Looking ahead to the Malvern Autumn Show 2017

The Malvern Autumn Show has a new boss who tells me about this year’s event and why she’s excited about the future.

For many years, my gardening life has been bookended by the Malvern shows. No matter how many seeds I have already sown, the Malvern Spring Festival marks the beginning of the growing season for me while the Malvern Autumn Show is the tipping point, a time to take stock and plan for the year ahead.

The two-day autumn show is very different to the spring festival with an eclectic mix of food, flowers and family entertainment. Harvest is always a major theme and there are displays of giant veg, orchard fruit and contests for the longest runner bean or largest pumpkin.

Malvern Autumn Show

In the past, there have been show gardens and the perception that the horticultural side had a stronger presence. Talking to other regular visitors and exhibitors, I know I’m not the only one wondering if the gardening is being sidelined in favour of cookery, animals and shopping.

Diana Walton, who took over as Head of Shows in January, is well aware of the concerns and is keen to stress that the fears are unfounded. Horticulture, she says, is “immensely important”.

“We know we have a section of the visitors who are coming purely for the horticulture and we must keep the strength and the quality in that area.”

Malvern Autumn Show
The nursery exhibits are a highlight

However, the other features are valuable: “We are offering an event that we constantly hear people tell us is their favourite of the year because they come and they can see a bit of everything.”

This year, she has ‘tweaked’ some aspects, mainly the layout to make movement around the show easier, and it will be next year that more obvious changes are implemented.

“There are certainly plans afoot to freshen the show up next year. This year’s project was spring and next year’s project is autumn.”

Malvern Autumn Show
Cut flowers are one of the popular contests

Drawing the various gardening elements together into one area of the showground is one possibility while the RHS Flower Show, currently in the ‘tin sheds’, or permanent halls, may also move, with a marquee not ruled out.

“The position of the RHS Flower Show is under consideration,” says Diana. “I think perhaps it’s time for a little bit of a change all around the show.

In the meantime, there are several new features at this year’s event: garden writer Alys Fowler and Jamie Butterworth, from wholesale nursery Hortus Loci, make their Malvern debuts and there will be a ‘Power of Pollinators’ display with nurseries offering pollen-rich plants, exhibits from bee-keepers and the chance to find out more about pollen with the help of scientists from the University of Worcester.

Malvern Autumn Show
Alys Fowler will be speaking at the show. © Ming de Nasty

Designer Mark Eveleigh’s permanent Tree House Garden, which won RHS silver at the Malvern Spring Festival, will be used for interactive talks for children and the National Vegetable Society returns with its national championship, held at Malvern every five years. Meanwhile, the Autumn Theatre will have masses of dahlias in a display by Jon Wheatley.

Despite being a newcomer to the Head of Shows role, Diana feels at home on the Three Counties showground as her uncle was chief executive for many years and she spent a lot of her childhood there.

“I was literally brought up on the showground, it was my playground,” she says with a smile.

Malvern Autumn Show
Dahlias will decorate the Autumn Theatre

While she heads up six of the Three Counties’ eight annual shows, the Malvern Autumn Show is one of the biggest, alongside the Royal Three Counties Show.

“I’m really excited about it because there’s such passion and enjoyment behind this show. Everybody I speak to just loves it and looks forward to it.”

So, what should you look out for at this year’s event. Here’s my pick of what’s on offer.

RHS Flower Show

Malvern Autumn Show

This is always top of my must-see list. There will be 35 nurseries this year including Fibrex Nurseries with ferns and ivy, Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, Derbyshire Bonsai and Plantagogo with heucheras.

Expert advice

Malvern Autumn Show
Carol Klein is one of the experts at the show

There’s a host of gardening experts offering the benefit of their years of experience. There will be question and answer sessions and talks on specific subjects, including growing dahlias, vegetables and what to plant for pollinators.

Carol Klein will be discussing autumn colour and propagation. Tim Miles, head gardener at Cotswold Wildlife Park, which is well known for its tropical style planting, will give ideas for eye-catching autumn plants, and the current popularity of houseplants is catered for with talks on cacti and terrariums.

Celebrating British Flowers

Malvern Autumn Show
Jonathan Moseley

Florist Jonathan Moseley returns to the Malvern Autumn Show with demonstrations of how to get the best out of seasonal flowers.

The Floral Fiesta will also have displays by British cut flower growers and florists.

Giant Veg

Malvern Autumn Show

You either love or hate these outsized monsters but either way they are worth going to see, if only to admire the skill and dedication needed to get parsnips, cabbage and carrots to grow so big.

Harvest Pavilion

Malvern Autumn Show

I love traditional horticultural shows and the Malvern Autumn Show’s Harvest Pavilion is just a bigger version. From beautiful cut flowers to perfectly matched fruit and veg, it showcases the best in amateur growing.

This year, there will be even more on display as the show hosts the National Championships of the National Vegetable Society and there will also be the popular contest for a trug filled with autumn produce.

Food and drink

Malvern Autumn Show
Selasi Gbormittah

And if you want to know what to do with all that produce, head for the Food and Drink Pavilion and the Cookery Theatre.

Andi Oliver, from the Great British Menu, Great British Baker Selasi Gbormittah and author and grower Mark Diancono are among those giving advice.

Herb Society president Judith Hann will be discussing cooking with herbs and there’s information on using edible flowers.

The Malvern Autumn Show runs from September 23-24. For ticket details, see the website.

Review: ‘Making a Garden’ by Carol Klein

If there’s one thing that gardening teaches you it’s that it is far better to work with Nature than against her. The most successful plots match plants to the conditions that exist. Trying to artificially alter what you’ve got or planting something unsuitable and praying rarely pays off.

So far, so good but how do you know what conditions you have? In her latest book, Making a Garden, renowned plantswoman Carol Klein explains how looking closely at natural sites can show us how to deal with our cultivated spaces. Nature, she insists, is “the best of teachers”. Follow her lessons and “we stand a good chance of creating beautiful gardens”.

Carol Klein

Six basic types of habitat are explored ranging from woodland and wetland to seaside and meadow. Most gardens, Klein insists, will include at least one, if not several, of these habitats and they can be adapted to more urban settings. Thus, woodland can be just a few trees, or shade-casting shrubs or buildings, while hedgerow plants may be equally at home at the foot of a wall or fence.

The chapters cover the particular challenges of the aspect be it the thin soil of a seaside plot or the permanent damp of wetland, and some of the ways that plants have adapted to them. Case study gardens are explored and the secrets of their success explained.

Each chapter ends with a list of suggested plants for that situation, chosen not for any reasons of fashion but purely on their suitability for the job. There is, observes Klein, “a lot of snobbery when it comes to selecting plants”.

Carol Klein
Carol Klein’s own garden is used as a starting point for much of her advice

It is an approach typical of the BBC Gardeners’ World presenter who is well known for her enthusiastic and down-to-earth approach to gardening. Both shine through in this book. There is sheer joy in some of the descriptions: honeysuckle scent has “an element of spice – of nutmeg, perhaps, or cloves – and a sweetness that makes you want to bury your nose into its crimson and cream flowers, over and over again” while scattered through are nuggets of practical advice from how to sow foxglove seed and where to plant primroses, to the St Valentine’s Day massacre tip on pruning clematis.

All this is brought to life thanks to photographs by Jonathan Buckley that beautifully capture both plants and gardens.

Klein states that the book will not “offer foolproof solutions or quick-fix formulae to solve all your horticultural woes”. What it does give is inspiration for both the novice and experienced gardener.

Making a Garden (Successful Gardening by Nature’s Rules) by Carol Klein, photography Jonathan Buckley, is published by Mitchell Beazley and priced at £25.

Review copy courtesy of  The Suffolk Anthology

For more book reviews, see here