Garden shows always take me a long time to explore and the Malvern Autumn Show is one of the slowest. Not only are there interesting plants to hunt out, being my ‘local’ event, there are growers and designers to chat to about the past season and their future plans.
Aside from admiring the giant veg and apple displays at this year’s show, I discovered several plants for my growing plant wish list, heard about exciting developments at one of my favourite nurseries and picked up ideas for displaying flowers from my new cutting bed.
But one of the most interesting conversations concerned the show itself. I’ve long been critical of the way the Malvern Autumn Show is laid out and felt that the gardening was being sidelined, opinions I put to Head of Shows Diana Walton in a recent interview. She told me then that moving the RHS Flower Show out of the halls – commonly referred to as the cow sheds – was one of the changes being considered in a revamp of the event.
That move has now been confirmed by Nina Acton, Shows Development Executive, who told me: “There will be a floral marquee for next year.”
Shifting the plant displays into marquee with more natural light and a less claustrophobic feel is something that will be welcomed by exhibitors and visitors alike. It will be interesting to see what other changes are made.
One of the first growers I bumped into was Malvern stalwart Medwyn Williams whose display of perfectly grown and presented veg is always a show highlight.
This year, it won the coveted Best Exhibit in the RHS Flower Show award – something he’s achieved countless times before.
“I never get fed up with it though,” he assured me. “I’m pleased for the team.”
It had, he said, been a “funny season” with high temperatures in May and June that had affected plants later on.
“But we are very solid people who can take on all challenges and veg have an uncanny way of getting over things.”
It takes a team of six three days to assemble the intricate display as none of it is done before arriving at the showground.
“It’s the best bit for me,” said Medwyn. “Creating something from good quality veg is a joy.”
In comparison to Medwyn’s decades in the business, Julia Mitchell of Greenjjam is the new kid on the block, although her penstemon displays are fast becoming a regular at shows across the country.
Greenjjam is currently based in Evesham but there are plans to move to a bigger site over winter. More exciting, she told me about plans to launch ‘The White Nursery’ at next year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival.
It will run alongside the existing business and will stock white or predominately white-flowered trees, shrubs, climbers and perennials.
“I just think white is beautiful,” she explained.
The award for most innovative exhibit was given to C&K Jones for their striking display of roses.
The Malvern Autumn Show is late in the season for roses and makes putting on a display challenging. This design by Rachel Jones, who runs the nursery with her husband, Keith, used individual blooms rather than whole bushes and highlighted the different uses of roses, including as edible petals on a ‘petal pizza’.
It was only the second outing for the idea, as the design was first tried out at the Harrogate Autumn Flower Show.
“I didn’t know whether the judges and the public would like it but we’ve had a very good response from them both,” said Rachel.
With talks from top florists, including Jonathan Moseley, the area devoted to British flower growers and florists is one of my favourite parts of the Malvern Autumn Show.
One of the driving forces is putting flowers together in a more natural way and the display by Freddie’s Flowers with a bloom-filled wheelbarrow was just one example this year.
Freddie’s Flowers offers a slightly different take on the usual floristry service with customers receiving a weekly box of mainly British-grown blooms and instructions on how to arrange them, either in a leaflet or via a how-to-do-online video.
The other display idea that I spotted was Vale Garden Flowers’ interpretation of glass jars for showing off simple flowers. Hydrangea heads, Daucus carota and feverfew looked stunning in milk bottle-style jars hung from a rustic wooden frame. Simple and effective.
I’m a sucker for a heuchera and there were lots at Malvern with spectacular displays by specialist nurseries Heucheraholics and Plantagogo.
Although it had finished flowering, H. “Megan’ caught my eye on the Heucheraholics stand thanks to its beautiful marbled green and silver foliage.
Bred by the nursery and named for owner Sean Atkinson’s mother, it has unusually large flowers for a heuchera, which often have rather dainty flower spikes. Light pink in colour, they have a yellow centre with white inside the throat and appear from April onwards; the plant on the stand had only just finished blooming.
Another pink-flowered heuchera that’s on my wish list is H. ‘Paris’, which I saw on the Plantagogo stand.
Again, it blooms for months, starting in spring and often lasting until November and has beautifully marked foliage, while the flowers have an almost two-tone quality.
I must have been in a pink mood because it was another pink flower that drew me towards Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants’ stand.
Antirrhinum ‘Pretty in Pink’ is a hardy cousin of the more familiar annual snapdragon. With flowers not unlike those of a penstemon, this antirrhinum should be treated in the same way and cut back in spring after the last frosts.
It likes any reasonable soil in sun or part-shade and will flower from early June through to the autumn.
In sharp contrast to all that pink was Kniphofia ‘Mango Popsicle’ on Hayloft Plants’ stand. Teamed with bronze carex and Salvia ‘Burning Embers’, the dainty orange ‘poker’ almost glowed.
The beauty of the ‘popsicle’ range of dwarf kniphofias, explained James Edmonds from Hayloft, is that not only are the flowers smaller and the plants shorter, they have fine leaves rather than the more usual strappy foliage, which can make an ugly clump for long stretches of the year. This makes them easier to bring further forward in planting schemes.
Plants will reach around 2ft-high and flower from late July through to October.
My final plant spot was a delicate pennisetum on Newent Plant Centre’s display. ‘Karley Rose’ has the typical fluffy pennisetum flowers but with a delicate rose blush and forms a neat clump of around 3ft tall.
Setting it off on the stand was a wooden fence, made at a Herefordshire centre that helps ex-service personnel suffering from PTSD.