Looking at Malvern 2015

Perspectives of Malvern – The Photographer, Visitor and Exhibiter’s views and what I learnt from them all.

This year I went to Malvern Spring Show three times and each time I came away with a different impression, if you like a different perspective. Now I hadn’t planned on visiting in triplicate but have you ever noticed all the best parties occur in an impromptu fashion.

I’ve been involved in one way or another with the gardens at Malvern for quite a while now, whether its my own show piece or helping other designers with theirs. Malvern is a tricky show to build at mainly because of the weather. With the Hills channeling everything Mother Nature can muster in your general direction you can experience all the weather in one day. It’s not unusual to get frost, hail, torrential rain and sunstroke all in a day during build up, but worst perhaps can be the almost gale force winds that swirl around the show ground. This is bad enough for the designers and contractors but the poor cosseted plants find it most objectionable.

For the first time in a long time I wasn’t working on a garden this year which I found made me much more objective as a designer when looking at them. I didn’t know the back story to the build and had no idea of the trials and tribulations the designers and contractors had gone through to produce their gardens. In short I was just like any other visitor looking at their gardens.

Another first for me was looking at the gardens with a professional photographer, Jonathan Ward. Particularly daunting as I have a new camera with not a clue how to use the bloomin’ thing, and yes ladies and gents I did leave the lens cap on and wonder why I couldn’t get a shot at one point. I became much more aware of looking for the best angle or as Jonathan, like a patient parent pointed out, perhaps I should look for ‘The Shot’. It was pointed out which gardens made for the best picture and to be be aware of what was in the background.

I was particularly pleased with this shot as there was large blue lorry and a rather bright flag on the other side of the hedging which you can’t see in this pic.

I see no flags
I see no flags

The problem was I’d become so focused on hiding them I forgot to look at the composition of the picture. So no the wildlife friendly bench isn’t floating on the water feature.

I was slightly more successful at hiding the camera which loomed over this garden

With and without camera
With and without camera

I don’t think I shall be giving up the day job anytime soon, but it was fun.

The next day I met up with three lovely ladies with whom I’ve chatted on twitter. We took in the show gardens and the floral marquee and generally had a pretty good time.

I discovered Alison likes Lupins and also seemed particularly taken with the Violas on the Wildegoose Nursery stand – well they did get a Gold Medal.

Lovely Lupins
Lovely Lupins


Award winning Violas  not award winning photography I'm afraid
Award winning Violas
not award winning photography I’m afraid

and Helen liked the troughs of alpines.

Stone troughs
Stone troughs

but keenest of all was Kitty, who’s delight at the Ariculas made me take a more appreciative look at these tiny plants.

Aricula Heaven
Aricula Heaven

Pelargoniums also featured in our day both on the show ground and the floral marquee but most delightfully of all, in cake form courtesy of the rather fabulous Fibrex Nurseries.

Pelargonium Ardens
Pelargonium Ardens might have come home with me

We also tried eating oxe-eye daisies and pine shoots for the first and as for pine shoots possibly the last time. If I’m honest the pine was an experience, very astringent and a bit much on its own but it has made me think I may have more edible plants in the garden than I first realised. So thank you to Liz Knight of Forage Fine Foods and Marc Diancono of Otter Farm for enlightening me.

So onto day three, where it was Malvern from the other side so to speak, where I got to experience the show from the perspective of all those who have trade stands and exhibits in the floral marquee.

Firstly with Colin and Tina of Plant Supports UK. Now I’ve bought supports from them for myself and for clients in the past but never sold them.

Tina and Colin Supports UK

Also a couple of days before the show I saw a tweet from Sue Beesley of Bluebell Cottage Nurseries asking if anybody could help on her stand. I figured having been at the show for two days I may as well go for three and as Sue is delightful and a bloomin’ good grower helping sell her plants should be fun.

Again I learnt a lot, this time that as an exhibitor the ankle nipping trollies other visitors dislike are in fact the traders best friend, those people with trollies don’t need a plastic bag for their purchases, excellent news for the environment and the traders. I learnt that Tina is so cheerful it’s infectious, I’m not sure I’ve laughed so much in a long time. I also learnt how to use a card reader *sort of* and discovered that selling anything from solid steel supports to solidly grown plants is easy because they pretty much sell themselves.

But lastly and possibly most importantly I learnt never ever give a plant a pet name because as soon as you do you have to take it home.

May I introduce you to Shrek, he’s a little bit special and came from Bluebell Nurseries. Thank you Sue.

Euphorbia form Bluebell Cottage Nurseries
Euphorbia from Bluebell Cottage Nurseries

Space – The Final Frontier?

I was having a chat with a friend today (who’s also a designer). They were just back from Tatton and as I can’t go they were filling me in on the gardens. The conversation got round to spacing plants, mostly because today I’ve been wrestling with a Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum and she’d been looking at show gardens.

I haven’t literally been wrestling with a shrub – well not yet! More wrestling with the problem of what to do with a semi mature shrub which is too big to successfully move and will eventually have a height and spread of anything up to 5m.

Why would that be a problem I hear you ask. Well, at a guess I’d say it was planted about ten years ago and still has some growing to do. That wouldn’t be a problem, if it hadn’t been planted about 30 cm from the edge of the path. So its either curtains or a severe hair cut.

The plant itself doesn’t seem to be bothered by its position and continues to grow happily and was most floriferous this spring. It is as shapely a shrub as you could wish for, just in completely the wrong place.

That’s where the conversation had got to, why would you plant a shrub that was ultimately going to get that big, right by a path?

If you knew it was going to get that big you wouldn’t – would you?

At that point we got back to show gardens and spacing. If for instance you didn’t know how big your plants would grow you might very well do this in your garden.

Vergette Ltd Garden Design Hereford and Worcester HC visit 2013

The problem is, as a Garden Designer I space my plants out. I fill the resulting gaps with annuals or biennials and bulbs to give it a full feeling with space to fill out. However as a Show Designer I am as guilty as the next in creating an unrealistic floral display.

Vergette Ltd Garden Design MalvernSpring Show 2012

So there’s the question, is space the final frontier for show gardens?

Chelsea Flower Show and the Tall Poppy Syndrome

Best in Show 2013
Best in Show 2013

I’m not sure if expectations were higher for this years Chelsea Flower Show because of it being the centenary or whether being more switched onto social media I have come across more criticisms but there does seem to be a fair amount of angst about this years show.


Complaints about it not having enough cutting edge design on show, to there being too much emphasis on design and not enough on the growers in the Floral Marquee. Judges decisions being disagreed with by designers, some of whom are also judges. Too much money being spent on large gardens and not following the ethos that it is a Horticultural show. Too much planting in the show gardens, not enough planting in the show gardens. Too many non horticulturally related trade stands. Non seasonal planting and plant combinations that only happen at Chelsea. It all gets very complicated and puts me a little in mind of a sketch from Black Adder.


Blackadder : Caroline of Brunswick is the only available princess in Europe.

Baldrick : And what’s wrong with her?

Blackadder : Get more coffee! It’s horrid! Change it! Take me roughly from behind! No, not like that, like this! Trousers off! Tackle out! Walk the dog! Where’s my presents!

Baldrick : All right! Which one do you want me to do first?

Blackadder : No, no that’s what Caroline’s like.


So what do you want? Can Chelsea please all of the people all of the time, no, but it does a pretty good job of pleasing most of the people, most of the time.



Malvern Spring Show 2013

The Show Gardens at Malvern Spring Show were recently described by a television presenter as a ‘mixed bag’. In a way I can see where the presenter was coming from but this is the very thing I love about Malvern, all the gardens on show are very different.

The standard of design and planting gets better and better each show, at this point I am not going to tell you how long I’ve been going to Malvern, but suffice to say enough to have witnessed the changes over the years.

So if you were looking for a little piece of the Mediterranean, a garden you could transpose and make your own, a wilder look where natives and cultivated plants grow together or a childhood memory made into horticultural reality then you were well catered for this year.


The Villaggio Verde garden ‘Reposer Vos Roues (Rest Your Wheels)’ was a slice of Southern France, you could see yourself stopping for a little glass of something in the rustic café with the scent of lavender in the air .

A Little Slice of The South of France
A Little Slice of The South of France
Take a seat with a little glass of something
Take a seat with a little glass of something
The scent of lavender and the buzzing of bees
The scent of lavender and the buzzing of bees



‘Solar Chic’, ‘A Woodland Kitchen Garden’, ‘Return to the Med’, ‘The Haven’ and ‘Light is the Load’ all had elements that could be transposed in whole, or in part, to most gardens.


I loved the use of the parasol Photinia in the ‘Solar Chic’ garden.

Beautiful Photinia Parasols
Beautiful Photinia Parasols



‘A Woodland Garden’ had a vegetable patch which I can only dream of, as an army of slugs is once again on the march in my own garden!

Kitchen Garden in the Woods
Kitchen Garden in the Woods


Given the long, grey, and positively grim winter we have all endured it was the colourful planting which lifted the spirits in ‘Return to the Med’, ‘Light is the Load’ and ‘Single Track Mind’


Colourful Planting and Pebbled Paving in 'Return to the Med'
Colourful Planting and Pebbled Paving in ‘Return to the Med’
Planting contrasting beautifully with the bold structures in 'Light is the Load'
Planting contrasting beautifully with the bold structures in ‘Light is the Load’
Vibrant planting in 'Single Track Mind'
Vibrant planting in ‘Single Track Mind’


In ‘Boathouse No.9’ I liked the mix of native and cultivated flora and the attention to detail, which is a trademark of Show Gardens by this Designer

Signature planting from Mark Eveleigh in Boathouse No 9
Signature planting from Mark Eveleigh in Boathouse No 9
Attention to detail even at the back of Boathouse No 9
Attention to detail even at the back of Boathouse No 9


But the garden which made me actually laugh out loud, much to the surprise of the visitors around me, was ‘Serving Thyme in the Garden of Gallifrey’. I can see why it was a favourite of the visitors, you may not want it in your own garden but it was full of fun and theatre, which, after all is what Show Gardens are all about. But more to the point, who hasn’t watched Dr Who from behind the sofa?

I was never sure if K9 wasn't as scary as the Daleks
I was never sure if K9 wasn’t as scary as the Daleks







RHS Tatton Park – 2012

Although I had a vague plan in mind to go to Tatton this year, that is how it had remained, just a hazy thought, milling around with all the other thoughts and plans. I hadn’t got as far as pinning the thought down and would possibly not have organised a Tatton Trip. So it was lucky for me that the lovely James Alexander-Sinclair tweeted asking if any body would like a ticket. Well it seemed downright churlish not to respond with anything other than a “yes please”.

A few days later an envelope arrived containing not one, but two tickets for Tatton. Who could I take at such short notice, a fellow designer, an old friend or even Penrod “Penry” Pooch “mild-mannered” police station janitor, nope none other than Mr Batkin. Although to be fair Hong Kong Phooey may have been slightly less subversive than Mr B, but probably not half as much fun.

Much discussion had gone on before hand about the weather to expect in Cheshire. Indeed the forecast was for a full day of rain including a rather nasty thunderstorm between 12 and 2 o’clock. So we duly packed the wet-weather gear including his ‘n’ her snorkels and a rather fetching orange inflatable dinghy. Now this may come as a shock to some of you but it turns out the weather forecasters got it slightly wrong as the rain stopped at junction 18 of the M6.

So hopelessly over dressed we set out to enjoy the show. We still had a way to go to be dressed as nattily as this Exhibitor though.

Wonderful World of Growing

Tatton is a fantastically friendly show with some great exhibitors and gardens, however this year I was left with the feeling that some of the show-gardens were not quite as good as they had been in the past. I’ve said before that when looking at a garden that it is a matter of the head and the heart, however this year only a few of the gardens made an impact on either. It’s quite subjective but I did feel that a number of the gardens seemed quite flat, following the “Centrifuge School of Design”, with each garden having been popped in a giant salad spinner so all the planting flew out to the edge.

Now that’s not to say that out of the many show gardens and exhibits that there isn’t a design and plant combination that catches your eye. Materials used in a new way that make you sit up and think hmm thats clever. The planting in many gardens was absolutely delightful with some beautiful combinations.


We both particularly liked the The Orchestra Gardens with “The science of Strings” being our absolute favorite.

“The garden is inspired by the science behind the sound produced by a stringed instrument. The key features are undulating lawns replicating sound-waves. Concentric circles, radiate outwards some planted, and some used as rills. Differing lengths of stainless steel wires connect to an archway to replicate the way a sound is created from altering the tension of the string. Planting is mainly grasses to replicate strings and the purple flowers of the Lavender suggest dancing notes.”

The planting in the “Time & Tide: Caldwell’s & Canute” was a calming and relaxed combination of agapanthus, phlomis and sisyrinchium to name a few. Many of the plants  were supplied by Bluebell Cottage Nursery who could also be found in the floral Marquee

“Planting on the enclosing bank reflects the coastal setting, with delicate flowers of blues and whites giving soft, flowing movement in the centre”.

Thought provoking and well executed “World without Torture” sponsored by Q-CAT (Quaker Concern for the Abolition of Torture) used many white varieties of plants collected by quaker botanists

“The front of the garden depicts an idealised World without Torture, with a deep, still pool and horizontal concrete posts that have been trodden underfoot. The planting features white cultivars of plants first introduced by Quakers. A stone figure releases a dove, with further doves depicted in wire embroidery taking flight across the chain link fence”.

Clever planting in “A Taste of Ness” garden where the planting followed the colour wheel.

“Planting is a key factor in any garden and is central to Ness Botanic Gardens. Here the planting sweeps around the plot, featuring bold colours and attractive flowers”.

The World Skills Gardens, where the landscapers worked in pairs to create four gardens as part of the WorldSkills Leipzig 2013 Squad UK Selection Competition for Landscape Gardening. The standard was exceptionally high especially considering the competitors ages range from 18 – 23.

“The UK garden highlights traditional skills that still thrive in the countryside today, in particular dry stone walling – a dry stone wall meanders through the garden. The wall creates a backdrop for a naturalistic style of planting that challenges the competitors”



The Back to Back Gardens are unique to Tatton and show how much you can achieve in a small space. Some are quirky, some have a very serious underlying message but  the thing that impressed us the most was the attention to detail and quality of their construction. Plus some even show you what to do if you cant make it to the Bottle Bank.

Students from Clusius College in the Netherlands designed the “Second Chance” garden, built from materials and plants that have been thrown away.

Given the aim of the RHS, that where possible materials and plants and materials should be ethically procured and hopefully recycled at the end of each show this garden seemed especially pertinent. I particularly liked the idea of re-using plants given the amount of energy and recourses used to grow them.



And lastly here we have another of Mr B’s favourites

Countryside Contained

I told you he was a trouble maker !





Hampton Court Flower Show – From the Head and the Heart

I was lucky enough to have a press pass for Hampton Court Flower Show and attended the launch of ” The Hort Aid Mowerthon” an epic fundraising venture between Perennial, Landscape Juice and Etesia.

I also intended to use the opportunity to write a blog post about the gardens, immediately, upon my return. However when I sat down to write, I realised that  I am first and foremost a lover of gardens and design but at no point in my life have I ever aspired to be a writer, so this has taken longer than I expected.

First and foremost when I go to a garden or a show, be it an RHS Show, an NGS Open Garden or a Botanical Garden I feel just like anybody who loves gardens and plants in all their amazing varieties. So for me, the initial response to any show-garden is an instant one, from the heart and not the head.

Secondly as a designer, I can look at the overall design and its execution and can appreciate the man hours taken and the attention to detail displayed within a garden. Plant choices can sometimes be a revelation showcasing new or unusual species or varieties. Even familiar plants can feel exciting again if you see them used in a new way.

So for me the the Best Show-Garden was ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’ designed by  Matthew Childs. Descibed as a “garden about hope and recovery which has been inspired by Matthew’s experiences after being injured in the 7 July 2005 bombing at Edgware Road station.”

This garden worked for me both in terms of my head and my heart. The finish and attention to detail were excellent. From the transformation of the materials along the length of the tunnel, to the water dripping from the roof of the tunnel, giving it an uncomfortable cavernous feel.

The planting moves from the shade loving Aspleniums, Dryopteris and Euphorbia within the tunnel to a lighter more etherial planting style including Gaura, Geranium, Salvia and Stipas.

Included in the mix was Gypsophila paniculata, which I last saw several years ago at Chelsea, so long ago in fact the photograph of it, is exactly that, a photograph not a digital image.


I am a bit of a devil for photographs (thank goodness for the advent of digital pics) so later in the day, when the photographers had thinned out, I returned to the garden and was offered a leaflet by a lovely gentleman.

Now, it’s not always easy to know if the person offering you a leaflet at a show is the Designer, Landscaper or Sponsor and this chap seemed rather nervous, we had a brief chat during which it transpired he had been involved with the build, in a hole digging capacity and that he was just pleased to help. When I said he must be very pleased with the garden and admitted to him that it was a favorite of mine, a lovely smile spread slowly across his face and he said “I am, It’s my Sons’ Garden”

So you see, Matthew Childs  got my Head but it was his Dad, Peter, who got my Heart.

Hampton Court Flower Show – Perennial and Landscape Juice Launch Mowathon

Press day at Hampton Court Flower Show, saw the launch of an epic fundraising venture between Perennial, Landscape Juice and Etesia.

Left to Right – Anita Bates of Perennial (GRBS) Phil Voice (LJN) Les Malin of Etesia

The Monumental Mowerthon will be taking place in the autumn and will cover 1250 miles. Phil Voice of Landscape Juice Network will be driving an Etesia H124 Mower from Bergerac in France to John O’Groats in Scotland.

Talking with Les Malin of Etesia, they will be working hard to keep Phil on course to complete the epic journey on time. The H124 Mower will have a top speed of 20 miles and hour and will also have the addition of a cab to keep Mr Voice dry as our traditional Summer continues to be the wettest since records began.

Another nifty feature that Les may be included on the mower, is a tracking device. This will show you where, in real time, Phil has got to. So no cutting corners unless they’re grass!

We wish Phil and Perennial all the best with this Mad Cap Mowathon. If you would like to find out more and add your support for a charity which supports those in the horticultural industries please click on the Hort Aid link.

Cottesbrooke Plant Fair or Three Have fun in Northamptonshire

Sometimes it’s hard to keep your work life balance so when a friend, whom I haven’t seen for some considerable time, suggested a day out it seemed like a very good idea. When she went on to suggest a trip to Cottesbrooke it seemed even better.

For those that don’t know, Cottesbrooke Gardeners’ Fair is held in the grounds of Cottesbrooke Hall in Northamptonshire. I first heard about the fair two years ago, although it is in fact celebrating it’s 5th anniversary this year. Last year there was much talk of horrendous traffic queues along narrow twisty lanes, so much so, that it was agreed that we would meet up at stupid o’clock on Saturday morning and not worry to much about what time we would arrive. In the event the roads were clear and we arrived stupidly early.

First stop was the Know How Tent, to check out who was talking about what. We decided on the second talk of the day by Mark Diacono. This decision was in no way influenced by the lure of free cocktails.

Having booked the talk we had an hour free to do a spot of shopping, starting at the nearest exhibitor which by coincidence was The Otter Farm Stall. Szechuan pepper purchased and banter exchanged* it was time for the traditional day out bacon butty brekky.


Know How Talks

Marc Diacono’s talk was funny, interesting and ultimately challenging. Asking people to look at how and what they grow in their veg patch. Will I go on to grow two vegetables I hate next year, probably not. However I am most definitely looking at perennial veg in a new way and I have ordered some Egyptian Walking onions.



There are plenty of artisans displaying their crafts from wood to willow and steel to stone.



The Gardens

The plus point of this fair is you can break up the shopping by having a meander around the gardens. I did’t want to turn this day out into work so I had done absolutely no research into the house or its gardens. Each area is different but all work and create a pleasant contrast. Lots of lovely plant combinations and some great ideas for you to try at home.


The Plants

Much has been made of the variety and choice to be found at this fair. We were a little disappointed as many of the stalls seemed to be offering near identical plants. This may be a result of the poor season we have had so far, resulting in nurseries buying in stock. However where this fair excels, is the relatively small number of independent specialist nurseries who who offer a real choice of unusual plants, unavailable at garden centers. SWINES MEADOW NURSERY offer a collection of some super unusuals. DYSONS NURSERY were selling Salvias to make you salivate.  MEADOWGATE NURSERY specialise in gorgeous grasses but D’ARCY AND EVEREST shouldn’t be confused with MR D’ARCY’S heritage fruit trees, otherwise you may get an apple when you were expecting an alpine!

Whether you were purchasing the unusual or a more familiar plant, it seemed nearly every stall offered healthy and vigorous plants, no weedy end of display specimens here!

 So buy, buy, buy. Bye-bye Cottesbrooke ’til next time


*according to Mr Diacono all plants should be named, so I have called my new Szechuan pepper “Justine Thyme”