Paul sets a growing challenge

There’s a new contest at the Malvern Festival this year. I’ve been talking to Paul Hervey-Brookes about his plans.

Cotswold designer Paul Harvey-Brookes may be well known for his award-winning show gardens but at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2017 he’s launching a contest on a much smaller scale.

Rather than large, carefully composed herbaceous borders he’s challenging gardeners to combine growing skills with display flair by showcasing just a few plants in an innovative way.

Although Malvern has always had amateur classes including for alpines and pot plants, Paul believes this contest offers something different.

“The Growing Challenge is about how you present things not just how you grow them,” he explains. “It’s about how you can do it creatively so it’s a thing of beauty and has a narrative story.”

growing challenge
A display of ferns and other shade-lovers is one category

The first of the five categories in the contest is for a collection of ferns or shade-loving plants, presented in a stylish way while the second is for a terrarium or group of plants that are growing in a sealed unit.

“It could be with soil or without,” says Paul, who is based in Stroud. “It could be ferns hanging from Kilner jars just with moss.”

Houseplants have seen a recent resurgence in popularity and the third category feeds into this trend. It asks for a trio of houseplants in an imaginative display.

“You can grow them in anything you like so long as it can get to Malvern. It could even be in an old grandfather clock or a tea plant growing out of a teapot.”

Paul’s hoping the fourth category in the Growing Challenge will appeal especially to younger gardeners. It asks for a fruiting plant, such as an avocado, grown from seed, and in a suitable container. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been grown, although the sowing date is needed to gauge the growth rate and condition.

growing challenge
Watering cans could be an unusual planting container

The final category is ideal for those with a small garden or no growing space at all. Competitors have to produce a collection of culinary plants that can be harvested in the kitchen, again with the emphasis on creativity.

“People don’t necessarily have a garden but it needn’t stop you growing things,” says Paul.

And to prove it can be done, Paul is taking the challenge himself and growing something for each of the categories, which he will exhibit at the show in May.

He’s hoping the innovative approach, which is looking for creativity as well as growing skills, will encourage newcomers to have a go.

“I’m really interesting the benefits of nurturing plants and how they can make you feel good about things.”

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Prizes will include vouchers for Allomorphic in Stroud

He will be judging the entries with first, second and third prizes in each of the categories. Among the prizes are Sneeboer hand tools, tickets for a lecture and lunch with Paul, and £50 vouchers for Allomorphic, the gardening and lifestyle store he runs in Stroud; an Allomorphic concession is due to open later this month at Jekka’s Herb Farm in Alveston. The best in show winner will receive a £200 border fork.

It all makes for a busy few days as Paul will also be taking the RHS young designers he mentors to Malvern to pick up ideas and chairing the RHS judging panel looking at the Festival’s show gardens, the first time he’s headed a group.

“It’s a huge honour to be chairman of the judges especially as it’s only my second year as a judge,” he says.

“It’s rather apt that it’s at Malvern as it’s where my design career really launched.”

growing challenge
The Growing Challenge will be a new feature of the RHS Malvern Spring Festival

And it’s not the only show where he will be leading a judging panel as he is chair of judges for the Artisan and Fresh categories at this year’s Chelsea and will be chair at the Tatton show as well.

With a big show garden for the Institute of Quarrying at the new RHS Chatsworth Show and a Hampton Court garden for show sponsors Viking River Cruises, he’s also got a hectic design schedule.

“It is going to be a busy year,” he admits, “but I think it’s good to see a judge who’s active in the business of making gardens commercially and putting my money where my mouth is and making gardens at the shows.”

The deadline for entries to the Growing Challenge at RHS Malvern Spring Festival is Friday May 5, 2017. Details can be found here

• The Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 11-14 2017. Ticket details here

Malvern show gardens

Malvern show gardens are one of the highlights of the RHS Malvern Spring Festival. More accessible than those at Chelsea – both in cost and ease of seeing them – they are a source of ideas and the chance for designers to show off their skills. This year’s contest sees nine gardens, three of them built by former Best in Show winners.

Festival Gardens, now in its third year, is for designers who have never built a show garden before. Each is given a £3,000 bursary, expert mentoring and a theme. This year’s is ‘Hidden Gems’.

The festival will also feature a celebration of British flowers, see here for more details, top class nurseries and advice from expert speakers, see here for more details.

Show Gardens

The Garden of Romance

Visitors will be able to experience the romance of Italy first-hand on Villaggio Verde’s Malvern show garden which will double as a theatre for talks and floral workshops.

malvern show gardens

It has been inspired by an old monastic cloister garden, neglected in the past but now used for blessings; designer Jason Hales encountered a similar place at a family wedding in Italy.

“The planting has spread and matured and is almost overgrown in some places,” explains Jason, whose firm sells olive trees. “It’s bringing the space alive again and putting it to good use.”

Fittingly, a 400-year-old olive is at the heart of the garden, which will also feature cork oak, Italian cypress, rosemary and roses. Visitors will be able to look into it from the theatre and the cloisters. Adding to the atmosphere will be fantail doves in two dovecots.

The firm is well known at Malvern for its theatrical Mediterranean gardens, which have won three golds and Best in Show last year.

The Sunken Retreat

Fresh greens, cool whites and warm tones of orange will feature in Graduate Gardeners’ Malvern show garden.

malvern show gardens

‘The Sunken Retreat’ has been designed by Ann Walker as a family entertainment space.

In the middle is a sunken seating area and fire pit under four large Turkish hazels, giving a sense of enclosure.

“You can sit out by the fire pit when it’s a bit colder in the evenings,” says Ann, who won gold and Best in Show for her 2012 Malvern garden.

A second seating area at the front is designed for sunny days and two water features give reflections and movement.

The planting includes shade-tolerant dicentra, Euphorbia Robbiae, ferns, luzula and aquilegias, moving out into orange geum and Anemone sylvestris in the sunnier area along with iris, alliums and clipped yew.

The colour palette is echoed in the hard landscaping with pale York stone and a Corten Steel fire pit and wall, their rusty tones adding to the feeling of warmth.

A Japanese Reflection

The Japanese tradition of shakkei or ‘borrowing the landscape’ will be put to good use in Howle Hill Nursery’s design with the Malvern Hills forming a backdrop to the garden.

malvern show gardens

This contemporary version of a Japanese style won’t have stone lanterns and deer scarers but will rely on planting to give a sense of place.

At the heart of the garden are a large pool, water cascade and a cedar tea house. Forest of Dean stone will be used as stepping stones, a terrace and paths. Some is sawn to give smooth outline, while other pieces have been gathering moss at the nursery over the past few years.

“It’s going to be a garden that visitors won’t believe has just been put up for the show because it will have that very naturalistic look about it,” explains nursery owner Peter Dowle, who has designed the garden with colleague Richard Jasper. The firm won Best in Show in 2013.

Height will come from acers, bamboos and Scots pine; one is a multi-stemmed specimen that is making its third major show appearance having been used in gardens at both Chelsea and Malvern.

Hakonechloa, ophiopogon and ferns will form a textured understorey of planting along with azaleas, pittosporum, Nandina domestica, osmanthus and euonymus.

The UCARE Garden

Historic oak paneling in Broughton Castle has inspired Emily Sharpe’s garden for cancer charity UCARE.

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Box hedges echo the pattern of the drawing room paneling at the home of the charity’s patrons Lord and Lady Saye and Sele.

Angular lines and a formal feel are softened by planting that includes geraniums, camassias and urns filled with pink tulip ‘Caresse’, emblem of the charity, which helps patients with urological cancers.

It was the tulip that inspired the colour scheme of pink, purple and bronze, explains Emily, who won silver gilt and People’s Choice for her Malvern Festival Garden in 2015.

“The planting is quite bright, optimistic and uplifting.”

Height in the garden will be provided by Cornus controversa with structure from Viburnum plicatum and a hornbeam hedge giving shelter.

Milleflori ‘A Garden of One Thousand Flowers’

Glittering glasswork from the Staffordshire Hoards will be depicted in flowers and coloured foliage in the Milleflori garden.

malvern show gardens

Heuchera, red-leaved malus, acres, germs, euphorbia and dicentra will represent the Milleflori, or one thousand flowers, a type of glasswork made of tiny pieces.

The domed shape is echoed in a central arbour with a stained glass top and a water feature in the middle; access to the garden will be via stepping stones across rills of water.

It’s been designed and built by horticulture tutor Carole Webb and her students on the RHS Level Two course.

Carole is hoping that the sun will light up the glass as the judges approach: “Hopefully, it will shine down and reflect all the beautiful colours on the paving.”

Gardening Amidst Ruins

There will be fauna as well as flora on a garden designed to celebrate the legacy of Capability Brown. As well as the more usual roses, the garden will have a netted area filled with birds.

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“We’re not quite sure what yet,” says designer Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, who has created gardens for Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace Gardens. “They will be fancy fowl.”

‘Garden Amidst Ruins’, Todd’s first show garden, celebrates a little known aspect of Brown’s work, creating gardens among ruins, such as old moats, often with birds or animals as part of the design.

Recent archaeological work has uncovered more about these long vanished plots and this is the inspiration behind Todd’s entry in partnership with Historic Royal Palaces and Wyvale Garden Centres.

The roses, which were still fairly novel at the time, are in pots which are partially sunk into the ground and set along gravel paths that snake into the circular plot.

Adding to the feeling of a gardened ruin will be the stump of a 200-year-old black poplar with ivy and geraniums growing out of it.

“There will be a sense of antiquity,” adds Todd.

Macmillan Legacy Garden

His garden may last for only a few days but designer Mark Eveleigh is hoping it will have a timeless quality.

malvern show gardens

It highlights an appeal for people to remember the cancer charity in their wills and the design reflects this idea of a lasting influence.

Rustic materials and loose, naturalistic planting suggest a garden that was first created in about 1911, the year the charity was founded.

“I’m hoping to achieve a feeling that it’s been there for some years,” says Mark. “I wanted it to be like a lasting legacy, continuing through to the present day.”

Central to the design is an old summerhouse, inspired by a garden he has worked in near the Worcestershire showground.

A gnarled old apple tree, multi-stemmed lilac, soft ferns, red campion, foxgloves, geraniums and sweet woodruff will be used alongside yew and box that will be loosely shaped rather than tightly clipped.

Time Is a Healer

The idea of a garden as a healing space underpins Martyn Wilson’s third Malvern entry.

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‘Time is a Healer’ promotes the work of The Primrose Hospice in Bromsgrove and in particular the counselling given to bereaved children.

It’s based on the five stages of grief, as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and the planting reflects the anger and confusion people go through before finding acceptance.

There’s a dark pool for reflection and a specially commissioned sculpture at the centre represents a clock face while its four entrances and exits suggest the different ways people work through grieving.

“The path through the process will not be the same for everybody,” explains Martyn, who got silver gilt for his first show garden last year and silver for a Festival Garden in 2014.

The planting is divided into contrasting palettes: dark coppers and reds for anger and early grief with heuchera, ajuga and black phormium and an element of shock from bright geum; a kaleidoscope of blue nepeta, yellow geum and orange verbascum to suggest confusion; cool white and green across the front with tiarella, Orlaya grandiflora and euphorbia.

The Woodcutter’s Garden

Sustainable living is the theme of Mark Walker’s design for a garden on the edge of woodland.

malvern show gardens

Wild flowers, including foxgloves and violets, euphorbia, heuchera and geraniums will give a cottagey feel around a central wooden hut and patio made of yew logs.

“It is almost a rural Arts and Crafts garden,” explains Mark, who is based in Somerset.

The Woodcutter’s Garden portrays the home of characters in The Woodcutters Story, which he has written to raise funds for Cancer Research, and is designed to encourage people to think about recycling and sustainable living.

Festival Gardens

Hidden Gems of Worcestershire

The diverse strengths of Worcestershire are celebrated in Nikki Hollier’s garden, which blends historic agriculture with space-age technology.

malvern show gardens

Nikki, from Styling Homes and Gardens, is promoting Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership, and the variety in her home county.

A circular seating area is inspired by the concentric rings of a telescope while granite setts represent solar panels used on satellites , both drawn from the work of hi-tech Malvern firm QinetiQ.

The county’s ancient wool trade is depicted with wire sculpture sheep grazing in a meadow-like planting of grasses while Evesham’s horticulture is shown with a dwarf apple tree and the River Severn becomes a ribbon of Festuca glauca and metal trout.

There’s history too with plants, including silver birch, drawn from Capability Brown’s garden at Croome while the overall black and white theme is in tribute to Berrow’s Worcester Journal, the world’s oldest continually published newspaper.

“It’s quite a diverse topic to cover,” she admits, “but I think I’ve done it.”

Water Spout

Christian Dowle, of Garden Inspiration, is building a garden inspired by the historic water spouts of the Malvern Hills.

malvern show gardens

Designed as a low maintenance space, it will be filled with the sound of water as a water spout, set into a dry stone wall, fills an old stone trough and then overflows into a pool.

There’s a gazebo in one corner made from coppiced wood and looking over a wildflower meadow that leads down to the water. Other plants include azaleas and rhododendrons and grasses are placed to give reflections in the pool.

“It’s all very natural, very rustic,” says Christian, whose brother, Peter, is building a show garden. “It’s a space where you can relax after a hard day.”

The Low Line

A garden high up above the streets of Manhattan was the starting point for Pro-Gardens’ Malvern Festival Garden.

festival gardens

Designer Jamie Langlands explains that the rejuvenation by Piet Oudolf of the High Line, once part of New York’s transport system, was one of his favourites.

“It’s got a slick, contemporary design but with little nods towards the history.”

It’s this fusion of old and new that he is hoping to replicate in the Malvern design, which marries a modern Perspex and aluminium tumbling water feature with an old coach wheel and saddle stone.

Multi-stemmed silver birch will be underplanted with ferns and grasses to give a naturalistic style and a sense of movement.

Surrounding the garden will be solid and slatted fencing, hinting at an urban setting, while decking will give access across the garden.

• For RHS Malvern Spring Festival admission times and prices see Three Counties

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Eastcombe, Bussage and Brownshill Open Gardens

 Garden design tricks transform plot

There’s something about a well designed garden that shouts out the minute you enter. Maybe it’s the choice of plants whose colour and form blend perfectly. Perhaps it’s the structure that draws you in and moves you around the space seamlessly. For me, it’s the tiny details: the way a path is made; the attention paid to corners and the edges of borders. At Hawkley Cottage, which is part of Eastcombe, Bussage and Brownshill open gardens, there are all these features and a lot of clever garden design that is not so obvious but which underpins the whole thing.

The skilful way the plot has been tackled is not surprising given that owner Helen Westendorp once ran a successful garden design company. Yet, turning what was a neglected three quarters of an acre into a country garden with style was not an overnight transformation. Helen and her husband, Gerwin, bought the cottage in Eastcombe 11 years ago but did not start properly on the garden until three years ago.

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Borders along the brook are filled with colour

“The garden design had been sitting on my drawing board for absolutely ages,” admits Helen. “But it always went to the bottom of the pile because clients’ work always goes to the top.”

No longer working as a designer and with a young family wanting to use the space, her vision for the garden finally began to take shape.

Several things defined her approach: the wish to have planting that wrapped around the house and the main rooms; the realisation that something had to be done about the deep and dangerous brook that ran through the plot; the need to keep access to the garage, inconveniently sited halfway down the long, narrow space.

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Bergenia ‘Eric Smith’ is a favourite

Helen’s solution to that problem is the most ingenious and, at first glance, the least obvious of her garden design tricks. What appears to be a fairly normal arrangement of garden ‘rooms’ alongside the dining room and kitchen are actually part of the drive.

Yew hedges that form divisions are kept wide enough to allow a car through, while planting in the centre has been kept low with thyme and Erigeron karvinskianus. There’s a water feature in one section but it’s a low-lying bubble fountain while paving in the ‘outdoor dining room’ has been underpinned with sufficient concrete to take the weight of vehicles; the couple have also planned ahead and run service cables and pipes to the garage so that it could be converted at a future date.

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Cushions tone with the magnolia flowers

The brook, which used to run along the boundary, has been widened and diverted to sweep into the garden, allowing wide borders on each side. Meanwhile, what was a silted up pond is now a raised outdoor living area with a permanent awning. Rubble from the building work was used to fill in the space, part of Helen’s determination to make the garden landfill neutral.

“The only thing that was sent to landfill was a bit of plastic packaging.”

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An old pond has been turned into another seating area

The garden’s lack of width has been disguised with the hard landscaping – slabs run across rather than down the space – and planting. Paths crisscross, creating oval-shaped borders and lawn that draw the eye across rather than down the space. Within the borders, plants are grouped in repeated smaller ovals, while the paths’ sinewy shape is echoed in trees and shrubs, including hornbeam and choisya, that sweep through the space.

Plants have been chosen to give year-round interest: golden liriope dotted through with daffodils for early colour; Bergenia ‘Eric Smith’, whose pink blooms are a contrast to purple sage, lavender and Iris x robusta ‘Gerald Darby’, whose young foliage has a purple tinge.

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Planting follows the sweep of paths

“I love it when a plan comes together,” smiles Helen.

Outside the dining room, she decided to use circles and around the circular bubble fountain there are domes of hebe and rosettes of sempervivum tumbling out of a pot. Stipa gigantea, carefully positioned at the ‘doors’ to this space, form a transparent screen later in the year, helping to create a feeling of privacy despite the proximity of the front door and road.

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The low bubble fountain can still be driven over

And what of those tiny details? The main patio has smaller slabs laid as an enclosing outer border that subconsciously make you slow your stride and linger while drainage slits point to the practicality underpinning this garden. Meanwhile, what would often be a forgotten area under the yew hedge is planted up with cyclamen, providing an attractive weed suppressant, and the angular corners of beds by the house are softened with mats of Stachys byzantina. Details that are so easily overlooked but which mark this garden as different.

Hawkley Cottage is open on Sunday May 1 and Monday May 2 as part of Eastcombe, Bussage and Brownshill open gardens for the National Gardens Scheme. A total of 13 gardens will be open from 2-6pm and combined admission is £6, children’s entry is free.

There will be a plant sale in Eastcombe Village Hall and homemade teas available.

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