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 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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Enjoyed this? Do leave me a comment and share this article.