This is one of those weeks where I am not at all sure what I should write about as nothing particularly fascinating has happened. I have driven to Cornwall and back to collect my daughter from University, I have ordered an enormous number of plants from various places and we went see the legendary Patti Smith in concert in Leamington Spa. This last was actually quite fascinating: she is always good. My wife is mildly obsessed with her (and has been for many, many years) so this was her second Patti smith concert in a week.
So (in the words of Marriott Edgar in Albert and the Lion), “seeking for further amusement” I have decided to write about my first visit to Malvern - as the show is looming and everybody else seems to have had their say over here.
I was first asked to talk at Malvern Spring Show in, and I get a bit fuzzy over this, 2004 on the back of a television series I presented called Small Town Gardens (it was the third and last series, in fact the last series of garden makeovers that the BBC produced). It was also my first proper lecturing gig - I had done a couple to local horticultural societies but this was different. I had never been to Malvern before so had no idea what to expect.
I was put up in a hotel in Malvern that was also being occupied by all the RHS Judges who had convened in Malvern in their official capacities. One of the things about RHS Judges in general is that they do like to let their hair down a bit whenever they are together. As a result the joint was jumping until the early hours: I didn’t really know them terribly well so merely observed from round a corner (at my lonely table for one).
Next morning I rocked up at the show ground and reported for duty. I was shown a large echoing barn that had, until recently, been the site of the fattest ewe or glossiest cow contest (the Three Counties Showground is not just about gardening: there are a lot of other things ranging from agricultural shows to meeting of the VW Camper club). I was junior end of the bill after Nigel Colborn - who did wise things chatting about plants that he had just picked up on his walk around the showground: I don’t know whether he paid for them or not. I was rather too intimidated to ask. And Joe Swift who drew things on an easel and talked about designing gardens on the diagonal - yeah,yeah. The whole thing was compered by a cheery fellow called Mike from local radio.
I was very scared: like rush to the loo petrified but by the end of the second session I was having a ball and realised that this was actually quite a good way to pass the time. Joe and I had a great time being very well looked after by the fabulous Nina. She was driving us around in some sort of golf cart at one point and as she slowed for some slow moving people we leapt off the cart and disappeared into the crowd. She didn’t notice for a while and then realised that she had lost us and an expression of panic crossed her face. We were forgiven.
I also decided that Malvern was actually rather a wonderful place run by jolly people and I wanted to come back again so started plotting...
Since then I have returned every year: the theatre materialised the following year - the first at any RHS Show - and has got bigger and better.
I have cavorted with Alan Titchmarsh,
pranced with Monty Don, (sorry, couldn’t find a picture with his donship)
dallied with Diarmuid Gavin
dallied with Diarmuid Gavin
and debated whether Men or Women were better gardeners with various eminences gris (women won: mostly because there were more of them in the audience).
The weekends are usually spent with my friend, Joe Swift. We are given a pretty free rein by the show organisers especially when it comes to competitive flower arranging. He is winning at the moment, but then he always plays it very safe while I am more avant garde: my “Bridge over the M6” was a conceptual triumph, although sadly no photographic evidence is available.
I have presented fashion shows with the gorgeous Sabrina Duncan International (a firmly muscled Drag Artiste).
I have interviewed a whole string of supremely knowledgeable and talented nurserymen and designers
Outside the theatre the gardens have got better and better. And there are more and more of them: the idea is that Malvern is a first stop for young and emerging talent. Especially since the elfin Chris Beardshaw has started his scholarship scheme: a chance for a young designer (designer, not Sock) to spend a year stalking Chris and building gardens at both the Malvern Autumn Show and the Chelsea Flower show.
It is a friendlier, less frantic show than say Chelsea, there is room to move around whether you are building a garden or just visiting. There are loads of excellent nurseries selling plants, food stalls, Arts and Crafts and every sort of garden sundry you can imagine. Including fibreglass gorillas and massage chairs.
This year will be fun especially as Joe and I are joined by Cleve West. We will be trying Botanical Art, more flower arranging, interviewing designers, grilling nurserymen (not literally) and generally jollying around.
See you there.
Meet @ Malvern will return after the Easter break. Have a good holiday everyone - Ed