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.

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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.

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The IQ Quarry garden has stark lines . . .
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. . . 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.

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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.

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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.

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Cool grey set off many plants on the garden . . .
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. . . 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.

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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.

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Stone sets off aeonium in the Wedgwood garden
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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.

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The sheltered seat was welcoming

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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Jackie Knight’s garden
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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.

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

RHS Chelsea 2017: the gardens in pictures

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?

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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I loved the peonies

British Flowers

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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.

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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.

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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 2017 – the results

Top honours at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival have gone to Peter Dowle’s tranquil Japanese-style retreat.

‘At One with . . . A Meditation Garden’ has won gold and the coveted Best in Show award.

Peter, who runs Howle Hill Nursery in was delighted with the win – his second best in show at RHS Malvern.

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Peter Dowle on his award-winning garden

“It’s absolutely fabulous news and great for all the team – it was a huge team effort as always.”

And despite it being his 12th RHS gold, the thrill has not diminished: “Every gold is special,” he said.

“We’re looking forward to a fabulous festival.”

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Sue Jollans won gold

There was gold also for Painswick designer Sue Jollans on her second time at Malvern and after a gap of 10 years.

The Refuge highlights the plight of refugees and the journey they take in search of sanctuary.

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Villaggio Verde’s garden

A Mediterranean retreat by Villaggio Verde picked up a silver-gilt. There was silver for Buckfast Abbey’s Millennium Garden and the Treehouse Garden by Tim Lawrence.

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The Treehouse Garden by Mark Eveleigh
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Buckfast Abbey’s garden celebrates its millennium

A Garden Framed by Tim Lawrence, inspired by the idea of gardens as art, won bronze.

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A Garden Framed won bronze

In the Spa Garden category, gold and Best in Show went to Russian duo Denis Kalshnikov and Ekaterina Bolotova. They were invited to exhibit at Malvern as part of a collaboration with the Moscow Flower Show.

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A Russian design duo created the Molecular Garden

Annette Baines-Stiller got silver for her garden inspired by the poetry of Ted Hughes.

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The poetry of Ted Hughes inspired this garden

There was bronze for The Ocean Garden by Damien Michel and Keith Browning’s eye-catching Bubble Drops.

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The Ocean Garden by Damien Michel
The brightly coloured Bubble Drops by Keith Browning

The RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 11-14. For details, visit the website.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017 – the Cotswold link

RHS shows come fast and furious at this time of year and while RHS Malvern may have only just closed, work on building gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is nearing the final judging deadline.

And there’s plenty of input from the Cotswolds this year with exhibits from the region across the show.

The gardens

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Cheltenham-based designer Chris Beardshaw will be planting to the sound of music on his third show garden for Morgan Stanley.

Members of the National Youth Orchestra have produced a piece of music based on their interpretation of his garden and this will influence where individual plants are based.

“That piece of music will help to direct how we formulate the drifts of plants in the planting of the garden itself,” explains Chris.

The garden has three distinct areas and, unusually for Chelsea, can be viewed on three sides. At one end is a naturalistic woodland, while the opposite side has a formal sun terrace garden. Linking the two is a green oak asymmetrical building.

Like his previous two gold medal-winning gardens for Morgan Stanley, the design has been inspired by one of the three strands of the firm’s outreach programme.

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Chris on last year’s garden

The 2015 design looked at well-being and was part of a much larger community garden in Poplar. Last year’s garden, which was relocated to Great Ormond Street Hospital, focused on health and this year’s entry explores education, with a basis in fractal geometry.

“There is an assumption that nature is chaotic and a garden is ordered and in fact that could not be further from the truth. Everything in nature has a pattern and order it’s just that it does not necessarily conform to an artificial geometry that we impose,” says Chris.

And in a move back to his horticultural roots, he’s growing more than 2,000 herbaceous plants himself in borrowed glasshouses at The Nursery at Miserden rather than leaving it to a commercial grower.

“Looking after the plants is obviously very time consuming when we are so busy with everything else. And is quite challenging as we have to work with the changing weather conditions – holding back some species, while coaxing on others. But for me the planting is the aspect of any show garden creation I love the most and this year will be even more special and rewarding.”

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Sculptor Darren Rumley

Concrete isn’t usually thought of as beautiful but Darren Rumley turns it into art.

The sculptor from Stroud is making his RHS Chelsea debut on award-winning designer Sarah Eberley’s artisan garden.

Spotted by Sarah at the RHS Tatton show, he has been commissioned to produce a seat for her garden for Viking Cruises celebrating Gaudi and Barcelona’s modern arts movement.

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The Viking Cruises garden

“I am a massive fan of concrete as a material and his work stood out for me,” explains Sarah.

The glass fibre reinforced concrete will be shaped using a silicon mould to produce a sculpted seat.

“It’s something very different and not what I’ve done before,” says Darren, of One Artisan

With fewer show gardens than in previous years – eight down from 17 in 2016 – the RHS has brought in five gardens to fill the space, a move last seen in 2009 with the ‘Credit Crunch Gardens’.

Celebrating Radio 2’s 50th anniversary, the ‘BBC Radio 2 Feel Good Gardens’, which won’t be judged, will be half the size of a show garden and aim to demonstrate the role gardens have in promoting a feeling of well-being.

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Jo Whiley’s garden

Each has been named after a presenter and has a different theme. The Jo Whiley Scent Garden is designed by Tamara Bridge and Kate Savill, who have asked fragrance designer Jo Malone for help.

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Sarah Raven has designed Anneka Rice’s garden

The Anneka Rice Colour Cutting Garden is being designed by Sarah Raven and will concentrate on plants that can be cut and will flower again.

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Jeremy Vine’s garden

Matt Keightley is designing The Jeremy Vine Texture Garden with bold geometric forms against soft planting.

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The Zoe Ball garden

James Alexander-Sinclair is aiming to reproduce the feeling of music vibrating through your body in The Zoe Ball Listening Garden. While visitors won’t be able to hear the music of the last 50 years of Radio 2, it will produce patterns in the water feature and will be felt through the floor.

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Chris Evans’ garden

And Chris Evans will be broadcasting from his garden on Press Day. The Chris Evans Taste Garden has been designed by Jon Wheatley as an allotment-style plot with a range of fruit flowers and vegetables. Bake Off Queen Mary Berry has been consulted on the tastiest plants.

Great pavilion

The Great Pavilion will see its first fully revolving exhibit with a display by Linda Marsh from Cheltenham, which celebrates 60 years of the Hardy Plant Society.

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In another first, each plant will have a QR code to enable visitors to access cultivation notes via their smart phones.

“We want to show that we’re innovative and moving with the times,” she explains.

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Linda Marsh

Linda, part of the Worcester HPS, which was chosen to put together the exhibit, is using 60 different plants in a fiery palate of purple, red and orange, with highlights of white.

Members have been growing the plants since October both in their own gardens and in glasshouses lent to them by Cotswold Garden Flowers nursery.

Fibrex Nurseries are no strangers to Chelsea but this year will be extra special.

The nursery, based at Pebworth near Evesham, is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its National Collection of Pelargoniums and fittingly the display will resemble a celebration cake.

Rather than its usual ‘against the wall’ pitch, the family-run nursery will have a free-standing display featuring pelargoniums in a tiered arrangement.

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P. ‘Rushmoor Amazon’

Among the four new varieties being launched, is ‘Rushmoor Amazon’, with large yellow blooms.

Another nursery marking an anniversary at the show is Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, which will be putting on its 25th display.

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100 years of The British Florist Association will be celebrated

Also celebrating is The British Florist Association, which will highlight its 100th anniversary with a 2.5m-high display using more than 6,000 cut flowers in pink, orange and green.

Visitors will be able to look through circles of flowers onto the RHS Chelsea Florist of the Year competition entries.

And Hillier is hoping to add to its 71 consecutive golds with a bold display, designed by Sarah Eberle, featuring a 4m-high metallic spring.

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The Hillier display is built around a huge spring

Weighing in at more than a tonne, the coils will span the length of the display and will carry water into a pond at one end.

There will also be a ‘Memory Tree’ where visitors can hang a signed copper tag with a book below for them to add their favourite garden memory.

Alan Titchmarsh will be the first to add his memory to the Davidia involucrata, or Pocket Handkerchief Tree, and tags added by other designers and personalities will be auctioned after the show in aid of the Wessex Cancer Trust.

And there’s also . . .

Cotswold flower arranger Jayne Morriss, from Brimscombe Hill, near Stroud, is making her 10th appearance at the show with an entry in the Enchanted Garden class of the flower arranging competition. She’s interpreted it as ‘Puck’s Hollow’ and is planning to create a green and white display with a small pool, delphiniums and roses.

Mickleton-based Phil Britt, a member of Chipping Campden and District Flower Arranging Society, is also putting his floral art skills to the test in the same contest.

Cotswold wire sculptor Rupert Till from will be displaying his garden artwork and Cheltenham sculptor Chris Lisney will be unveiling three new pieces at RHS Chelsea. One is a sphere with a branch and a perched bird, while the other two show girls, one dancing with a perched bird and the other balanced on a book.

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Chris Lisney working on one of his sculptures

There will be garden antiques from Architectural Heritage, based at Taddington, and artist Jaci Hogan, based at South Cerney, will be showing her flower paintings on everything from cards to tablemats.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from May 23-27. For more details, visit the website.

This post was updated on May 18.

RHS Malvern Spring Festival gardens 2017

One of the joys of the RHS Malvern Spring Festival is the chance to get some design and planting inspiration from the show gardens.

Their new site at the festival gives them a beautiful Malvern Hills backdrop while plenty of space on the Three Counties Showground means they are easy to navigate.

This year, there’s the added bonus of the new Spa Gardens contest, which is billed as the perfect forum for up-and-coming new talent.

RHS Malvern Show gardens

Meditation, gardens as art and the plight of refugees are just some of the themes behind the show gardens at this year’s RHS Malvern Spring Festival.

There are six gardens in the contest with designs from several former gold medal and Best in Show winners.

The Refuge

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The current refugee crisis has prompted Gloucestershire designer Sue Jollans to return to Malvern for the first time since winning a gold medal and Best in Show in 2008.

Designed to celebrate Britain’s history as a refuge for those in need, the garden features a boardwalk over wildflowers and corten steel pools with a ripple effect in the water. Moving through the garden over the boardwalk symbolises the journey across water many refugees make.

At its heart is a Middle Eastern-style bread oven and a communal area.

“It is a space that is intended to feel safe, grounded in the British countryside,” explains Sue, who is based in Painswick. “The oven was inspired by Help Refugees UK distributing bread griddles in the Greek refugee camps, which brought people together to make bread.”

Sue is hoping the garden will be relocated after the show at an organisation that helps refugees.

Tree House Garden 

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Last year’s Best in Show winner, Mark Eveleigh, is bringing a tree house and hot tub to the show with a garden inspired by Malvern’s history as a spa town.

Using the nearby Victorian St Ann’s Well as his starting point, he has given the theme a modern twist with an octagonal tree house and a wood-fired hot tub.

Although the garden is being judged by the RHS, it will be kept as a permanent feature at the showground.

“The fact that this will live on and evolve does appeal to me,” says Mark.

At One with A Meditation Garden 

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The theme of spa is also behind this year’s design by Peter Dowle, which is designed to be a quiet retreat within a larger garden.

There will be three stone pieces by sculptor Matthew Maddocks, a 16m-long water feature and huge rocks from the Forest of Dean while planting will include Peter’s trademark acers and other large “statement” plants from his Howle Hill Nursery.

“We’re hoping for something quite dramatic,” he says.

The Retreat 

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Olive tree specialists Villaggio Verde are regulars at RHS Malvern but this year sees a move away from their usual recreation of a Mediterranean scene.

Instead, they are using the spa theme to create a modern private garden designed for well-being and health.

Olives and planting associated with aromatherapy, including lavender, bay and rosemary, will surround a salt water hydrotherapy pool while a lounging area will be cooled by mist.

“It’s a step out of our comfort zone,” admits Villaggio’s owner Jason Hales.

Buckfast Abbey Millennium Garden

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Devon’s Buckfast Abbey is making its flower show debut with a garden to celebrate its millennium in 2018.

Designed by Maia Hall, it allows visitors to look through a Gothic arch ‘windows’ onto a tranquil garden where a stag, echoing the abbey’s logo, drinks at a pool.

A meandering path, suggesting a river bed, a glade of silver birch and a planting scheme in blue and white contribute to the feeling of peace.

Head gardener Aaron Southgate says the idea was to combine a sense of spirituality and naturalness.

He explains that the gardens – which total 35 acres at the Benedictine monastery – are often used by local people.

“The gardens are a tranquil, peaceful space for prayer and reflection.

“We felt we wanted to tell the world about them a bit more.”

A Garden Framed

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Designer Tim Lawrence is planning a something different for RHS Malvern with his exploration of gardens as art.

More an art installation than a typical show garden, it is a series of four framed ‘pictures’ of plants, rocks and wood set around large tree sculpture.

“This is a garden for people to find some peace and space to reflect,” he says. “It’s not necessarily a garden to walk around or go through but a garden where you sit and are still.”

It’s the first time Bristol-based Tim has made a show garden and he says the garden has been inspired by his love of not only plants but also Japanese art and design.

RHS Malvern Spa Gardens

The new Spa Gardens contest not only gives designers the chance to take part in an RHS show, the winner will also get the opportunity to exhibit at Russia’s top horticultural event.

A link with the Moscow Flower Show means the Malvern winner will be invited to build a sponsored garden in Russia in June.

Meanwhile, as part of the exchange, one of the four gardens in the Malvern contest has been created by two Russian designers, who are being mentored by top UK designer Jo Thompson.

All the contestants have been asked to give a modern interpretation of Malvern’s Victorian spa heritage and were given a busary to help fund their entry.

Molecular Garden

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Design duo Denis Kalashnikov and Ekaterina Bolotova are creating a garden for relaxing in after spa treatments at a Russian resort.

While it is enclosed to give seclusion for guests, the hilly landscape beyond is suggested in the curved shapes of loungers while a timber panel symbolises the rising sun.

Ocean Garden

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The Art Deco architecture of Miami has inspired designer Michel Damien’s entry to RHS Malvern.

There are strong lines and sinewy curves throughout the garden, which is seen as a modern spa garden with links to the past, as well as water in pools and as ‘tram lines’.

To counterbalance the hard landscaping, Michel is using blocks of colour, with plants that have an architectural quality.

I Follow the Waters and the Wind

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The poetry of Ted Hughes lies behind Annette Baines-Stiller’s garden, which explores the experience of countryside walks, such as those in the Malvern Hills, with the feel of the wind and sound of water.

Designed to look as though it is floating, the garden has undulating paths and water collecting in a rock pool.

The planting will include one ‘cool’ area of pink, lilac and spring and a ‘hot’ area of red, orange and yellow.

Bubble Drops

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One of the most eye-catching designs that this year’s RHS Malvern looks set to be Keith Browning’s entry.

He’s hoping to encourage visitors to think about shape, materials and structure with a colourful structure made of laminated timber.

Designed to be perplexing, it celebrates water, which is essential for life, and is inspired by natural Jurassic rock formations.

The RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2017 runs from May 11-14. For more details, visit the website.

Find out what Jane Furze, the new head of the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, has planned for 2017 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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RHS gets Cotswold help

The RHS has launched a new range of garden accessories designed by a Cotswold company.

Cheltenham-based MeldHome used original designs from the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library as the inspiration for the range, which includes plant pots, a gardener’s notebook, a bird box, china mugs and a gardener’s flask.

RHS
The designs are inspired by originals in the Lindley Library

“We’re particularly proud to be working with the RHS. It’s a great English society,” said marketing manager Michael Byrd.

“These products look good in the garden and look good in the home. It’s a very versatile range.”

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The wooden nesting box

The firm, which employs around 50 people, is also behind a gift range for Mary Berry, who was recently appointed as an RHS ambassador. The baking queen was closely involved in the design of many of the items, which include cake forks, oven gloves, ramekins and the best-selling service bell.

The new range is available from the Royal Horticultural Society website and also from High Street retailers.

For more information, visit the RHS

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RHS names designers

The RHS is to work with two of the country’s top designers on plans for its new flagship garden and a revamp of Wisley.

Tom Stuart-Smith will create the overall design for the new RHS Garden Bridgewater, while Christopher Bradley-Hole is to further develop plans for Wisley, including a new visitor hub and welcome area.

The Society’s fifth garden is being made in the lost historic grounds of Worsley New Hall, Salford. The 156-acre garden will include restoring the 10-acre walled kitchen garden and is due to open in 2019.

“There is amazing potential here to make something innovative, relevant and distinctly different,” said Tom Stuart-Smith, who has won eight golds at Chelsea.

Plans for Wisley include a new horticultural science and educational centre, while the improved entrance will encompass exhibition space, a bigger plant centre and shop and an area for specialist nurseries.

Award-winning Christopher Bradley-Hole specialises in contemporary landscapes with a focus on how buildings relate to their surroundings.

Both projects are part of the RHS’ 10-year £160m investment programme to achieve its vision of enriching life through plants and making the UK a greener and more beautiful place.