A show that's all about learning
PUBLISHED: 18:32 25 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:05 20 February 2013
Bringing on the next generation of gardeners was a theme that ran through this year's Spring Gardening Show at Malvern. Gardening writer Marigold Webb cast her critical eye over the show gardens. Photographs: Stuart Purfield
Education is at the heart of Malvern's annual Spring Gardening Show, organised by The Royal Horticultural Society and the Three Counties Agricultural Society. This year there were 22 show gardens, nine of them produced by designers competing for the Chris Beardshaw Mentoring Scholarship with the prize of a year's tuition and the opportunity to produce their own garden at Chelsea 2010.
The original list of 45 applicants had been shortlisted to 11, nine of whom produced gardens for Malvern. The designers then faced a challenging Dragon's Den style interview from which the winner was chosen. The winner of this year's prize was not judged solely on the Malvern garden but on a range of skills. All designs were asked to take 'the dance' as their theme, and they all did it in original though varying ways.
Paul Hervey-Brookes, who was awarded the scholarship, managed a clever contrast between formal and woodland garden in A Dance to the Music of Time, modelled on Poussin's celebrated painting. The woodland could have done with a little more spring underplanting, but one could easily imagine Anthony Powell's Widmerpool, recovering from a jog through the woods, mopping his brow in one of the formal alcove bowers.
Claire Potter's Dancing with the Trees included a planting of woodland perennials with contrasting height and foliage shapes in a carefully chosen pale colour palette. Samantha Chaplin's combination of Photinia, Heuchera 'Caramel' and Helichrysum 'Ruby Cluster' glowed in the spring sunshine, as did the luminous silver and purple contrasts in Susan Clark's They Danced by the Light of the Moon. The positioning of the silver sword foliage of Astelia, next to the white dancing flowers of my very old and well grown favourite 'Honesty' (Lunaria) was especially charming. Victoria Trask's Maypole Garden made excellent use of the ash tree which overlooked it. The tree was still in bud - this year the oak was definitely out before the ash meaning 'we will only have a splash' - so keep storing the water. Two fine garden swings invited occupants, and the judges awarded this exhibit a silver gilt medal, the highest in the Beardshaw scholarship entries.
But for me the clear winner of this section was Theresa Rham's A Little Piece of Theatre. Very professionally put together, with an excellent clipped yew hedging surround, the contrasting planting was already Chelsea class. The rich dark blues of Polemonium Bressingham Purple danced perfectly above geranium Stephanie. In the furthest corner a single plant of Anthriscus Ravenswing subtly drew the eye to the centre of the exhibit. I thought this exhibit put many of the more experienced designers in the shade.
Turning to the gardens from more seasoned exhibitors I liked the clean modern lines of Chic City Space by Graduate Gardeners. Grey slate and metal containers with white flowered marguerites complete with Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen's artwork worked well for me and for the judges who awarded a gold medal and Best in Show award.
The Family Nest by Steven Wollaston and Gotherington Nurseries was an excellent example of Cotswold dry stone walling. The centre piece of three wooden balls caused one bystander to remark that, in credit crunch Britain, it might be more appropriate to call it The Pawnbroker's Garden.
Merlin's Cave by Jonathan Bishop portrayed two magnificent Celtic dragons one red and obviously Welsh, the other dark blue and Scottish. This really was Merlin's garden from T. H. White's The Once and Future King (if you haven't read it, do so and then give it to your children or grandchildren.) This was Merlin muddling over his herbs and potions, sometimes brilliant, sometimes forgetful, sometimes even in a bit of a mess, but always entertaining.
Last, but not least, come two gardens that are united in being destined for reconstruction elsewhere after the show. The Tree of Life Garden created by Pershore College in association with St Richards Hospice is to be resited at the hospice. It is a commendable project for a wonderful cause. However the standard of planting was not up to what one would expect from the region's leading horticultural college and I only hope that it will be improved to give the patients more comfort than it gave me.
Part of the Learning Curve Garden which was made by Alex Bell with the help of the children of St Matthias Primary School in Malvern is destined for recycling, with much going to the school. The garden represented an outdoor classroom with gardening and nature at its roots. The more you looked at this exhibit, the more it grew on you. The broad beans produced on school window sills looked as if they had been grown on the show ground, and they were clean of black fly. The potatoes looked splendid, and all the vegetables were grown in old car tyres. Giant alphabet and arithmetic abaci blended into the labyrinth, which was planted with quietly interesting plants. If I were a child I would like to be taught here on a sunny day. I might learn something of at least two 'Rs', but I would certainly go away with a taste for gardening. This for me is what educational charities are about. The judges thought so too and gave it a Gold Medal and the award for the most innovative garden.