Malvern Autumn Show: news, inspiration and plants

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.

Malvern Autumn
The giant veg were incredible

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.

Malvern Autumn
There were lots of apples on display

The show

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.

Malvern Autumn
Displays like this from Old Court Nurseries should be in a marquee next year

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.

The Growers

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.

Malvern Autumn
These perfect vegetables got the top award

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.”

Malvern Autumn
There were also some great veg displays in the amateur contests

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.

Malvern Autumn
A white flower nursery will be launched at the spring festival

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.

Malvern Autumn
A novel way of displaying roses

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’.

Malvern Autumn
Rose petals displayed as a ‘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.

The Florists

Malvern Autumn
There were some beautiful cut flowers in the British flowers area

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.

Malvern Autumn
A simple table decoration by Vale Garden Flowers

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.

Malvern Autumn
Freddie’s wheelbarrow stuffed with flowers

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.

Malvern Autumn
Small milk bottle vases make a great hanging display

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.

The Plants

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.

Malvern Autumn
The pretty foliage of Heuchera ‘Megan’

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.

Malvern Autumn
Heuchera ‘Paris’

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.

Malvern Autumn
Antirrhinum ‘Pretty in Pink’

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.

Malvern Autumn
I loved the colour of this kniphofia

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.

Malvern Autumn
Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’

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.

Plant-hunting at the Malvern Autumn Show

malvern autumn show

The nursery displays at the Malvern Autumn Show are always the first place I head. Mail order is all very well but nothing beats being able to examine plants and talk to the people who’ve grown them before you buy. And at Malvern there was no shortage of tempting exhibits.

The judges’ favourite was Hampshire Carnivorous Plants’ display of insect-eating plants (pictured above). I confess to finding them somewhat sinister but the colours were stunning and the exhibit richly deserved its Best in Show award – the third at Malvern for grower Matt Soper and number 11 in total.

Elsewhere, Stella Exley, of Hare Spring Cottage Plants, won her first gold with only her third RHS show exhibit; she got silver at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival and Tatton Park earlier this year.

malvern autumn show
There was lots of good detail on Hare Spring Cottage Plant’s stand

I loved the sense of timelessness she had created. It felt like the corner of a real garden that the owner had just stepped out of for a moment.

The sense of a garden was also apparent on Green Jjam’s stand. This Cotswold-based nursery, which specialises in penstemon, showed how they could be worked through a border with things such as Verbena bonariensis, helianthus and grasses to create a soft, cottage garden-like effect.

malvern autumn show
Green Jjam Nurseries’ stand showed how to mix penstemon with other plants

And there were plenty of individual plants that caught my eye at the Malvern Autumn Show. Here are just a few I spotted.

Rethinking rudbeckias

I’ve never been too sure about rudbeckia, though my judgement is possibly clouded thanks to my struggles to grow them. It’s the combination of yellow and brown that puts me off so a new variety on Hayloft Plants’ stand really appealed.

Rudbeckia ‘Sophia Yellow’ has an orange central cone instead of the usual dark brown and two-tone petals of yolk and pale yellow, giving a real blast of sunshine colour to a late border.

Malvern autumn show
Rudbeckia ‘Sophia Yellow’

It grows to about 40cm high and needs more sun than the traditional rudbeckia – so much so that Hayloft are promoting them as ‘Sunbeckia’.

“If you put it in the same category as ‘Goldsturm’, it’s going to struggle,” explained Lark Hanham, of Hayloft.

The Dutch breeders regard it as fully hardy but, until it’s been thoroughly tested in gardens, Lark is advising that it’s hardy to minus seven.

malvern autumn show
Rudbeckia ‘Amber Glow’

For those who like the familiar brown and yellow combination, ‘Amber Glow’ is a winner. It has a dark brown centre but the yellow petals have striking red-brown markings.

A cool contrast is a Senecio candicans ‘Angel Wings’. This is so new on the nursery they still have no idea what colour the flowers will be or even what shape. As it’s not hardy, it’s being suggested as a houseplant or as part of a summer border.

malvern autumn show
The new senecio has lovely felty leaves

New versions of old favourites

I love heucheras: the foliage is good year-round; they have lovely, delicate wands of flowers; the slugs and snails leave them alone. Malvern always has several specialist nurseries, making it easy to compare different varieties.

On Plantagogo’s stand this year, a new heucherella – a cross between a heuchera and a tiarella – was making an impact.

malvern autumn show
‘Art Nouveau’ will eventually make a sizeable clump

‘Art Nouveau’ is a beefy plant that will eventually get 2-3ft across with large green leaves that have a striking dark marking.

“It will have leaves as big as your hand and lovely white flowers,” said Vicky Fox, who runs the nursery with her husband, Richard.

And if it’s brown hues you want, Heuchera ‘Mega Caramel’ has tints of orange, peach and pink in its foliage.

malvern autumn show
‘Mega Caramel’ has beautifully shaded foliage

The display by specialist aster growers Old Court Nurseries was stunning and a worthy gold medal winner.

malvern autumn show
The gold medal-winning display by Old Court Nurseries

Among the familiar pink, white and mauve blooms was a new variety, ‘Jessica Jones’, a seedling from ‘Ochtendgloren’ but slightly taller and with larger flowers.

Growing to about 4ft-high, it has dark pink buds that open to paler flowers giving a lovely two-tone effect on the plant.

malvern autumn show
‘Jessica Jones’

“It’s a pretty good size, robust and very free flowering,” said Helen Picton from the Colwall-based nursery.

Don’t forget the scent

Another pretty pink bloom that was getting admiring glances was Clematis ‘Manon’ making its Malvern Autumn Show debut on Floyds Climbers and Clematis’ stand.

It has almost pearlescent lavender-pink flowers, which appear from May to September, grows up to 5ft, making it idea for a container, and is best in semi-shade for the best colour.

malvern autumn show
Clematis ‘Manon’

“It is also good for growing up a low-growing shrub,” said Marcel Floyd.

His tip for growing clematis in a container is to give them two gallons of water once a week and let them dry out, rather than watering daily.

“They don’t like wet feet,” he explained.

malvern autumn show
They may be tiny but these flowers have a powerful scent

But it was a pink jasmine that followed me home from his exhibit. Trachelospermum asiaticum ‘Pink Showers’ is an evergreen that flowers from June to September, is drought and salt-tolerant, and deer-proof. It is also suited to any aspect except north-facing.

Best of all, it has that wonderful jasmine fragrance.

Also beautifully scented was the Actea simplex ‘Brunette’ on Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants.

malvern autumn show
Actea has a wonderful scent

The creamy wand of flowers is held above deep burgundy-brown leaves. It will grow to around 4ft in height, likes humus-rich soil and needs sunshine to keep good foliage colour.

“It will gradually clump up and can be split after four or five years,” said Rob Hardy.

For those who love honeysuckle but don’t have room for what can be a vigorous climber, one of Newent Plant Centre’s most popular plants could be the answer.

Lonicera periclymenum ‘Honeybush’ doesn’t climb but forms a 3ft by 3ft bush, covered in deep pink and golden blooms.

malvern autumn show
A bushy honeysuckle is good for the front of beds or pots

“It still has that fantastic, intense scent,” said Mark Moir of the nursery, which is now based near Ledbury.

The honeysuckle is deciduous, will flower from July to October and can be grown in pots or in a semi-shaded position in the garden.

“If you want to tidy it up, you can prune it in the spring.”

And among the edibles

Mint is rarely thought of as a thing of beauty yet a new variety on Hooksgreen Herbs’ display was stunning.

Variegated grapefruit mint, which was discovered on the nursery, has pale mauve flowers above green and white foliage, which has a definite hint of citrus.

malvern autumn show
Variegated grapefruit mint

“At this time of year it goes pink and has good autumn colour,” said Malcolm Dickson.

Finally, I love looking at the veg displays at the Malvern Autumn Show – if only to marvel at their absolute perfection. There’s also usually something a bit different, such as the Karella on W. Robinson & Son’s stand.

Sue Robinson described it as a bitter gourd from India that is used as the base for curries.

malvern autumn show
Karella is used in curries

“It’s a bit of an acquired taste.”

And if you don’t like the flavour, you could always use this climber as her grandfather used to: as living greenhouse shading in the firm’s glasshouses.

Read my reflections on the Malvern Autumn Show and its future shape here

• Enjoyed this? Do leave me a comment and share this post via Twitter, Facebook or email.