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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.