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Penstemons beat the weather

Pershore-based nursery Green Jjam are celebrating their best Malvern result – against all the odds.

Julia Mitchell and Jo Yates got silver-gilt for their display of penstemon, their third outing at the Malvern Autumn Show. However, recent cold weather nearly scuppered their chances as their penstemon, which normally bloom until October, came to an abrupt halt with cool days and even colder nights.

“The weather’s been so cold we had to move things into the greenhouse for the first time ever for this show,” said Julia. “It was a struggle to get them to continue flowering.

“We were mega pleased with the result.”

Green Jjam Malvern Autumn (480x640) 2

 

Meet Monty

Plants and pets rarely go together but Monty the Duck is the exception. He’s the mascot of Heucheraholics and makes a regular appearance on their show stands.

“He’s the first mascot we got and there are now about 30 of them,” explains Sean Atkinson of the specialist heuchera nursery.

Monty Malvern Autumn (640x480) 2

Some have been left by the team who put together the show stands and there’s always one somewhere, even at Chelsea where mascots are frowned upon.

“We hide them at Chelsea and the judges know they are somewhere but they can’t find them.”

Heucheraholics Malvern Autumn (624x640) 2

 

Medwyn’s magic

 

Medwyn Williams Malvern Autumn (640x480) 2

It’s difficult to decide what is the most impressive element of Medwyn Williams’ vegetable displays. Is it the unblemished perfection right down to the smallest cherry tomato? Perhaps it’s the sheer variety on display or maybe the chance to see something different such as purple carrots. Then there’s the precision of the staging with one side an exact mirror of the other, each basket of fennel or tomato tower beautifully replicated.

It’s a combination that’s been winning over RHS judges and show crowds for decades making Medwyn a familiar face on the show circuit and the winner of 11 consecutive Chelsea gold medals, with top honours at many other shows, including Hampton Court and Malvern where this year he again won Best in Show.

“I’ve never had less than a gold including shows in America,” he says.

It all started with a square yard of soil prepared by his father and three packets of seeds: radish, mustard and cress.

It was a shrewd choice as the quick-growing seeds kept the eight-year-old Medwyn interested and he still remembers sharing a sandwich made from his first crop with a friend.

His father, a farm worker, was a regular exhibitor at local shows and Medwyn learnt his skill at events all over Anglesey, eventually staging his first exhibit of six kinds of vegetables at the county show.

“This is a hobby that went out of control,” says Medwyn, who is now 73.

Today, his displays are on a far larger scale and take a team of seven around 24 hours to put together; this year the Malvern stand featured a rugby ball made from tomatoes to mark Wales’ involvement in the World Cup.

tomato rugby ball Malvern Autumn (553x640) 2

Although Medwyn, whose business Medwyn’s of Anglesey started 40 years ago, has a “plan in my head” the final decision on what’s in and what’s left out is made at the venue. What underpins each exhibit is the symmetry that reinforces the achievement.

“You can fold the stand like a book because it’s balanced on either side.”

Getting that perfection is a long process with crops grown in raised beds, on benches, in greenhouses and polytunnels, sometimes in more than one place. To put together two baskets of 120 matching radish the team will grow around 500 plants and sometimes the weather will scupper their plans.

“We normally have white radish but they weren’t ready,” says Medwyn, looking at his Malvern stand.

Medwyn's stand Malvern Autumn (640x480) 2

What it does have is some new carrot varieties, two as yet unnamed. ‘Melodio’ develops very little core, ‘Short and Sweet’ is ideally suited to container growing and ‘Cosmic Purple’ (pictured below) is orange inside with a yellow core.

Cosmic Purple carrot Malvern Autumn (480x640) 2

All have been tested by Medwyn: “I don’t put anything out to buy unless I’ve tried it.”

And it’s this passion for veg that keeps him growing and showing, although the two Malvern shows are the only events he now does.

“People ask ‘When are you going to retire?’ But how do you retire from a hobby? It’s very difficult because I love it.”

 

Kitty makes her debut

Every gardener loves something different and several new introductions have been launched at the Malvern Autumn Show.

Among them are two clematis from Floyds Climbers, based in Calne.

‘Kitty’ is the perfect container plant at around 4ft-tall with a mass of white flowers. Happy with any aspect, it will flower from May to September and is hardy down to minus 20.

Clematis 'Kitty' Malvern Autumn (640x480) 2

“In the first year, cut it down to six inches and after that just tidy it up,” advises Marcel Floyd, who has been growing clematis for 30 years.

Also new is ‘Freedom’, which has beautiful pink blooms. It will grow to around 8ft in height and flowers in May/June and again in August/September.

Clematis 'Freedom' Malvern Autumn (480x640) 2

Such is the appeal of ‘Kitty’, Marcel had sold out at Malvern by lunchtime on the first day, although plants are still available online.

 

When size really matters

monster veg Malvern Autumn (640x367) 2

Most of us would be quite pleased to produce enough spuds to feed the family or cabbages that didn’t sport caterpillars but for one group of growers it’s not the quality but the sheer size that counts.

The Malvern Autumn Show has hosted the UK Giant Veg Championships for the past five years and this year sees a bumper entry.

Gigantic squash, enormous marrows and beefy beetroot are jaw-dropping in their scale. There’s out-sized celery, onions the size of footballs and carrots that stretch the length of the show bench.

While the competition is fierce, it does not reach the lengths of the sabotage and skulduggery of other growing contests and seed is freely swapped among competitors.

“It’s friendly rivalry,” explains Cornish grower David Thomas (pictured below), who broke the world record for the heaviest cucumber with a 12.9k exhibit and picked up first places for watermelon, celery, cabbage and squash.

giant veg winner Malvern Autumn (395x640) 2

And it’s the thrill of seeing what you’ve produced as much as the prizes that excites growers, says Kevin Fortey, whose father, Mike, helped start the contests in the 1980s.

“With some things you don’t know what you’re going to get until you lift it out of the ground. You have some surprises and that’s part of the fun,” says Kevin, who helps organise the contest through his giantveg.co.uk website.

David started about 14 years ago, growing a few large veg for fun at home.

“Once you’ve grown one it becomes an obsession.”

The secret is in the seed: “You’ve got to have the right variety to grow something like that.”

His winning cucumber originated from seed from a former record holder, although no one is now sure of the variety.

David started it off in May, chitting the seed over the cooker before sowing and putting in a propagator. The plants were then put into a polytunnel and nurtured to perfection with plenty of water and feed, while lengths of fleece were used to support both the plant and the emerging fruit.

Such is the size of some of his exhibits he has to bring in a tractor to lift them and hires a trailer to get them to shows.

“The first time you transport one you feel every bump in the road,” he says, “now I don’t worry about it. I’ve never broken one yet.”

giant pumpkins Malvern Autumn (640x400) 2

 

Britain’s blooming at Malvern

One of the liveliest and most colourful spots at this year’s Malvern Autumn Show is the newly launched Floral Fiesta.

Headed up by BBC Big Allotment Challenge presenter Jonathan Moseley, it is turning the spotlight on British flower growers and florists.

“It’s a really lively hub of activity,” says Jonathan, who is hosting demonstrations and hands-on workshops over the two days aimed at debunking some floral myths.

Jonathan Moseley Malvern Autumn (562x640) 2

He explains that the Floral Fiesta is trying to show another more informal side of flower arranging, such as hand-tied posies, many of them using plants commonly found in gardens.

“Floral art is quite a niche area. We are making it more appealing, accessible, fun and friendly.”

Floral Fiesta Malvern Autumn 2

 

Clean sweep for Fibrex

It’s been gold all the way this year for Fibrex Nurseries with the autumn show completing a run that started with the Malvern Spring Show in May.

The family-run business based near Stratford-upon-Avon has clocked up top honours at shows across the country including Chelsea, Gardeners’ World Live and Hampton Court.

Their stand at the Malvern Autumn Show has a mass of blousey begonia blooms at its heart, surrounded by ivies and ferns from the nursery’s National Collections.

Among them are the rare evergreen Polystichum setiferum ‘Plumosum Drueryi’. An evergreen British native, it is perfect for any shady spot, including the always tricky dry shade.

Noteworthy ivies include ‘Courage’, with bright green foliage, which responds best to good light.

Ivy 'Courage' Malvern Autumn 2

Hedera helix ‘Courage’

Unlike some members of the ivy family, it’s restrained growth means it’s unlikely to get out of hand.

“It will take it’s time about it,” says Angela Tandy, who runs the business with her brother and sister.

And autumn colour is a winner with Hedera helix ‘Garland’, which develops lovely bronze tints, particularly in poor soil.

“If you grow it as a trailing plant, you get garlands of trails.”