RHS Chatsworth 2017: a soggy start

There’s no way of softening the conclusion that yesterday’s press day at RHS Chatsworth was quite simply a washout. Torrential rain was bad enough, turning parts of the ground into a swamp but high winds forced organisers to close the show early.

Was it the right decision? Yes, definitely. The Floral Marquees – split into two either side of an inflatable replica of Paxton’s Great Conservatory – closed just hours after the event began, such were safety concerns. Big wooden signs were laid on the grass as a precaution, the press tent was shaking ominously in the wind and I saw a large metal barrier blown over.

chatsworth
Dressed for the weather – the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire talking to designer Paul Hervey-Brookes

Still, on the first day of this new RHS show it was hugely disappointing for everyone involved and meant I saw but a small part of what is on offer. Like many others, I had opted to walk around the show gardens first, as the forecast for later in the day was worse. I did get to all of them but it meant that with only three hours at the show I saw little of the experimental Free Form installations and nothing of the nursery stands, well dressing or RHS exhibition on gardening in a changing climate – ironically named in the circumstances. It was also difficult to fully appreciate or photograph the gardens when they were being battered by the wind and rain.

chatsworth
The IQ Quarry garden has stark lines . . .
chatsworth
. . . set against soft planting

Obviously, in such circumstances it’s difficult to fully assess this latest addition to the RHS line-up. However, there seems little doubt that it has potential.

The setting with the backdrop of Chatsworth House and its parkland is beautiful, although there was a feeling it hadn’t been exploited to the full, possibly due to restrictions on what could be dug up.

Many of the show gardens are difficult to photograph as any shot seems to include the bright white marquees, trade stands or food outlets; this is something that RHS Malvern has finally got right in recent years with the gardens sited on the showground so that the hills form a natural backing.

chatsworth
The hot end of the Palladian Bridge

The Palladian Bridge, stunningly dressed by celebrity florist Jonathan Moseley and his team, frames not the house, but looks towards what seems to be a rear entrance at one end and the ‘Great Conservatory’ at the other; the latter divided opinion on press day with one person describing it to me looking like an overgrown bouncy castle. Having not managed to get inside, I couldn’t really decide its worth but pictures I’ve seen suggest it is striking.

So, what of the things I did see? Naturally, I headed first for the garden of Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes who heard this morning that he had won gold, Best in Show and Best Construction.

Designed for the Institute of Quarrying, it was envisaged as a garden for a professional couple and inspired by the life of a quarry.

chatsworth
The IQ Quarry garden is one of many with a water feature

As such, it is a garden of contrasts: soft planting, so typical of Paul’s style, set against angular rock and concrete.

chatsworth
Cool grey set off many plants on the garden . . .
chatsworth
. . . including foxgloves

Foxgloves and elder, are framed against grey, rocks are set into planting and a striking sculpture by Stroud artist Ann-Margreth Bohl, makes a dramatic end piece.

chatsworth
A dramatic end to the IQ Quarry garden

Indeed, plants silhouetted against hard landscaping seemed to be a theme of the show as did water – and not just from the sky.

chatsworth
Stone sets off aeonium in the Wedgwood garden
chatsworth
More water this time on the Cruse Bereavement Care garden

The Cruse Bereavement Care garden is set around a central wall-enclosed seat area, with a long rill running through the garden.

chatsworth
The sheltered seat was welcoming

On a grey day, the yellow lupins stood out and the curved seating area offered a welcome retreat.

chatsworth

For me, the highlight of the Wedgwood Garden was the ‘windows’ that gives glimpses of the garden. There’s loose planting in shades of blue and yellow with splashes of red, and a long canal of water. It is just a shame that the main window also ‘looks out’ onto a restaurant.

chatsworth
One of the ‘windows’ on the garden

There are good ‘take home ideas’. Tanya Batkin’s Moveable Feast garden cleverly showcases how mobile planters can be used to create a garden anywhere.

chatsworth
Moveable containers and a great green roof on a store cupboard

Aimed at ‘Generation Rent’, it demonstrates how fruit, veg and flowers could transform an area of paving, while the large containers are on wheels to make them easy to move around.

chatsworth

Meanwhile, Butter Wakefield has produced a dreamy idyll with the Belmont Enchanted Gardens with wild flowers and vegetables, grown at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

chatsworth
Butter Wakefield’s idyllic retreat

Jackie Knight has created an informal water and rock garden to celebrate her silver wedding and the 25th anniversary of her first show garden. Aptly, given the conditions at Chatsworth, it was called ‘Just Add Water’.

chatsworth
Jackie Knight’s garden
chatsworth
I liked the way Jackie picked out the colour of the hammock in the planting

And Jonathan Moseley follows his success at RHS Malvern with another stunning display of how fresh flowers can transform a space. The Palladian Bridge takes visitors from cool greens and whites through a rainbow of colour to fiery shades of red and orange, while a willow snake – based on the Cavendish coat of arms – slithers through the display.

chatsworth

RHS Chatsworth 2017 runs until Sunday June 11. For more details, visit the RHS

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?

rhs malvern
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.

rhs malvern
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.”

rhs malvern
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.

rhs malvern
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.

rhs malvern
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.

rhs malvern
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.

rhs malvern
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

rhs malvern
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

rhs malvern
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.

rhs malvern
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.

rhs malvern
I loved the peonies

British Flowers

rhs malvern
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.

rhs malvern
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.

rhs malvern
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

For many the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, which runs from May 5-8, is the true start of the gardening season. There’s the chance to see displays from top nurseries – and most importantly buy the plants – pick up tips and advice from experts, stock up on everything from plant labels to greenhouses and get ideas from the show gardens.

Over the past few years, food has become an important element of the show and Mary Berry will be among the celebrity guests while Alan Titchmarsh heads a group of gardening experts and CBeebies’ Ben Faulks as Mr Bloom will be at Sunday’s ‘family day’.

malvern spring festival
Alan Titchmarsh

This year, the British flower industry will be celebrated with ‘Grow Your Own Wedding’ led by top florist Jonathan Moseley (more details here ) there’s a look at Royal weddings and fierce competition in the show gardens with three former Best in Show winners competing (more details  here ).

Here are just some of the other highlights.

Get expert help

Writer and broadcaster Christine Walkden is just one of the experts giving advice in Get Going, Get Growing. She will be taking the mystery out of sowing seeds and explaining how to get plants for free using cuttings and division.

malvern spring festival
Christine Walkden

 

“I am so looking forward to being at Malvern at this important time of the year when everything is starting to grow,” she says. “Growing your own is so important as it connects you to nature, is easy, rewarding and great fun.”

Other speakers include Gardeners’ World presenters Carol Klein and Joe Swift, and RHS judge Jon Wheatley.

The Potting Bench in the Floral Marquee offers practical horticultural advice from nursery owners and celebrity guests on a stage designed by Howle Hill Nursery on the theme of Gardens Around the World.

Floral Fashion Show

Royal wedding bouquets including the Queen’s, Queen Victoria’s and Kate Middleton’s, will be part of a special display by the British Academy of Floral Art.

The leading professional floristry school has put together wedding flowers through the ages in honour of the Queen’s 90th birthday.

It will feature modern designs as well as the Royal bouquets and will use British grown flowers. The catwalk show will take place on The Garden of Romance show garden on Thursday and is an exclusive preview before the school takes the display to America this summer.

Top Nurseries on show

Some of the country’s leading nurseries will be at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival offering unusual plants and advice on how to grow them.

malvern spring festival

The huge floral marquee and outdoor stands will have around 70 stands offering the chance to stock up on everything from bulbs, ferns, perennials, climbers and shrubs.

All the stands will be judged by the RHS and many of the exhibitors, including Avon Bulbs, Dibleys Nurseries and Fibrex Nurseries, will be showing at Chelsea later in the month.

Schools Celebrate Shakespeare

This year’s schools contest, headed by BBC Blue Peter gardener Chris Collins sees schools from across the Three Counties marking the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

malvern spring festival
Chris Collins

Eleven schools have created gardens inspired by the Bard including a storm scene from The Tempest, the witches from Macbeth, the Globe Theatre and a portrait of Shakespeare’s face.

From Plot to Plate

TV chef Valentine Warner and Otter Farm’s Mark Diacono will host The Kitchen Garden Theatre at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival where local chefs will demonstrate how to use your produce.

Bake Off queen Mary Berry will talk about health, happiness and horticulture, Pennard Plants will run a Grow It, Cook It, Eat It masterclass, and there will be talks on local and seasonal.

malvern spring festival
Mary Berry

There will be street food and stands from local producers with everything from sausages to gin.

“We are truly spoilt in this part of the country with each of the three counties famous for its food and drink produce,” says Ken Nottage, CEO of Three Counties.

For details of tickets and the talks timetable, visit RHS Malvern

• Enjoyed this? Please share via Facebook, Twitter or email.