Malvern Show Gardens


I’m no longer much of a fan of showgardens and tend to gravitate to the nurseries and floral marquee more.  However, I thought I would have a quick look to see what was on offer this year.  Malvern has always been one of the shows where new designers can stretch their wings and have a go at doing a show garden.

In my humble and inexpert view the gardens have a tendency to be fairly safe and what you would expect but then Malvern, in my opinion, is a show for plant buyers and has an excellent reputation for the number and variety of nurseries at the show and therefore it doesn’t really need to try to attract crowds with the promise of weird and wacky designs – that is the remit of Hampton Court Flower Show.

I only had time for a quick run round, plus the press and television crews were in the way, and so this post is very  much based on a fleeting glimpse


The two photographs above are of the garden that really quite my eye and made me stop in my tracks and I believe it received a Gold award.  It is designed by Villaggio Verde a fairly local company that specialises in olive trees and other mediterranean plants.  The garden is part of a set of gardens all celebrating the Tour de France and represents a cafe in the South of France where professional cyclists have stopped for 100 years.  I liked the non-fussy planting especially around the beehives and it felt to me a fair and realistic representation where the designer hadn’t got too carried out.

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Another planting that appealed to me was in the garden called, A Return to the Med designed by The Garden Design House.  I liked the textures of the planting and also the detail in the pebble pathing.  I would like to replicate this pebble pathing on my patio although I suspect it would take me ages to do and may just send me mad so this will be an idea I file away again for yet another year.

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The two photographs above show the planting in a garden entitled, Single Track Mind, designed by Teresa Rham of Groundesigns;  another garden in the Tour de France group.  The intention of the garden is to represent the mental challenges faced by the road racing cyclist.  I have to confess that I never really get the deeper meanings of these show gardens but again I was attracted to the planting.  The mixtures of textures and shades of green in the photograph above and the darker shades, again in flowers and foliage, in the top photograph.  Of course we have to remember that the plants are planted far closer together than any of us would in our gardens and this is typical for showgardens where there is a pathological fear of earth showing; honestly, they can get marked down on it!


Finally, this garden appealed to me – A Room for a View designed by Alchemy Gardens.  I suspect that I am attracted to both this garden and the very top one as they are completely different to mine.  Something that I could never have in my own garden and so far more interesting to me than the cottage/woodland style gardens.  I also suspect that there is an element of escapism in them, taking us to somewhere warm, and in the case of the Alchemy Garden, tropical which couldn’t be much further removed from the cold, damp and windy show ground yesterday.

Whilst these gardens are not as unattainable for the average gardener as the showgardens at RHS Chelsea Flower Show they are still something that few of us would replicate in our gardens.  However, the pundits always like to say that the average gardener can get inspiration from showgardens so what  inspiration did I get from these?  As I have said I like the pebble pathing in the Return to the Med garden and the understated green textures of the Single Track Mind garden is food for thought when planting a border where you want interest besides relying on flowers.  The Cafe garden demonstrates the impact planting en masse can have and as for the last garden again the good foliage combinations are shown but really for me I just want to paddle my feet in the pool, who needs inspiration!!

More Showgardens at Malvern

Following on from my previous report here are some of the other showgardens at this year’s Malvern Spring Show.  As you can see the standard is excellent this year.  Above is the Inside-Out garden by Jody Lidgard and sponsored by Bradstone.  Being sponsored by Bradstone there is quite a bit of hard landscaping but it didn’t seem to overwhelm the garden as I have felt was the case in previous Bradstone sponsored gardens.  I liked the sunken seating area which doesn’t show up very well in the photo but it looked as though it could be very secluded and intimate.  Again as with many of the other showgardens a cottagey planting scheme was chosen.  This is obviously due to what plants are available at the moment but I do think they work well in the overall rural landscape of the showground with the Malvern Hills in the background.

The photo above is of Lady Alice’s Garden by Patricia Atkins Garden Design.  Like the garden above this garden was awarded a Silver Flora award.  Whilst I don’t like box hedging and parterres I kind of like this type of parterre garden.  A lot of thought has gone into the planting of this garden which contains plants that were common in the 16th and 17th century such as sweet rocket, sweet cicely and woad.  The one criticism I had of the garden was the amount of gravel – I didn’t feel it was necessary for the gravel path across the front of the garden and felt the parterres could be bigger.

This is the Westhaven School by the Seaside garden by Mark Walker.  To be honest as Malvern is in the middle of the UK and not exactly by the sea I always find it a little incongruous to see a seaside garden at the show but in this case the seaside theme is intended to reflect the location of the School.  It was interesting to read that the School is a special needs school which specialises in horticulture especially as I think many people under-estimate the healing power of gardening – it has certainly helped me through some difficult times.

At Malvern Spring Show you also have the entries in the Chris Beardshaw  Mentoring Scheme.  The winner gets a years mentoring from Chris and various opportunities to create gardens.  It is a wonderful vehicle for new designers to be seen.  I particularly liked the Breathe garden by Paul Cantello.  I liked the wall they had used bamboo to create screens – I bet the wildlife would have a field day with all those habitat opportunities.  I like the different height stepping-stones although on a practical level I doubt this would be a very comfortable garden to walk through on a day-to-day basis but then I don’t think showgardens are meant to be real gardens!.

What I like more and more about the showgardens at Malvern Spring Show is that they are more approachable for the average gardener.  Unlike the all singing all dancing gardens at Chelsea it is easy to see how you could incorporate some of the ideas into your own garden.  They are more on the scale and nearer to the budget of your average garden.  I hope that Malvern never loses its freshness and continues to be a showcase for new and upcoming designers.

Fabulous Showgardens at Malvern

I think I can safely say that the standard of showgardens at Malvern Spring Garden show is getting better and better.  There were two gold medals awarded which is wonderful and to be honest I think a couple of the gardens are very close, if not already at Chelsea standard – but I’m n RHS judge so I could be talking rubbish.

The two gardens that really stood out to me where the Graduate Gardeners Ltd’s A Garden for Life, which  won best in show and Hannah Genders ‘My Very Local Veg Garden. Taking Hannah’s garden first (above and below) I was initially attracted to the colour palette of the flowers, particularly the blues of the Anchusa ‘Loddon Royalist’, Iris pallida ‘Argente Variegata’ against the mauve of Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’.  I will definitely be using this colour combination in my garden in the future.  But what was really interesting about Hannah’s garden is the concept behind it.  Everything is sourced within a bike

ride of her home in Worcester.  This includes all the hard landscaping: the paving is from a reclamation yard, the wood from a local woodland – everything is labelled so you can see where Hannah got it from and the distance from her home.  Another great thing about this garden is that is won’t just be taken to pieces come Sunday but it will be  rebuilt at Hillers Farm Shop in Alchester where it will be able to mature which to my mind makes it a very sustainable showgarden.

The second garden I really admired was Graduate Gardeners A Garden for Life.  I suspect my liking is partly due to my eldest son and his passion for wood.  As some of you may know he is a trainee cabinet maker,  he has a love of good design and particularly interesting architecture.  We had seen some similar garden rooms/office last year at the Grand Designs Show and the garden room in this garden reminded me of one he really liked.  I think it is a clever design

particularly the way the A frame of the house is carried forward into a pergola.  Another aspect of this garden that I found interesting was the wildlife/meadow planting in the photo above.  It made me really think about this sort of planting: it was full of clover, ragged robin and other wildlife plants.  I can’t decide if I really like it or not.  The area was certainly full of wildlife which is more and more important to me but I have to get over the last linger neat and controlled inclinations I have.

Again as is often the case at Malvern the planting was very cottagey with lots of early flowering perennials, very frothy and pastel.  It was lovely to look at and interesting to see how the foliage was combined and then lifted with flowers. This was a well deserved winner of Best in Show in my mind.

There were more show gardens as well as smaller gardens which were entered in the Chris Beardshaw scholarship competition but I will post on those later.

If you can get to Malvern this weekend I would really recommend it as it is, in my opinion, the friendliest garden show.

Impressions from a Chelsea Virgin


Stunning Rosa 'Edith Holden' & Iris 'Dusky Challenger' on Thrive garden
Stunning Rosa 'Edith Holden' & Iris 'Dusky Challenger' on Thrive garden


On Tuesday I made my first ever trip to Chelsea Flower Show.  I realised as we had lunch before making our way down through Sloane Square that I didn’t seem to have any expectations of what I would  see which was a rather weird sensation.  Surely I should be looking forward to certain things or maybe even dreading others. I should have things I desperately wanted to see or ideas to acquire.  But no my mind was blank.  I  suspect that this was because despite having watched Chelsea for years on the television, having followed this year’s build up via the photos on twitter and through some blog posts I  couldn’t really believe I was actually going – it was like a dream, but more trance like than euphoric. 

Wild flower meadow on The HESCO Garden
Wild flower meadow on The HESCO Garden


There is just so much to take in –  every aspect of horticulture you can think of.  Gardens and plants from right  up near the Arctic to lovely displays from South Africa. It wasn’t only the plants and gardens but the people.  I was surprised that it wasn’t as crowded as I  had expected.  There was a bit of a bottle neck around the courtyard gardens but it was good-natured and with a bit of a strategic shuffle and a keen eye for an opportunity we managed to get a good view of most of the gardens.  But people  watching was proving to be quite a distraction from the plants – there were the corporate types in their suits, the lovely ladies dressed up in their hats and heels and  then the more down to earth  gardeners like your  truly dressed in sensible shoes! 

lavender bordered pathway on the L'Occitane garden
Lavender bordered pathway on the L'Occitane garden


Due to the number of people around the gardens I found it hard to take in whole gardens but I have come away with a lot of impressions or cameo views from the gardens.  I absolutely loved the planting on Jo Thompson’s The Unexpected Gardener for Thrive garden.  The colours of the roses and irises were just so sumptuous and were complimented with the Mathiasella bupleuroides ‘Green Dream’ and Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’.For me this was the best garden in the show.  The flower meadow on the front of the HESCO Garden built by Leeds City Council won my heart.  Whilst many were admiring the replica canal lock which was the main feature of the garden, I was drooling over the toadflax. I understand that there was also poppy in the mix and they are hoping that these will be in flower by the end of the week.  What is more the nice man from Leeds gave me a packet of seeds as per their mix.  I have just got to work out where to have a mini wildflower meadow! 

Cortal steel screens in The Daily Telegraph Garden
Cortal steel screens in The Daily Telegraph Garden


I was taken with the L’Occitane garden. I thought the planting was very reflective of Southern France and the Mediterranean, especially as the weather was warm you could  smell the lavender and I felt quite transported.  I was particularly taken with the path up the slope, which made me feel that a cart had been pulled up between the rows of lavender.  Interestingly when I was looking at this garden there were few others there as the Daily Telegraph garden over the way was attracting more people. This garden had been awarded Best in Show and seemed to be the one everyone was talking about even before we got to the show.  However, whilst I admired the planting particularly the movement created with the grasses and the use of rusty coloured Irises and Verbascums at the time I wasn’t keen on the metal sculptural shapes.  However, on looking back through my photos at a couple of days distance I see the garden in such a different way and how the colour of the metal rectangles pick up on the colours in the planting particularly that Iris Action Front.  I suspect that if I could have walked into the garden rather than being stuck on the outside looking in I would have appreciated the garden more. 

Rhododendron 'Fireball'
Rhododendron 'Fireball'


Of course we went to the Floral Pavillion but sadly my camera battery was dying by this time so I concentrated more on making notes of plants I liked and where I could get them.  However, I couldn’t walk past the Rhododendron ‘Fireball’ without squeezing one more photo out. 

So whilst there has been much talk about what makes  a good  garden, which one should win Peoples Choice, whether gardens should have themes, what is the latest trend in gardening for me Chelsea 2010 is a collection of images and sensations not just visual but smell and sound.

Sneaky Preview – Malvern show gardens

Deb's garden at lunchtime today
Deb's garden at lunchtime today

I have had a fantastic day today working down at the Malvern showground helping Deb’s with her garden.  Poor old Debs has struggled with the garden, especially yesterday because of the heavy wind and rain we had on Saturday night.  She had to do a lot of rescuing so was dispirited this morning and I think she would agree running out of steam.

There was a really nice atmosphere at the showground with people beavering away and chatting when they took their break.  The photo above is of the one corner of the 25th Anniversary Garden. Claire Potter was busy going through the plants they had planted yesterday  tidying them up.  The photo doesn’t show how good the planting is, the textures of the leaves and the combination of flower colours really works.

some of the empty pots from the Anniversary Garden
Some of the empty pots from theAnniversary Garden
The water feature in the Anniversary garden is nearly complete

The Anniversary garden uses the Malvern Hills and in particular British Camp as its inspiration.  You can see the earthworks in the photo above.  The water feature in the middle will have water flowing over the top and down through the pavers.  The Anniversary garden will be remaining for a few months after the show so is planted properly as opposed to the other showgardens where the plants are planted in their pots.  For those visiting on Thursday and possibly Friday you will be able to walk through the Anniversary garden.

The situation for the bloggers meet up area!

The weather today was really changeable.  One minute we were hot, then it started raining and then we had a strong  cold wind.  There were some moments when I  watched as marquees looked like  they were going to take off.

View across the Chris Beardshaw mentorship gardens

I was amazed at how complete some of the gardens seemed given that they still have one and half days left before judging.  Alex Bell said this was because the good weather the previous week had  allowed people to get ahead.  Alex was very kind and helped Deb put in a low willow fence across the front of her garden.

Deb's garden with plants waiting to be planted

By  the time I left at 5 today we had painted most of the fence, the box balls were in and the willow fence was built.  Deb now has the fun bit to do, planting the plants, plus finishing the painting and also weaving the willow den.  I think she can do it and it will look fab.

I think those of you coming to the show will be very impressed with quality and number of gardens this year; in fact I was told there were more showgardens at Malvern this year than there will be at Chelsea.  The other thing is that as Malvern is a smaller show than Chelsea you can get up close to the gardens and have a really good look.

I have a pass to go back on Wednesday evening when all the gardens are finished to take more pics so check back for another sneaky preview.  Looking forward to meeting lots of you at the bloggers meet up.

Showgardens at Malvern

The show gardens at this year’s show were very varied.  I have to say that I dont get as excited about show gardens as I do the floral marquee.  The gardens are always second on my to see list at the show.  I think at heart I’m a plants person not a designer.  I couldnt have a ‘designed’ garden as I would struggle to find places for my finds.  We quite liked this thought because of its use of the wire cages, whose name escapes me.  They use these to build up the embankments on the side of motorways but they are becoming increasingly popular in garden landscaping as you can fill them with anything.


This was a very pretty garden and the purples and blues were overwhelming.  They were a mixture of Lavender, Jacob’s Ladder, Acquilegas.  Whilst it was gorgeous I dont think the overall effect would have lasted long in a real garden as once they had finished flowering there wasnt much else to look at.

Another pretty garden.  This one was callend Sleeping Beauty’s garden.  You can see the spinning wheel at the front and the castle in the background.  A bit busy for my taste but very attractive.

We liked this garden which was a sustainable garden.  My eldest, who is bike mad, particularly liked the screen made out of bike wheels, the wheel frames have also been used to make the holes in the fence.  My youngest liked the long grass and tried to convince me that our garden would benefit from this, but then he is the one who mows the lawn!!!!

As well as show gardens, there are also show borders which are generally done by people just starting out in the landscape business.  I liked this one but I cant see me having anything like this in my garden its all abit too perfect albeit it gorgeous.

This garden had a small gauge train in it – I did feel as though the garden had come second to the train but it was quite entertaining particularly if you were a small boy!

I really liked this garden.  It is, I suppose, a family garden.  What you cant see is that on the top of the mound is a large trampoline with water fountains around it.  The water is collected into a rill which runs down to side of the mound into a pond (on the other side of the mound).  Under the mound is a den.  It was beautifully planted up with some formal area but also a lovely meadowy grass area on the side of the mound.  I know as a child I would have wanted to roll down the side of the mound.    

So those are some of the show gardens from this years Malvern show.  I think the standard has really improved in recent years, although definately not in the league of Chelsea.  However, many of these designers will go on to do gardens at Chelsea in the future so it is a good start point for them.