiday even if the weather doesn’t match.

A few simple rules apply to growing in containers. Make sure there is adequate drainage; few plants like waterlogged soil. I like to cover the drainage holes with pieces of broken terracotta pots to stop soil blocking them.

container gardening
Hostas are well suited to growing in containers

Match the pot size to the plant: a small shrub may eventually grow to be big but will look wrong starting off adrift in a large pot. It is far better to repot as it grows – beware though pots that narrow from the bottom as it can be difficult to get plants out.

Above all, remember to feed and water; use irrigation systems and slow-release fertiliser, if time is short or your memory poor.

When it comes to choosing the right container the range is vast and much is down to personal taste. Here is a sample of some of the things available.

Terracotta

Think of plant pots and chances it will be terracotta that comes to mind. From old-fashioned clay pots that are still my favourites for herbs and pelargoniums to those with fancy patterns, terracotta has long been a popular choice.

container gardening
Whichford produce a range of pots

In the Cotswolds, we are lucky enough to have Whichford Pottery on our doorstep. The family firm, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, sends its pots to gardens across the country, including National Trust properties, and they are sold in the Highgrove shop, suitably embellished with the Prince of Wales feathers.

Handmade, they come with a 10-year frostproof guarantee and range from traditional long toms to huge urns. Details: http://www.whichfordpottery.com/

Metal

From traditional galvanised steel and burnished copper to shiny contemporary pots, metal is another widely used material for containers.

New this year are a range of windowboxes by garden planter firm Arthur Jack & Co, whose water butt was shortlisted for the RHS Chelsea garden product of the year 2015.

 

windowbox
Arthur Jack’s new windowboxes

Made of galvanised steel, they come in two sizes and have adjustable legs to allow for slanted sills, a fitted bottom tray to stop dirty water damaging paintwork and bolt fixings to allow them to be hung from railings. They can also be used as edging on terraces or decking. Prices start at £170. Details: http://arthurjack.co.uk/

copper planter
Copper planters from Architectural Heritage

If you need something bigger, Cotswold-based Architectural Heritage has copper and lead planters. The pieces, reproduced from traditional planters, include large circular copper urns and a rectangular lead planter patterned with squares. Prices start at £800. Details: http://www.architectural-heritage.co.uk/

At the other end of the price range, Crocus have some clever ideas to maximise your space. Galvanised wall planters can be used to liven up a dull boundary or house wall and are ideal for small plants that would be lost in a border. A set of three costs £18.99.

plant stand
A corner plant stand makes the most of awkward spaces

The same style of galvanised steel with a clear lacquer finish is used in the firm’s corner stand of three pots (£44.99), a great way of filling those awkward corners. Details: http://www.crocus.co.uk/plants/

Wooden

container gardening
Suttons’ painted crate makes an eye-catching container

Reusing old crates has become very fashionable but they don’t have to be plain. Suttons have produced a range in green, pink, blue and whitewash as well as natural that can also have a personal message added. Prices start at £20. Details: http://www.suttons.co.uk/

Plastic

If you think plastic containers are a bit naff, think again. New colours and sleek lines can be the perfect foil to plants and they have the advantage of being lightweight.

container planting
Elho pots offer modern container planting

Dutch company Elho has been producing synthetic pottery for more than 50 years and uses around 45 per cent recycled material. The pots are UV resistant, have a useful water reservoir and come in a range of colours from clean white and soft blue to lime green and cherry. They are stocked at many garden centres (http://www.elho.com/ for details of stockists) and online at Amazon and Crocus. Prices start at £4.09 for a GrowPot.

plant pots
Colourful pots from Hum

For a touch of fun in the garden, Hum Flowerpots have contemporary designs and sparkling colours. Made in the UK, they are frost and fade-resistant and come in a range of styles. The company, set up two years ago, makes just one 22cm-tall pot but further sizes are planned. They are priced at £10 and available at http://www.hum-partnership.com/

Something different

Anything can be used as a planter, providing there’s adequate drainage. The only limit is your imagination.

Container gardening
An old kettle makes an unusual planter
Container gardening
An old wheelbarrow planted with snowdrops and muscari

Looking beyond the trees

Arboretum seems almost the wrong word for Batsford. True it has a far-reaching range of specimens, is a National Collection holder and is involved in important scientific research, but it’s so much more than that and there’s a sense of fun and a garden-like quality that makes it unusual.

Red painted bridges and a Japanese rest house lend an Oriental flavour, there’s a water garden with pools and streams, and glimpses of Batsford House, no longer part of the arboretum, give the impression of having wandered into a large garden.

“It’s more than an arboretum,” explains head gardener Matt Hall. “It’s not just about trees.”

Batsford
The Foo Dog is among the Oriental features

Much of this dual personality is due to its past: originally part of the estate of Batsford House, it was developed as a wild, naturalistic garden by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford, later the 1st Lord Redesdale. He was a keen plantsman who was particularly interested in the Oriental style of gardening and involved in the running of Kew; Joseph Hooker, one of Kew’s directors, was influential in Batsford’s development.

The creation of the arboretum, which wraps around the garden elements, is the work of the 2nd Lord Dulverton, who inherited in 1956 and set about restoring Batsford and introducing rare and beautiful trees, resulting in today’s specialist collections.

Yet, even then the garden element was influential and Batsford’s collections, which include Japanese flowering cherries, acers and magnolias, are not arranged in botanical groups but scattered throughout the 60 acres with an emphasis on planting for visual impact.

It means that at this time of year the autumn colour runs through the arboretum with shades of gold, crimson and pink in every direction, a style that is being continued with many new acers being planted.

Batsford sorbus berries
Sorbus berries add a red glow

As befits a serious collection, among the more commonly seen birch, oak, prunus and sorbus, with berries of white, pink or red, there are some more unusual specimens. These include the Chinese pistachio, Pistacia chinensis, which has good autumn colour, the Korean mountain ash, Sorbus alnifolia, and Disanthus cercidifolius, whose heart-shaped leaves are turning fiery colours.

Meanwhile, a pair of vines are adding flame red to the display and Matt is hoping newly introduced bamboo Borinda papyrifera, which has stunning steel blue stems, will eventually form an impressive clump.

Batsford colour
There is beautiful colour throughout the arboretum

Elsewhere, the team have been thinning trees and clearing the understorey to create both planting areas for new specimens and an increased feeling of space.

Arguably the most important trees are also the most easily overlooked. In an extension to the arboretum, which opened in 2010, are some that form part of the International Conifer Conservation Project, run by Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden and designed to safeguard species that are threatened in their native countries.

“It will generate a bank of material,” explains Matt.

Among those at Batsford are monkey puzzles from Chile, Nothofagus alessandri, one of about eight plants growing in Great Britain and the golden Vietnamese Cyprus.

Batsford
Countryside views are one of Batsford’s special features

They are found on the outer edges of the arboretum where another new development is taking shape. What was once a field is being planted up with a mixture of trees, including ash, acers and liquidambar. The centre is being left open with wild flowers and care has been taken not to obscure the long views that are one of Batsford’s strengths and something that makes it more than just a collection of trees.

Batsford Arboretum, near Moreton-in-Marsh, is open daily, except Christmas Day from 10am to 5pm. Last entry at 4.45pm. More information at: http://www.batsarb.co.uk