RHS Malvern Spring Festival – a new direction

Several months into her new role heading up the RHS Malvern Spring Festival Jane Furze still seems surprised at her good luck. It is, she explains, a perfect job.

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Jane Furze

“I’m a keen gardener and I’ve been coming to Malvern for nearly 25 years. It’s a dream job for me, turning a very loyal visitor into running the show.”

She’s putting her first-hand experience to good use in shaping Malvern’s future course. It has, she believes, the potential to be somewhere that can offer something different to the other RHS events.

“I want Malvern to be increasingly a place where you walk around and think ‘Gosh, I couldn’t have seen that anywhere else’,” says the former head of Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Key to achieving this is the introduction of features that go beyond the show gardens, expert talks and nursery stands for which RHS Malvern Spring Festival is well known.

Running as a unifying thread through this year’s show is a spa theme, harking back to the town’s heritage as a Victorian spa resort.

“We have a number of people who have produced key horticultural features based on that theme,” says Jane. “These are very new and very much an addition to any sort of content we’ve done in the past.”

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Jekka McVicar’s garden will be a permanent feature

Herb expert Jekka McVicar is building a garden that explores the use of herbs in health and well-being. A permanent feature, it will be used after the show by a day care service working with people with learning difficulties.

“They will be the main caretakers of the garden so it has a longevity to it.”

British flower growers will again have a big presence. Growers and florists from across the region will put on displays and talks in the Wye Hall, which is being decorated to resemble a Victorian arcade by award-winning designer Peter Dowle.

At its heart is what Jane hopes will be a show-stopping spectacle by top florist Jonathan Moseley. The ‘Floral Fountain’ is a 7m-high cascade of flowers, greenery and crystals that will flow down from the roof into a fountain and lily pool.

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The Floral Fountain will celebrate British flower growers

“I’m just looking forward to walking in and that scent just hitting me. It will be amazing.”

The Floral Marquee will also have a central display, this time designed by Joe Swift who has drawn inspiration from Victorian plant hunters. His Plant Finder Parlour has a central space for hosting talks and what Jane describes as ‘window displays’, including an auricular theatre, showcasing plants that were brought back to this country.

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The Plant Finder Parlour will be used for talks

The marquee itself, which will house nearly 70 nurseries, has been redesigned following several years where it drew criticism from growers and visitors who found it difficult to navigate. Now it is a simple rectangle with a vista down its 190m length.

“It makes it easier for visitors and for the nurseries because they are not in a corner that people might miss.

“It will be a really stunning feature in its own right.”

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The Wye Hall will be designed by Peter Dowle who won gold with this garden last year

And it’s not just flower-growing that Jane wants to promote. Grow your own is also high on the RHS Malvern Spring Festival agenda with the Grow Zone hosting a country and wildlife garden designed by Jon Wheatley and ‘edible beds’ produced by a range of organisations, including Incredible Edible Bristol. Meanwhile, designer and RHS judge Paul Hervey-Brookes is hosting a Growing Challenge to encourage novice gardeners.

It fits well with RHS Malvern’s image as a launchpad. It has long been the place for young designers – Chris Beardshaw, Diarmuid Gavin and Paul are among those who started their design careers at the show – and Jane believes it’s an important part of the Malvern ethos.

There will be an international flavour to the new Spa Gardens with the start of a three-year link to the Moscow Flower Show. Top designer Jo Thompson will mentor a Russian design duo building a garden at Malvern and one of the Malvern designers will be given the chance to show in Moscow. There will also be a Russian school taking part in the school garden contest.

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Show gardens are one of the highlights of Malvern

“I would love more of that in the future,” says Jane. “Cultures do have different perspectives, different ways of thinking about design and as a visitor that’s interesting.”

There are 10 show gardens this year among them one celebrating the millennium of Buckfast Abbey, spa-themed designs by Peter Dowle and Villaggio Verde, and a garden highlighting the plight of refugees by Painswick designer Sue Jollans, 10 years after she won Best in Show at Malvern.

Jane has kept their location the same with the Malvern Hills as a backdrop: “I see no reason to change that as it’s really good location.”

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The Malverns make a stunning backdrop to the show

What she has done is tweak the layout elsewhere to ensure visitors encounter garden features as soon as they arrive; feeling she sometimes had to walk a long way to find the gardening was something she disliked as a visitor in the past.

Changes are also planned to ease congestion that has resulted from more visitors: “I think one of the joys of Malvern is the space so I’ve just been keen to open up areas.”

With a month to go until the four-day show Jane is quietly confident except for one thing: the weather.

“I’m just praying for sunshine. It’s the one thing I want.”

The RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 11 to May 14 2017. For more information and ticket details, see here

I’ve been looking at what’s planned for gardens at the festival.

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Cotswold gardening talks 2017

Gardening experts are heading to the Cotswolds this year offering advice on everything from early spring bulbs to the meaning of flowers.

Want to know how to build a pond and plant a bog garden, or perhaps pruning trees is a puzzle. Workshops, lectures and a garden festival will give gardeners ample opportunity to pick up tips and advice.

Here’s a round-up of the gardening talks on offer.

Allomorphic

Stroud-based home and garden shop Allomorphic is also the setting for a series of day courses and lectures with lunch.

Award-winning designer and RHS judge Paul Hervey-Brookes will be sharing his design expertise in three courses covering planting for winter, gardening in a small space and the basics of creating a show garden.

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Paul Hervey-Brookes on his gold medal garden at Hampton Court

Other courses include how to make beautiful hand ties, summer door wreaths or arrangements to suit every celebration.

The ‘Queen of Herbs’, Jekka McVicar will be sharing her knowledge of plants medicinal and culinary while container planting expert Harriet Rycroft will explain how to have pots that look good all year-round.

Dates, details and prices here.

Gardens Illustrated Festival

The magazine’s second festival at Westonbirt School has a line-up of some of the gardening world’s best-known faces.

Designers Cleve West, Tom Stuart-Smith and Arne Maynard are among those who will be looking for paradise, exploring the health benefits of gardens and the use of beautifully crafted materials in gardens, while Sarah Raven will be showing how to combine colour in borders.

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Westonbirt School hosts the Gardens Illustrated festival

The roses of Sissinghurst, how to be a green gardener, and the canals and water gardens of Birmingham are just some of the subjects that will also be explored during the two-day festival.

The event on March 25-26 also has tours of the garden and a plant and design clinic alongside the gardening talks.

For details, see here

Highgrove

The Prince of Wales’ garden is hosting a lecture and lunch with Shane Connolly, floral arranger for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding.

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Highgrove is the setting for talks and workshops

He will show how to create arrangements that convey particular sentiments while explaining the historic symbolism of flowers.

The garden at Tetbury also has courses with Caroline Tatham and Kate Durr of the Cotswold Gardening School on planning and planting borders, container gardening and garden design.

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Caroline Tatham of The Cotswold Gardening School

For more details, see here

The Generous Gardener

The Generous Gardener near Cirencester is launching a new series of evening lectures alongside the usual daytime gardening talks.

Among those speaking at the evening events at The Coach House Garden are Bob Brown, of Cotswold Garden Flowers, with advice on new garden-worthy plants and Helen Picton talking about growing asters.

The lecture days, now in their fifth season, include two speakers and lunch. Among the double acts are Alan Street from Avon Bulbs talking about early spring treasures and Tony Kirkham, head of Kew’s arboretum, giving advice on everything to do with trees.

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A series of lectures are being held at The Coach House

Leading designers Julian and Isobel Bannerman will take you through the making of their gardens while Derry Watkins, of Special Plants nursery, will tempt you to grow plants that are borderline hardy.

Designer Rupert Golby shows how to bring the garden indoors and writer and plantsman Stephen Lacey will suggest plants to introduce scent.

Bog gardens, ponds and how to create and plant them is explained by Timothy Walker, former director of Oxford Botanic Garden, while Telegraph columnist Helen Yemm will be choosing plants for a stunning summer show.

Plantsman Roy Lancaster shares his lifelong passion for plants and Helen Dillon will give an insight into the making of her famous garden in Ireland.

For dates, prices and more details see here

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Bob Brown is one of the speakers

Cheltenham Horticultural Society

Renowned plantsman Nick Macer, of Pan-Global Plants, will be the speaker at a special anniversary lecture in Cheltenham in October.

‘Things that turn me on – confessions of a plant freak’ is being organised by Cheltenham Horticultural Society as part of its 75th anniversary celebrations.

Nick, who is also on the BBC Gardeners’ World presenting team, will be talking at Balcarras School in Charlton Kings.

Tickets will be on sale later in the year. For details, see here

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Chelsea Flower Show: rocks and reflections

Chelsea is all about rocks and colour this year. Stone features on many of the gardens and there are vibrant, paintbox shades in every part of the Great Pavilion.

Cleve West’s celebration of the rugged landscape of Exmoor manages to combine huge pieces of Forest of Dean stone with soft, easy-on-the-eye planting without making either look out of place.

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Rocks on Cleve West’s M&G garden have a sense of permanence

Rosy Hardy has circular gabions filled with stone that mimic a dry chalk steam bed; Hugo Bugg creates bold geometric shapes in shades of black and grey; and in the Fresh gardens, Propagating Dan has balanced a five-tonne boulder on the roof of a pavilion in ‘The Garden of Potential’.

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Stone is in evidence across the show

A talking point among visitors though is Diarmuid Gavin’s nod to British eccentricity. The strains of ‘In an English Country’ garden float over the show as window boxes go up and down, topiary twirls and plants process around the garden’s house. It ticks few boxes in terms of inspiration for home gardeners but as a spectacle it is unbeatable and won silver-gilt.

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Not content with bells and whistles, Diarmuid Gavin had musicians on his garden

In the Great Pavilion, Marks and Spencer introduces a carnival atmosphere with vibrant blocks of colour in a display that is high on impact.

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The startling M&S garden won gold

Heucheraholics are bringing a sense of fun to the humble garden shed, repainted in primary shades and festooned with heucheras, there are hyacinths and tulips in lipstick shades, and the New Covent Garden Flower Market has a nod to the Queen’s birthday with a display that combines cool green and white on one side with 3D colour on the other.

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The cool side of The New Covent Garden display
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The other side of the flower market’s display

And this year, the usual splashes of scarlet from the Chelsea pensioners are dwarfed by the great swathe red poppies in front of the Royal Hospital.

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Just some of the thousands of poppies remembering commemorating fallen soldiers

It’s been a different Chelsea: the sun shone – a welcome relief after last year’s deluge; press day was quieter due to fewer passes being issued; the Main Avenue gardens showed a welcome individuality. What hasn’t changed is the buzz around the showground and the crowds pouring in as soon as the gates opened this morning.

Key results and the Cotswolds 

Best show garden: The Telegraph Garden by Andy Sturgeon

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Chris on his gold garden

Cheltenham’s Chris Beardshaw added to his gold medal tally with his garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital, sponsored by M&G. Peter Dowle saw the garden he built for L’Occitane win gold, while Lichen Antiques supplied the Forest of Dean stone for Cleve West’s gold medal-winning garden and Westmorland stone for the Royal Bank of Canada Garden, which got silver-gilt. Avening sculptor Giles Rayner supplied a water feature for The Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden, which won silver-gilt.

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Peter Dowle in a tiny piece of France transported to London

South Gloucestershire herb queen Jekka McVicar got silver-gilt with her first show garden and the Meningitis Now Futures Garden for the Stroud charity won silver-gilt in the Artisan Garden awards.

For a round-up of the Cotswolds’ input into the Chelsea Flower Show see here

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Florist Katherine Kear was dressed for the part

In the Great Pavilion, Gloucester florist Katherine Kear led her team of florists from the Three Counties and South Wales to gold medal victory. Their display for the National Federation of Flower Arrangement Societies showed the influence of the Victorians on gardening. More details here

Here are some of my snapshots of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016.

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Rosy Hardy’s first show garden won silver
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Plants from Raymond Blanc’s kitchen garden were used in the hospitality village
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Jo Thompson’s Chelsea Barracks Garden was wrapped around a lawn – rarely seen at Chelsea
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Jekka McVicar’s Modern Apothecary garden
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Colour is everywhere at Chelsea
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One of two striking sculptures on Chris Beardshaw’s garden
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Detail on the NAFAS display
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Naturalistic planting on the L’Occitane garden
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I loved this lavender ‘With Love’ on Downderry Nursery’s stand

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Chelsea Flower Show 2016

The Cotswolds go to town

The Cotswolds are well represented this year at a Chelsea Flower Show that promises more than a touch of theatre with an 80ft train, an acoustic garden and spinning topiary.

Visitors will be greeted by floral arches over the Bull Ring and London Gate entrances, created to celebrate The Queen’s 90th birthday. The tunnel by Rock Bank Restaurant will be hung with more than 5,000 roses, and part of the Royal Hospital grounds will be carpeted in nearly 300,000 hand-crocheted poppies, a tribute to those who have served in war.

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Floral arches will welcome visitors

Those with a pass for the Hospitality Village will see ‘Le Jardin Blanc’, created by Cotswold designer Paul Hervey-Brookes and former Hillier boss Andy McIndoe, using veg grown at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

Cleeve West returns with a garden inspired by Exmoor, the plight of modern day slaves is highlighted in an Fresh garden by Juliet Sargeant, and Diarmuid Gavin is again set to be a talking point with a garden for Harrods celebrating British eccentricity that will have bobbing box balls, patio furniture emerging from a trapdoor and twirling bay trees.

Elsewhere, hosta and fern specialists Bowdens are planning a display around a 1920s Belmond British Pullman carriage, disability charity Papworth Trust has worked with percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie to produce a garden of sound and award-winning Great Pavilion exhibitors Jekka McVicar and Rosy Hardy are both making their show garden debuts.

Jekka’s A Modern Apothecary explores the links between herbs and well-being with a palette of plants that will include fennel and chicory, which aid digestion, wild celery for treating gout and several red-leaved herbs, important in preventing heart disease. A herb lay – a mix of grass and plants such as sorrel and chicory – will be used instead of a traditional lawn.

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She’s growing 90 per cent of the 15,000 plants needed at her South Gloucestershire herb nursery.

“I really want to show how fantastic herbs are as garden plants. They are the one group of plants that look good, smell good and do you good.”

After the show, the garden will be rebuilt at St John’s Hospice, London, which is sponsoring it.

Rosy’s garden highlights the fragility of chalk streams, under threat from climate change and pollution, and, if the pressure of her first garden wasn’t enough, she is also putting together the display for Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, the nursery she runs with her husband, Rob.

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Catching up with her at the recent launch of Allomorphic in Stroud, I questioned the wisdom of building two exhibits simultaneously at Chelsea and just weeks after exhibiting at Malvern.

“I try not to think about it all,” she admitted, adding that while husband Rob would put in the hard landscaping for the nursery stand, only she did the planting.

“Nobody else can put it together. It has to be me.”

Partly, this is because she has no detailed planting plan and there’s no ‘dry run’.

“I just go and paint with my plants.”

Here are some of the Gloucestershire designers, growers and artists taking part in this year’s show.

A life-changing disease

Designer John Everiss’ garden celebrates the 30th anniversary of Stroud-based charity Meningitis Now.

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The Artisan Garden depicts the life-changing effect of the disease with 3D wooden sculptures, modelled on real children, seen travelling across the garden from health, through a wall of disease to life after meningitis. One of the figures is seen reaching for help through the wall, another fails to reappear.

John explained: “It’s important that those who have lost children or young adults are represented in this garden as well.”

Country-style planting in pastel shades will be shot through with orange, the charity’s colour, while its Gloucestershire roots are suggested by the use of Cotswold stone for walls and a folly.

A garden for GOSH

There’s also a children’s health theme to Cheltenham designer Chris Beardshaw’s show garden, which is for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, sponsored by Morgan Stanley.

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Designed to be relocated to a rooftop at the hospital, it relies on texture to create a soothing, green space for patients and their families.

There’s a central water feature and an interlocking Japanese-style pavilion with woodland planting, including acers, cornus and epimedium.

“The flowers are deliberately small and hidden within the garden and not blousy and ostentatious,” said Chris.

More colourful will be fabric on the seats, which is based on leaves drawn by some of the hospital’s young patients.

Bringing France to Chelsea

A small piece of Provence will be created at the Chelsea Flower Show with the help of contractor Peter Dowle, who runs a nursery near Ruardean in the Forest of Dean.

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He is working with designer James Basson to mark the 40th anniversary of beauty firm L’Occitane, founded in Haute Provence by Olivier Baussan. Last year, the same team won gold at Chelsea for their depiction of a perfumer’s garden.

Plants native to the region, including sage, small-leaved holly and thyme, will be used to recreate a scene looking across a lavender field to the rolling hills and woodland of the area.

Earlier this month, Peter won gold at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival with a Japanese-style garden.

Forest plays its part

Stone from the Forest of Dean will underpin Cleeve West’s nostalgic look back at the landscape of Exmoor where he spent his teenage years.

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Nearly 90 tonnes of undressed stone, including one piece of nearly nine tonnes, will be used along with polished pieces.

The stone has been sourced by Cotswold firm Lichen Antiques, who supplied gates and paving for Cleeve’s 2014 gold medal-winning garden.

“We’ve spent days and days in the quarry choosing the right pieces of stone,” explained the firm’s owner, Darren Jones.

The firm is also supplying Westmorland stone for Hugo Bugg’s Royal Bank of Canada Garden which celebrates the importance of water.

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Influenced by a trip to Jordan, it will show how arid landscapes can still have beautiful flora.

Westmorland is no longer quarried and Darren was lucky enough to have the 15 tonnes needed in stock.

“It’s beautiful,” said Darren, “and works absolutely perfectly in this garden.”

Both designers had a ‘dry run’ at positioning the stone at a yard in Gloucester before it was transported to the Chelsea showground.

Inspired by pineapples

The number sequence that underpins nature has inspired a Cotswold water sculptor’s Chelsea Flower Show commission.

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Giles Rayner used the Fibonacci sequence as the starting point for a copper water vortex sculpture that will feature on The Winton Capital Beauty of Mathematics Garden.

“It was inspired by pineapples,” explains Giles, from Avening. “It’s got quite a complex shape.”

More of Giles’ work will be on show at his own stand, set into a garden designed by a student from Inchbald School of Design. It will feature a freeform hedge of Ilex crenata as a backdrop to the copper sculptures.

Florists head for Chelsea

Gloucestershire flower arrangers are also taking part in this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

Katherine Kear is leading a team building the NAFAS display in the Grand Pavilion, full story here

Meanwhile, in the floral art contest, Jayne Morriss is hoping to delight judges with a surprise.

The theme is ‘Garden Delight’ and Jayne, from Brimscombe Hill, has subtitled her arrangement ‘Twas Around the Corner I Beheld’.

“I think every garden should have a surprise as you turn the corner and this will be a beautiful planted urn”

For her ninth time at Chelsea, Jayne is planning an arrangement in pale pink, lavender and purple using delphiniums, peonies, roses and stocks.

Peacocks, pots and watering cans

Several Cotswold firms will be among the trade exhibitors at the Chelsea Flower Show among them garden antiques firm Architectural Heritage from Taddington.

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Their stand will feature period sundials and lead urns alongside their reproduction copper planters.

Cheltenham sculptor Christopher Lisney will be unveiling his twist on a traditional garden roller at the Chelsea Flower Show with a 7ft-high piece complete with a butterfly landing on the handle.

He has also reworked his popular watering can sculpture, adding a bird perching on the handle. The original watering can was shown at his first Chelsea visit in 2003 and is the only piece to have been on the stand every year since.

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Meanwhile, wire sculptor Rupert Till will be unveiling a new 8ft-high peacock on a hoop at the show. It’s part of a new range that has seen cockerels and parrots balancing on rings.

It is, he says, a way of putting a dramatic piece of art into even the smallest town garden.

In a nod to The Queen’s birthday, he will also have a fell pony’s head, while his popular boxing hares will be the centrepiece.

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For information about the show, visit the RHS

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