This is a real blogging discovery! When Victoria wrote about coming to Malvern a couple of weeks ago, little did she know her post would be read by someone who'd visited the first ever show 25 years ago. As a result of this marvellous coincidence, Edith Hope has kindly agreed to write a guest post for Meet @ Malvern about her memories of that time...
Aunt Winifred lived on Jubilee Drive in Upper Colwall, near Malvern. She later died an untimely death in Italy, but that is another story. What matters here is that she gardened, and gardened with a passion, and that it was through her that I came to know so many of the small nurseries and open gardens in and around that lovely Elgar countryside.
In the spring of 1985 I was with her, as was usual, for my annual visit. What was different was that that year saw the first Malvern Garden Show held on the site of the Three Counties Showground, a flat expanse of land lying in the shadow of the Malvern hills.
We went on the Friday which, I think, was then the first day. Certainly Aunt Winifred would not have countenanced the weekend crowds. Car parking was, I am fairly sure, free, cars being parked in random fashion in adjacent fields. I wish that I could recall what we paid for our entrance tickets [no pre-booking, no on-line then], but time eludes me now.
In that first year there was little to be seen outside, the majority of the stall holders housed within the gaunt cattle sheds with their huge sliding doors open to whatever the weather. Inside, ranged all around the outer walls, was a plantsperson's paradise. Local, and not so local nurseries were well represented, each one highly individual in both its display and stock. For, it should be remembered here, that in those days this was a provincial show, unheard of nationally and not yet affiliated to The Royal Horticultural Society.
But what treasures. Here was Rushfields of Ledbury*, an immaculate stand, beautifully presented, and displaying and selling [for unlike Chelsea, this was, and is, a selling show] all manner of rare and unusual perennials. And for me this was the start of a long and happy association with that nursery right up until the retirement of JH, its redoubtable owner, a few years ago. Then there was KD of Lingen Nursery**, an alpine specialist, whose tiny gems were as alluring as sweets in a sweet shop to a young child. From Derbyshire came Bluebell Nursery with a dazzling array of uncommon trees, shrubs and climbers. Are they still in business today, I wonder?
Show gardens were non-existent. In a more permanent building, a short walk away over rough terrain, we came upon the Floral Hall, although I think the title is mine, where the local Women's Institutes had put on an exhibition of flower arrangements, fruit, vegetables and jam. All very homely. I do recall in this building some refreshments but possibly little more than a cup of tea or instant coffee taken with a bun. We did, though, as most years subsequently, purchase a cheesecake, in the 1980s very fashionable, from the Dairy House of Herefordshire.
And so it was. The local town show. Unhurried, uncrowded, uncommercial. But that was all in another lifetime, now a quarter of a century ago.
* = Rushfields may still be trading. It's listed in a number of business directories for Ledbury, but doesn't have web presence of its own. Graham Rice lists it as a purveyor of choice perennials, particularly Hellebores derived from stock bred by Helen Ballard. It so happens that the north border of the accommodation where myself, Victoria, Yolanda, Gail and Frances are staying is where Helen Ballard developed her renowned H. orientalis strains.
** = Lingen Nursery in Herefordshire has ceased trading and the property is now up for sale. It's a rather attractive red brick house with a good portion of land. It looks like the nursery buildings - polytunnels, cold frames and raised beds - are still intact, so perhaps it's the ideal property for a wannabe nursery owner?
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