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I have been attending RHS Malvern Spring Festival, as it is now known, for 15 years and over this time there has been a slow increase in the quality and number of show gardens.  It is often touted as a show that attracts those garden designers who are putting their toe in the show garden water and I think this year there was a distinct improvement in the quality of planting and design on previous years.  It wasn’t many years ago when I used to flinch at the planting which had bare soil showing, completely out of line with the squeeze them in abundant planting that is required of a good show garden.

My favourite garden was Constraining Nature by Kate Durr Garden Design.  She won the Best Festival Garden award and a gold medal, not bad for a first showing.  The Festival Gardens are designed by new comers who receive a £3000 bursary to support the build and advice from various experts.  I loved the textures in her planting (top photo) particularly the shady area at the back of the garden.

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I like the movement of the tufts of grass, not sure which it is, and the box balls.  For someone who isn’t keen on topiary I was interested to see quite a few of the gardens using them to provide structure and then in filling with seasonal interest.  Definitely an idea I think I will take forward.

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As per the last few years the show garden by Villaggio Verde stole the show and you have to admire the ambition of the designer.  This isn’t just a frontage with scaffolding or the like behind it but a garden you can walk around the outside of and peer through a wrought iron gate to see the baskets of pelargoniums hanging on the wall.  The only down side was the grey skies which threatened rain all day and dispelled the idea we were somewhere in Andulusia. Unsurprisingly this garden won Best Show Garden.

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This garden, As Mad as a Hatter, by Gary Bristow was quite appealing.  However although I loved the textures I would have preferred a bit of cross over between the two areas.  I think a few oranges in the purple side would have lifted it and vice versa but I am sure there is some theme idea behind it.

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I quite liked the planting and the clean lines of Out of Darkness by Lisa Burchill and Robin Ideson which won a silver. I suspect the dead moss square seats may have had something to do with the silver. However, as someone who has a preference for foliage over flowers I like the combinations of not only leaf shape but also the shades of greens, yellow and purple in the variegation.

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I was surprised at how many ideas I came away with this year.  In the past at Malvern the show gardens have some interesting plants but I rarely feel inspired by the planting combinations and never about any sort of landscaping/structure.  But this year, the Cornerstone garden, by Pip Probert and Gareth Wilson, showed a renewed interest in alpines and presented them in such a way that I can see being possible to recreate even in the most modern urban garden – so a rockery is no longer needed to grow these delights. Again I think this is something I might try to replicate in a future garden.

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The garden is not all just alpine troughs but on the other side there is this delightful cottage style garden – a real winner from my perspective.

I really enjoyed the show gardens this year and it is good to see so much good quality planting. I hope the standard continues to improve and maybe one year soon Malvern will start to get the same excellent reputation for its show gardens as it already does for its nurseries.

The RHS Malvern Spring Festival runs from 7th – 10th May – its a good day out, why not go