RHS Malvern Spring Festival Show Gardens – Some Highlights

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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

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14 Comments Add yours

  1. Pauline says:

    Oh yes, I do love the planting in your first photo. I went to Malvern quite a number of years ago and the gardens you have shown are far better than the ones then. I also like the planting in Out of Darkness, my sort of planting.

  2. Anna says:

    Thanks to you and GW for giving me a ‘fix’ of Malvern Helen tonight. I’m feeling rather miffed that I wasn’t able to get there. I was attracted to the ‘Constraining Nature’ garden when it featured on the programme. Both the planting and the natural bronze relief are so attractive. Is that an epimedium I spy in the planting? 🙂 I also enjoyed the behind the scenes trip to Cotswold Garden Flowers, particularly as I’ve never been there in the spring. I don’t know if you saw it but your little anemone nemerosa ‘Frenzy’ featured on tonight’s programme.

    1. Helen Johnstone says:

      Hi Anna
      I did see it, hits on my blog gone up as people look for it

  3. Julieanne says:

    I’ve enjoyed your write up and photos Helen. I couldn’t make it this year. The show gardens clearly have come a long way since I last attended, some wet May day about 7-8 years ago. Just from your photos I got a couple of ideas. I thought of building a wheelie bin store with a green roof before, but now I’m thinking bin store with alpine trough roof.

    I also love that bronze wall with the ferns, both in it and planted next to it, and beautifully planted. And the Out of Darkness garden reminds me I must get some more Tiarellas.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. I wish! If only I were closer. I loved seeing the gardens – very professional, as you say – although I also wanted to move some of those orange flowers across the pathway! Thanks for sharing these photos, Helen.

  5. rusty duck says:

    Another fan of Out of Darkness. If I had an urban garden (and a flat one!) this is exactly what it would look like.
    Did you make any purchases?

  6. Brian Skeys says:

    I like the Alpines with the storage underneath, seems like a good idea. Visiting today will see it for real.

  7. Tony says:

    Have been a regular visitor to the Spring show for 15 years.It is our favourite RHS show partly because it takes place at the beginning of the gardening season and gives us the chance to purchase new plants for the new growing season and also because of the more informal atmosphere that exists at this event. I agree with all of the above particularly the improvements in the quality of the show gardens.
    But is it my imagination or has this show got smaller.I don’t remember the floral marquee having so many large unoccupied area’s. There seemed to be fewer exhibitors than in previous years, and fewer trade stands than expected. Perhaps it’s just the new layout that is using the space more efficiently or perhaps it’s a reflection of the problems facing exhibitors and traders in funding these shows. I overheard more than one exhibitor bemoaning the costs of taking show space this year. I do hope that
    TCAS and RHS are aware of the need to provide affordable show space so that this unique show can continue to go from strength to strength .Still a superb show .

  8. Cathy says:

    If only my borders looked like that cottage one….. 😉

  9. I am admiring the bedflowers with tulips, irises and other species . I wonder what is the area where this is staying .
    i got pleasure to see in the first picture” Polygonatum multiflorum “. I had this plant in my garden , simply for the pleasure .
    In friuendship
    Michel

  10. Lovely. Even hayfevery non-gardeners like me start wanting to be gardeners when they look at the show gardens..!

  11. Cathy says:

    All lovely gardens, particularly ‘Constraining Nature’ and ‘Out of Darkness’ with those lovely camassias (??). Perhaps the grass is Festuca amythestina? Hard to say, but it’s flowering very prettily here at the moment and looks a bit like that (height, colour, etc.). Re the box balls – as a permanent planting, I’ve found that when planted really close to other plants (as in the show garden) they are very prone to box blight. I’ve had to let mine go all ‘hairy’, since they avoid the blight more when not closely clipped. Thanks for sharing, Helen.

  12. Robin Ideson says:

    Hi Helen. Thanks for the interesting run down on the Show Gardens at Malvern. My name is Robin Ideson and I was the co-designer of the Out of Darkness garden. I thought you may be interested to know the reasoning behind the silver medal. This was the first Show Garden for either of us so we were thrilled that the judges marked us very highly on the planting and plant choice. the area we got heavily marked down was meeting the brief. As I hope was apparent, we wanted to show that even a dark dingy corner can be made attractive with good design. In our minds, this just one corner of a larger wooded garden and thought the implication was enough. However, the judges felt we needed to create the shade, not just imply it. They said that had we put in a number of larger trees to actually cast the shade we would have scored far higher. Oh well, you live and learn! BTW the moss boxes were thankfully nice and green on judging day, it was the sun and wind over the next few days that turned them brown.
    On another note, would you mind also crediting me on your blog feature. I wouldn’t normally mind, but when you put that amount of hard work and stress into a project and you see on popular blogs like your that all the credit goes to your colleague it is a little disheartening. Thank you.

Please feel free to leave comments as its always lovely to get feedback. I try to respond to comments as much as possible but sometimes life and work get in the way but I will do my best to respond especially if your comment is a question.

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