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

RHS malvern

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 

RHS malvern

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 

RHS Malvern

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 

RHS Malvern

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

RHS Malvern

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

RHS Malvern

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

RHS Malvern

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

RHS Malvern

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

RHS Malvern

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

RHS malvern

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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RHS Malvern Spring Festival – a new direction

Several months into her new role heading up the RHS Malvern Spring Festival Jane Furze still seems surprised at her good luck. It is, she explains, a perfect job.

rhs malvern spring
Jane Furze

“I’m a keen gardener and I’ve been coming to Malvern for nearly 25 years. It’s a dream job for me, turning a very loyal visitor into running the show.”

She’s putting her first-hand experience to good use in shaping Malvern’s future course. It has, she believes, the potential to be somewhere that can offer something different to the other RHS events.

“I want Malvern to be increasingly a place where you walk around and think ‘Gosh, I couldn’t have seen that anywhere else’,” says the former head of Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Key to achieving this is the introduction of features that go beyond the show gardens, expert talks and nursery stands for which RHS Malvern Spring Festival is well known.

Running as a unifying thread through this year’s show is a spa theme, harking back to the town’s heritage as a Victorian spa resort.

“We have a number of people who have produced key horticultural features based on that theme,” says Jane. “These are very new and very much an addition to any sort of content we’ve done in the past.”

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Jekka McVicar’s garden will be a permanent feature

Herb expert Jekka McVicar is building a garden that explores the use of herbs in health and well-being. A permanent feature, it will be used after the show by a day care service working with people with learning difficulties.

“They will be the main caretakers of the garden so it has a longevity to it.”

British flower growers will again have a big presence. Growers and florists from across the region will put on displays and talks in the Wye Hall, which is being decorated to resemble a Victorian arcade by award-winning designer Peter Dowle.

At its heart is what Jane hopes will be a show-stopping spectacle by top florist Jonathan Moseley. The ‘Floral Fountain’ is a 7m-high cascade of flowers, greenery and crystals that will flow down from the roof into a fountain and lily pool.

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The Floral Fountain will celebrate British flower growers

“I’m just looking forward to walking in and that scent just hitting me. It will be amazing.”

The Floral Marquee will also have a central display, this time designed by Joe Swift who has drawn inspiration from Victorian plant hunters. His Plant Finder Parlour has a central space for hosting talks and what Jane describes as ‘window displays’, including an auricular theatre, showcasing plants that were brought back to this country.

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The Plant Finder Parlour will be used for talks

The marquee itself, which will house nearly 70 nurseries, has been redesigned following several years where it drew criticism from growers and visitors who found it difficult to navigate. Now it is a simple rectangle with a vista down its 190m length.

“It makes it easier for visitors and for the nurseries because they are not in a corner that people might miss.

“It will be a really stunning feature in its own right.”

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The Wye Hall will be designed by Peter Dowle who won gold with this garden last year

And it’s not just flower-growing that Jane wants to promote. Grow your own is also high on the RHS Malvern Spring Festival agenda with the Grow Zone hosting a country and wildlife garden designed by Jon Wheatley and ‘edible beds’ produced by a range of organisations, including Incredible Edible Bristol. Meanwhile, designer and RHS judge Paul Hervey-Brookes is hosting a Growing Challenge to encourage novice gardeners.

It fits well with RHS Malvern’s image as a launchpad. It has long been the place for young designers – Chris Beardshaw, Diarmuid Gavin and Paul are among those who started their design careers at the show – and Jane believes it’s an important part of the Malvern ethos.

There will be an international flavour to the new Spa Gardens with the start of a three-year link to the Moscow Flower Show. Top designer Jo Thompson will mentor a Russian design duo building a garden at Malvern and one of the Malvern designers will be given the chance to show in Moscow. There will also be a Russian school taking part in the school garden contest.

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Show gardens are one of the highlights of Malvern

“I would love more of that in the future,” says Jane. “Cultures do have different perspectives, different ways of thinking about design and as a visitor that’s interesting.”

There are 10 show gardens this year among them one celebrating the millennium of Buckfast Abbey, spa-themed designs by Peter Dowle and Villaggio Verde, and a garden highlighting the plight of refugees by Painswick designer Sue Jollans, 10 years after she won Best in Show at Malvern.

Jane has kept their location the same with the Malvern Hills as a backdrop: “I see no reason to change that as it’s really good location.”

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The Malverns make a stunning backdrop to the show

What she has done is tweak the layout elsewhere to ensure visitors encounter garden features as soon as they arrive; feeling she sometimes had to walk a long way to find the gardening was something she disliked as a visitor in the past.

Changes are also planned to ease congestion that has resulted from more visitors: “I think one of the joys of Malvern is the space so I’ve just been keen to open up areas.”

With a month to go until the four-day show Jane is quietly confident except for one thing: the weather.

“I’m just praying for sunshine. It’s the one thing I want.”

The RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from May 11 to May 14 2017. For more information and ticket details, see here

I’ve been looking at what’s planned for gardens at the festival.

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Malvern Autumn Show 2016

The Malvern Autumn Show has always marked a turning point in the gardening year for me. It’s a time to look back at the season that’s drawing to a close and somewhere to start planning for next year.

There’s the chance to stock up on plants, seeds and bulbs from some of the country’s leading nurseries, pick up tips from experts and marvel at displays of fruit and veg.

malvern autumn show
There will be lots of veg on show

And if monster carrots weren’t enough of a spectacle, this year Strictly Come Dancing fans will get the chance to see Anton du Beke as he dances in the Vintage Village.

I’ve been taking a look at what’s on offer at The Three Counties Showground this weekend.

Time to plug those gaps

malvern autumn show
I’m looking for some autumn inspiration

For me, the very best garden shows have the chance to buy plants and talk to the people who have grown them. Malvern has more than 40 different nursery exhibits in its RHS Flower Show, covering everything from perennials and climbers to bulbs and roses.

Like many, I’ve got some gaps in my borders and plants I’ve spotted during the summer that I want to try growing. So, I will be heading for the nursery displays with my shopping list.

My first port of call will be Green Jjam Nurseries, which specialises in penstemon. I’m determined to improve my late summer colour and penstemon are an easy way to do that and, unlike echinacea or helenium, seem to be ignored by slugs.

malvern autumn show
There should be plenty of asters on show

Hayloft Plants will also be displaying autumn-flowering perennials, Old Court Nurseries will have asters and there are several nurseries with heucheras that give important year-round colour.

I may also be tempted by dahlias from Pheasant Acre Plants, who had a stunning display at this year’s Hampton Court flower show.

Vegging out

malvern autumn show

Vegetables play a big part at the Malvern Show – in size as well as numbers.

The UK National Giant Vegetables Championship has been held at the show since 2013 with classes that include the heaviest pumpkin and longest beetroot.

This year, there are new categories for the heaviest bell pepper and red cabbage.

The show saw three world record-breaking entries last year and there are hundreds of entries for this season’s contest.

Amateur growers will also be vying for prizes in the Harvest Pavilion with Grow to Show, the Vegetable Trug National Championships and the National Vegetable Society’s Midland Branch Championships.

Floral fiesta

Having a cut flower patch is becoming increasingly popular in gardens I visit and the Malvern Autumn Show will again be putting the spotlight on British cut flowers.

malvern autumn show
Jonathan Moseley

Floral designer Jonathan Moseley will be working with some of the country’s leading growers to promote ‘grown not flown’ flowers in the ‘Floral Fiesta’.

There will be demonstrations, talks and hands-on workshops, showing visitors how to make the most of seasonal blooms.

“Autumn is the most magical time of year and for me as a floral designer there is a wealth of rich colours and stimulating textures to work with,” said Jonathan, who was the floral judge on BBC2’s Great Allotment Challenge.

“Visitors can enjoy a riot of sensational colours from bold dahlias in rich reds, burgundies and tangerines to vivacious sunflowers, nostalgic chrysanthemums with that scent so evocative of autumn, all married with some unusual choice blooms from my own Derbyshire garden.”

malvern autumn show
Expect to see squash and gourds used in floral arrangements

Several members of the British flower co-operative Flowers from the Farm will be there, including Great British Florist and Wild Bunch.

Dahlias take centre stage

The flower market of Mexico City is the inspiration behind a dazzling display of dahlias at this year’s Malvern Autumn Show.

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Jon is promising a dazzling display

Leading horticulturalist Jon Wheatley is decorating the theatre stage with hundreds of blooms, including cut flowers from the National Collection in Cornwall, and varieties that he has raised himself at his nursery in Chew Magna.

Dahlias are the national flower of Mexico and Jon visited Mexico City earlier this year.

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Cut flowers from the National Collection will be used

“I have never seen so much colour in my life,” he says. “I’m going to try to encompass a little bit of Mexico City’s flower market in it.”

He will be unveiling a new single white called ‘Stroma’ at the show, as well as using species dahlias, dwarf bedders and garden dahlias.

“We’re celebrating the dahlia’s diversity,” he explains.

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‘Stroma’ will be unveiled at the show

Flowers will be arranged in bands of colour with accent plants such as miscanthus, box, artemesia, and banana.

“It’s not just going to be dahlias and will demonstrate how you can grow plants with them.”

Jon, who has won many RHS gold medals for displays of dahlias and chrysanthemums, will be on hand to answer queries throughout the show and is also giving a number of talks.

Pick up some tips

malvern autumn show
Mark Diacono will be hosting cookery talks

Expert growers will be offering tips and advice in a series of talks at the Malvern Autumn Show.

malvern autumn show
Tom Kerridge

Gardeners’ World presenter Carol Klein, expert veg growers and members of the RHS’ tender ornamental plant committee will be offering help on everything from container gardening to carnivorous plants.

There will also be ideas on how to use your homegrown produce with BBC TV chef Tom Kerridge and Mark Diacono from Otter Farm.

They will be appearing in the Cookery Theatre along with Mark Stinchcombe, winner of MasterChef The Professionals.

The Malvern Autumn Show is on Saturday and Sunday September 24 and 25 from 9am to 6pm.

Tickets are available on the door. More information and details of talks at here

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