In 2010 over 30 garden bloggers from all over the world met for the first ever UK get together at RHS Malvern Spring Show. This blog documents the lead up to that event plus the subsequent informal get togethers we've had in Malvern. There are also insights into the events of 2009, insider views from various exhibitors and personal views of Malvern and surrounding places of interest.

Thus this blog also forms a valuable resource for anyone wanting to visit either the spring or autumn versions of the show, or contemplating a visit to the area.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Hints & Tips for the Show

We've had quite a few questions about the show over the past few weeks, so I've been in touch with some of those I know have been before to share their top tips for getting the best out of your visit. You'll see in some of the categories that some of the advice differs - it's up to you decide which tip best suits you! Many thanks to Anna, Helen, Sharon and Frankie for responding so well to my request for information. Frankie also supplied the photos showing two of the key things needed to ensure you can easily maximise your plant purchasing requirements :)

Getting there and parking

If travelling by car for the day - aim to get there as early as possible. I crawled from the M5 all the way to the showground last year, aiming for a 11am arrival. I arrived at 12.

The showground is well signposted. We have never had any problems with travel/parking but I don't know whether it is because we have stayed locally and get there early. Anna

RHS members get to park in the members car park AKA the field closer to the entrance. You buy a ticket via the RHS and get a window sticker [aka Forward Parking Pass - Ed]. Frankie

There are several large parking areas on and around the showground which is free. There is also 'gold' parking for which you pay extra (I think it was £10 last year) and is closer to a gate. Sharon

Generally the car parks aren't that far, so many people have their picnic back at their car having bought deckchairs etc with them. Helen

There's a free shuttle bus to/from the railway station at Great Malvern to the show ground. It starts at 9am and runs every 15/20 minutes.

Anyone who's registered disabled can park in a special area very close to the floral marquee. Take your disabled parking badge with you and wave it to the friendly steward who will then direct you to where you need to go.

Best time to arrive (NB show times are 9am to 6pm each day)

As early as possible as it's a huge show. Frankie

Arrive for 9AM if you can (opening time) as it is much less busy for a while and you get to look at the flowers in the floral marquee in relative peace; if you buy anything while its still early, then you can use the plant creche to look after them until you've worn yourself out and are ready to leave. Sharon

I get there for when it opens but then I only have 5 min drive. Helen

Is buying a programme good value for money or did you get by OK using the show's signage?

I don't usually bother but it might be good for first timers. Frankie

The programme is good if you want to search for specific exhibitors, otherwise the signage is good. With the showground being based on a grid system, if you're methodical you can cover off all of the showground. (Not that I am methodical and I tend to wander hither and thither, attracted by the pretty plants). Sharon

I have never bought a programme although I know Anna does. I have been so many times I know my way round but the only problem is that I don't know the timings for the theatre and they don't have these on display. However, last year I think I printed it off the web in advance. Helen

I have always bought a programme although I did balk at the price last year - £4.00. I like having a programme so that I can be sure that I see everything that I want to and have some sort of rough plan for the day in my head. I think that the signage is great if you want to know where certain points and facilities are but it does not give you the fine detail or timetable for particular events. Anna

Where to visit early or late in the day

No real preference but there is one really good stand I love that sells galvanised old bath tubs that sells out early on. Sadly I can't remember the name but you go through the entrance by the RHS car park, bear right on one of the main drags and it's down a dead end lane to the right. Frankie

Definitely march off to the floral marquee first - it's glorious and is much better seen without the hoardes who will make their way there later. The gardens should also be seen quite early, unless it starts raining - in which case, put your brolly up and go and visit the gardens while everyone else rushes to the tents. Sharon

Don't really have a regular time table apart from making a dash for the floral marquee when we arrive. Having said that I quite often return about 4.00pm for a second reccie and it's usually reasonably quiet then. Anna
Buying plants and other stuff - plant crèche and other facilities

Use the crèche frequently and at the end of the day a porter (working for a charity) will take your purchases to the car park in return for a donation. Last year we bought £9.99 collapsible crates on wheels with handles. They are a bit like wheelie suitcases but with a plastic crate and they are fantastic for stuffing full of plants. When loaded, head back to the crèche and start again. They were for sale by all the entrance gates. Frankie

There is a plant creche, for a small fee. I seem to remember hoardes of scouts and girl guides helping people back to their cars with piles of plants for a small donation (though I may have confused this with another show!) Sharon

The creche is situated in what reminds me of an old scout hut. It is between the floral marquee and the cattle sheds and is the only wooden building so easy to spot. You can leave plants there for as long as you want and they only ask for a donation in return. The creche is run by volunteers generally from local garden clubs. There is also a portering service, generally run by scouts/cadet groups who will take your purchases to your car for a small fee. Helen

The plant sell off starts at 4pm on Sunday. You can usually start to reserve plants from around 2pm at participating stands and gardens. You will be given a raffle ticket to exchange for your purchases later.

Where to eat & drink, or bring your own

Lots of eating vans although not always easy to get a seat. RHS members can use the members tent which is OK and you can sit down plus a smaller queue for the loo. Frankie

The usual showground 'trailers' with plenty of carbohydrates but not necessarily a taste sensation. There is a restaurant on site, and one of the permanent cattle sheds has a range of producers selling their food wares - roast pork buns, cider, posh sausages, ice cream - all the things you need for a good day out (not cheap though!). I'd recommend you take something to drink, and if you're there all day or for several days, you may prefer to take some of your own food. Sharon

Food wise I tend to buy something from one of the concessions. I don't think they are that expensive but everyone has a different view. The concessions have a wide range of food from burgers etc through pancakes to fish and salads. Last year Anna and I shared a table with two ladies who put me to shame with their prawn salads but then made me feel better by going to buy some chips. Some people bring a picnic but I don't think there are that many places at the spring show for eating picnics and to me it is a pain to carry one around with you - need hands for plant buying. Helen

Usually bring our own and then retire to the camper van to put our feet up for a while. Have used the mobile catering areas at times but I have struggled sometimes to find something I like. There is an restaurant facility for RHS members but have never used it. There is also locally grown and produced foodstuff for sale in the Wye Hall - have occasionally had some tasty odds and ends from there. Anna

NB the show has a food market for the first time this year, where local food producers will be touting their delicious wares. Another possibility for your on-site eating as well as providing buffet items for Friday's 'do' at Helen's.

What to wear

Layers - be prepared for hot AND cold, sunny, windy or rainy!

Comfy shoes! Frankie

Take a waterproof coat! (and a brolly so that you can admire the gardens in the rain). It can be very cold as the showground is exposed. Sharon

It can be very windy sometimes at Malvern and as the show is in May you never know what the weather will do. I have been there in Tshirts and also in waterproofs. As I live so close I normally wait until I see the weather forecast before I make a decision. Helen

Comfortable shoes with a good grip are a must. Umbrellas get in the way so no point bringing one. Best to have some rainwear that you can pack away into a bag should the sun come out later. Anna

Where to go if it rains

All the outdoor stands - there will be less of a crush. Frankie

Take a brolly and admire the gardens whilst everyone else rushes for shelter (see above). Sharon

If it rains all is not lost. There is a the floral marquee, the cattle sheds which have a wide range of things in them from arts and crafts, garden sundries, societies and clubs, flower arranging and I think this year botanical drawing. If you find yourself caught over by the show gardens then you can pop into the theatre and heckle JAS. Helen

If it rains - I try to persuade myself that I will not dissolve although once or twice we have headed back for the camper van for an interlude. Anna

Last year I was caught in a heavy rain shower at one of the cafe areas. It became very crowded as a result, but everyone was very good natured about it. We ended up peeking in each others bags and admiring various purchases. Tips on where to go to get the best value [insert plant or garden object of your choice] were also exchanged.

It's also a good time to be at the back of one of the outside nursery stalls (which is undercover) as you can get into a very involved and detailed discussion with the stall holder.

Pacing the day

I've never managed to pace it - the day is not long enough. Frankie

I go straight to the floral marquee, ignoring everything on the way. That way you can walk around the marquee and chat to the nursery people about the plants in a civilised manner. Many nurseries will put plants to one side for you but you can also take advantage of the free plant creche.

The next thing I do is look at the show gardens, again before it gets too busy. The gardens are in one area and unlike other shows are a range of sizes. It has a more laid back feel to it and generally doesn't get ridiculously busy, although it is a few years since I have been on a Saturday.

After the showgardens I work my way through the nurseries which have stands outside of the floral marquee. There are two rows of stands for nurseries. They have a small marquee each for their staff and then the front area is divided with white picket fences. Each nursery has a small display garden and/or plants stacked up for sale. These do get very busy and you have to battle sometimes to get to the back where you pay. Helen

Anything else you think will help others

Take lots of cash. There is a cash-point but only one and a long queue. Take a list of 'target' plants and try to stick to it otherwise you can end up with a boot full of impulse buys. It is great for garden furniture as well as plants. Frankie

Don't forget to admire the view - the hills are gorgeous! Sharon

You can leave the show ground whenever you want and the staff on the gate will stamp your hand so you can return. Helen

There is a cash point at the showground. Have not used it but there is usually is a porter service. Absolute essentials for me are notebook and pen. Would also suggest that it is best to avoid to leave trips to the loo to the last moment :) Anna

I hope this has answered all of your questions, if not then do get in touch and we'll find the answer for you and make sure this post gets updated for everyone else to see.

Over the bank holiday I'll be emailing all of you who are listed as coming to the show with some maps which will help with finding your way around the show ground and to our social events.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Rubbish at garden design, weird pest eating your plants - help is at hand

If like me you are rubbish at garden design, as you can tell from my pathetic attempts above (I can't even work out how to draw on the photo properly) then help is at hand.

The nice people at the Three Counties Showground have persuaded some other nice people to provide a free advice clinic on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of the show. There will be plantsmen, professional landscapers and designers on hand to solve all your problems - well maybe not all your problems but some of them.

Amongst the other professional advisers will be the lovely Cleve West (pictured left) on Friday and Saturday and Reg Moule, who you will know if you live in Worcestershire, will also be providing advice on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

To book your FREE 30 min slot and to do away with all those sleepless nights click here and then click on the email link. You can book a slot on any of the three days from 10:30 to 3:30.

Looking forward to hearing how you get on.

Picture of Cleve West courtesy and copyright of James Alexander-Sinclair.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Updated List of Who's Coming...

Here's the latest list of who's coming so you can check the information I currently have about your attendance and do let me know of anything I've got wrong. See yesterday's post for our events programme.

It's particularly important if those of you I've listed as provisional attendees for something will get in touch ASAP via malvernmeet at gmail dot com and let me know whether or not you are coming. This is because I need to give the Malvern show people an updated list so they can make sure they've issued everyone with their pass to our Bloggers' Meet area. Helen also needs to confirm final numbers to the pub and Ask meal social events and to make sure she can fit you all into her house of Friday evening.

I'll put a link to this post in the sidebar under Malvern Links so you can find it again more easily. This is the version I'll keep updated. If you don't know any of your fellow attendees already, you'll find a link to their blog in the sidebar under the Attendees List. I've also listed those people attending as a friend or family member alongside each blogger as appropriate.

If you want to get a better idea of the people attending the same time as you, then the Doodle link on this post will help you to do that.
  • Ann (Wild Somerset Child) - Friday show
  • Anna (Greentapestry) Friday show and social + Himself - Friday show and possibly social
  • Anne Wareham (ThinkinGardens) + Charles Hawes - Thursday show and social
  • Camilla (Country Lite) - Friday show
  • Carrie (Grow Our Own) and Andy - Friday show, Friday and Saturday socials, plus possibly Johnstone Tours
  • Claire (Plant Passion) - Friday show and social
  • Dawn (Little Green Fingers) - Saturday show and social
  • Denise (Easy Gardener) and The Digger - Friday show and social
  • Elizabeth (Welsh Hills Again) - Thursday social + Friday show and social
  • Ewa (Ewa in the Garden) - Thursday, Friday and Saturday socials, Friday show and Johnstone Tours
  • Frances (Faire Garden) - Thursday, Friday and Saturday socials, Friday show and Johnstone Tours
  • Frankie (Veg Plot) and Mel - Saturday show
  • Gail (Clay and Limestone) - Thursday, Friday and Saturday socials, Friday show and Johnstone Tours
  • Helen (Patient Gardener) - Thursday & Friday show, all social events and Johnstone Tours leader on Saturday
  • James (Student Garden Designer) - Saturday show
  • Jenny (Ethereal Monads) - Friday show
  • Karen (Artist's Garden) + Dobby - Thursday and Friday socials and Friday show
  • Lia (Midnight Brambling) - Friday show and social
  • Maggie (@pilstone) - Thursday show
  • Mark (Otter Farm) - Friday show and social, plus possibly Thursday and Saturday (both show and socials)
  • Michelle C (Veg Plotting) - all shows and socials, Thursday to Saturday
  • Michelle W (My Horticultural Ramblings) - all socials, Friday and Saturday shows, plus possibly Thursday and Sunday shows
  • Nick (HabitatAid) - Friday show
  • Rob (Mutterings in the Shrubbery) + Liam - Saturday show and social
  • Ryan (Ryan's Garden) - Friday show and possibly Friday social
  • Sally (The Constant Gardener) - Friday show and social
  • Sarah (Frugeligus) - Friday social, Saturday show and possibly Saturday social
  • Sharon (The Inelegant Gardener) - Friday and Saturday socials and one of the show days + dad - one of the show days
  • Simon (Serendipity) + wife - Friday show and social
  • Tim (Timmatchamgardendesign) - Thursday show
  • Victoria (Victoria's Backyard) - Friday and Saturday socials, Saturday show
  • Vicky (Love Thy Space) + Sean - Saturday show and social
  • Yolanda (Bliss) - Thursday, Friday and Saturday socials, Thursday and Friday show and Johnstone Tours
  • Zoe (Garden Hopping) - Thursday and Friday socials, plus Friday show

The following people initially said they were interested in coming, but have yet to confirm whether and when they actually are:

  • Sue - Sue's Bluebell Cottage and Lodge Lane Nursery blog (probably Thursday show and possibly pub)
  • Dave - Grow Your Own (any show day)

Phew - I think that's it for today!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Vague Plan Gets Firmed Up...

Now that nearly everyone has firmed up their commitments to when they're coming to the show, Helen and I have reviewed the previously vague plan and revised it accordingly. Here's the latest - this post will be updated in the event of any changes. Tomorrow, I'll provide a list of who's coming and when, so do also look out for that and check I've got your attendance details listed correctly...

Friday's social attendees please note: we've changed the arrangements slightly because you've made this such a popular event, having a takeaway isn't really viable. Instead we're having a DIY buffet and we're asking you to bring what you'd like to drink plus a ready-to-eat savoury contribution to the feast. Helen will be providing garlic bread, puds (be prepared for a vat of lemon mousse courtesy of Helen's mum)... and... [birthday] cake. There's plenty of supermarkets in Malvern (Helen will be providing details shortly), OR there'll be local food stalls in the show with plenty of tempting wares to provide you with your contribution.

I'll put a link to this post in the sidebar under Malvern Links so you can find it again more easily. NB the showground is open 9am-6pm. I suggest we meet up at 10am on each day. This will allow you time to get your bearings and come and find us. I'll have free wi-fi passes to hand out for anyone wanting to do a short blog directly from the show, plus a little something else for you all - more on that in a later post :) A few days before the show I'll email you all with a map of the showground, so you can see where we'll be.

Helen and I want us to have a good blend of meeting up and exploring the show each day as there's so much to see. Our meet area will always be there for you to come and go from as you please. Helen and/or I are planning to be there at 12.30 and 3pm each day (as well as 10am), so there will be a few times during the day when someone is guaranteed to be there.

Also Note - The Malvern Show people are inviting us to enter a Bloggers' Photography competition - details to follow in a later post...

A post on Hints and Tips for getting the best out of the show is planned for this Friday.

Meetup Programme

Thursday 6th May

  • Daytime - at the show, where else? :) Highlights include the judges doing their stuff re the awarding of medals, there'll be the bestest selection of plants and the Chris Beardshaw Mentorship will be awarded to one lucky designer.
  • Evening - pub meal at The Malvern Hills Hotel @ 7.30 for 8pm. The car park opposite the hotel is for British Camp, so there's an opportunity for a walk on the hills beforehand if you want to. Helen has booked a table in the restaurant area for the people I have tomorrow's list.

Friday 7th May

  • Daytime - at the show. The live debut of Three Men Went to Mow beckons and this is the day of the Royal Visit. For those of you wanting to see the royal visage, have a word with Claire at the Anniversary Show Garden: she's bound to know the time she's not allowed to wander away!
  • Evening - informal gathering at Helen's house @ 7pm. Details of how to get to Helen's house and parking will be given out at the show. See earlier for details of the buffet arrangements. If you can squeeze in a cushion into your luggage/car (allowing for the fact you'll be stuffing it with plants later) that'll be most helpful as it's looking like seating will be at a premium.

Saturday 8th May

  • Daytime - at the show - similar programme to yesterday sans the Royal Visit OR...
  • Johnstone Tours - for those people staying at Malvern for a few days, Helen has devised a fantastic day tour of the local area to include a Harry Potter film location, a typical market town, black & white architecture, plus visits to Hampton Court and Stockton Bury gardens. Helen already has a car full (Ewa, Frances, Gail and Yolanda), so we need to see if there are any further takers for this and what extra transportation is available. Let me know if you're interested ASAP. Start time and venue to be decided once we know who's likely to be coming. Details will be added to this post later.
  • Evening - Helen's booked a table for 20 at Ask @ 8pm. The usual pizza and pasta fare, but pretty good nevertheless. We currently have four places spare, so if your name's not on tomorrow's list and you'd like to join us, do let me know. First come, first served.
Sunday 9th May

  • This isn't an official bloggers' meet up day and I believe only Michelle W is planning to be there today as part of her attendance marathon. Helen might be going with her mum, but probably really deserves to have a flop day! NB the plant sell off starts at 4pm. You can usually reserve plants at some of the exhibitors' stands and show gardens from around 2pm onwards and collect your booty when the sell off commences (note to self: put this in the hints and tips too...)
Any questions? Then do get in touch...

Monday, 26 April 2010

Site and specifications…

The observant of you would have already seen little snippets of information on our garden from as far back as February. This is extremely unusual for a show garden (even for the likes of Chelsea) which spring up and disappear in the period of a month, or less.

So, what on earth was Jim and his crew doing digging up the showground in the still snowy depths of winter?

This garden is a whopper – around 650 or so square meters. To put it into context, around double even the largest of plots at Chelsea. Large areas of the scheme were to be dedicated to turf, but even still, the footprint is immense.

Construction is always a bit of a bone of contention for show garden exhibitors. There is definitely something to be said for ‘temporary structures’ and frugal construction methods, but there is a fine line between building something economical and using a material to the best of it’s advantages and simply ‘mocking up’ too much and hoping it lasts even the five or so days of a show.

But this garden was to be a little different. This garden was to be built for public access and to survive not only the Malvern Spring Gardening Show but also the Three Counties Show and possible visits in between.

This garden will be alive and kicking from May until the end of June.

This is positively light years in the world of show gardens, and the construction has to be robust enough to cope with its long life, so Jim and his team began the initial construction in February, working odd hours around the wintry weather to get the garden on its way.

Back in the warmth of the offices, we were also looking at materials, albeit on screens and in catalogues. I cannot stress enough how important it is to request samples of materials before you specify them – something that looks lush on the pages could be rank in real life, and so a few little bits of paving were posted to us for approval.

The selection was made and the order placed.

Plants, done. Materials, done. Just got to build the thing now.

If only it was this simple…

Thanks for your latest Claire - not long until we see this for real folks!

Sunday, 25 April 2010


Show gardens are hugely dependant on plants – this goes without saying really. Early shows (such as Malvern) are linked closely with what good old Mother Nature is doing in the first quarter of the year and plants you thought would be fine could easily be over in a warm spring or nowhere near in a cold one.

Snow? Then you really have to worry.

Longer dormancy periods, frost damage, even death. Spring show garden plants are not pals with old Jack Frost and his mate Frosty the Snowman, so you can imagine our despair as we gazed out of our windows onto blanket upon blanket of clean and crisp snow.

But there was still time to go. The snow would clear (eventually) and we would be able to assess some of the damage.

I tend to shut myself into a semi state of dormancy over the winter, and I could see no real reason why any of our selected plants would ever want to wake up at all, let alone for the beginning of May.

Would we have any plants at all?

This is the second of Claire's latest about the development of the Anniversary Show Garden. Tune in tomorrow for part 3...

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Like kids in a sweet shop…

Claire has sent in 3 quick updates to her Anniversary Show Garden blogging. Here's the first and the rest will follow over the next couple of days...

Starting a planting plan is like collecting together a really nice set of friends for a lengthy chat or maybe even a dinner party. WE have our favourite people, but there are other things that need consideration. Who will sit best next door to another? How can we get interesting conversations going? A large character may not be best next to a delicate soul, but would this combination be an unusual one which could work?

And so it goes on.

But what makes it even harder, is that Alex has his preferred plant friends, as does Jim and as do I. Our palettes say as much about where we work and how we work as our individual styles. Yet again, we were faced with the design team challenge – could we combine all of our loves (and indeed, dislikes) into one cohesive planting list?

I made a list and trundled up to see Alex. He had also made a list. Some mutual friends were kept immediately, others were sent packing with their tails between their legs. An hour of ticks and strikes and the list was a little shorter, but nowhere near the neat and tidy planting scheme our modern and conceptual design demanded.

A telephone conference to Jim and more were added and discarded. A pattern was emerging and after another ruthless cull, we were all happy with the way the scheme was progressing.

But it is all well and good having a wish list – it is a completely different matter which will be wanting to do their thang like well behaved school children at the time of the show.

And with a cold winter on the cards, how would our selection fare?

Friday, 23 April 2010

Malvern Memories: Impala Impersonations

On Monday when I introduced the Chris Beardshaw Mentorship, I mentioned that the show organisers always have some events which tie-in with the theme chosen by Chris. Last year it was dance and TCAS linked up with the students of a local college, who designed outfits inspired by the show gardens. This in turn led to all kinds of shenanigans. Arabella Sock showed us some of these last Thursday, now she turns her attention to what went on in the Design for Living Theatre...

Previously, on the bloggywog, the Sock has mentioned the Malvern fashion show hosted by James and the gorgeous Sabrina Duncan International. No doubt bored and fidgety after spending the morning trying to interject some life into the worthy but long-winded presentations by darling poppet Chris Beardshaw, James came into his own with the garden inspired fashion show. Just one problem... the models and their outfits were stealing the show! (clic the pics for the bigger picture)

Not to be outdone and perhaps a little jealous of the attention given to the young dancer James suddenly leapt into the air and grand jeté'd across the stage landing and twisting around to take a bow with the grace of an impassioned impala!

Unfortunately the Sock was so gob-smacked by these astonishing acrobatics that she missed the prized mid-air photo but managed to capture the bow. No-one was doubting who the star performer was now and James certainly looked pleased with himself!!

Content and pictures courtesy and copyright of Arabella Sock.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Show Garden Unseen

Gardens are designed for the needs of the client at all times of the day. It's the same with show gardens, even though the client may be an imaginary one and they're only usually on view during daylight hours. Here Claire reveals some of the 'out of hours' aspects to her show garden last year...

As a follow up to my recent post on the wonders of good solar powered lighting, I thought I'd better stump up with the proof. So, here are a series of images taken from the beautifully illuminated 'dancing with the trees' garden, at Malvern earlier this week...

and yes - these were all taken from the garden, using only the solar lighting...

Anyone who knows Claire is aware of her commitment to eco-friendly design. This is what she had to say in the run up to last year's Malvern Spring Show about solar powered lighting and the choice she made for her show garden.

And her garden didn't have any sponsorship either, so here's a glimpse of the ingenuity she employed in getting her design from paper to planted...

Another [secret] feature Claire installed resulted in this. Do you think it lived up to her garden's name: Dances with the Trees?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Design – the puberty years …

After yesterday's retrospective, here's Claire's latest guest post on the Anniversary Show Garden...

Contrary to popular belief, design can work just fine at a distance. The wonders of modern technology have made communication so quick and easy that there is no need for regular face to face meetings – small comments can be copied to all at the push of a button and design revisions can be whizzed all over the world via the wonderful world wide web.

Our first thoughts had been sent from Sussex. And so we sat and waited.

Far, far away, designs and concepts were printed out and poured over by both clients and the third member of the design team, Jim Steed.

Comments were made, further scribbles and design progressions were sent flying back, and we really were on our way.

But design is a funny old mistress. An idea can progress in such a way that a mere toddler of a concept can suddenly burst into a stroppy teenager and give you such a hard time that you have to behave strictly to get it back in line. Design can (and should) be mischievous but you cannot allow it to be given an ASBO.

And with three major design inputs, we had to keep tight hold of the reins, lest the space go galloping away into the distance with the fuel of too many ideas.

Selection was key, and after a few hard examinations of design elements and plan outlines, some was scrapped and some was kept. Consultations followed with all parties and the final, streamlined plan crept into being.

Bones done, now for the fleshing out. A plant discussion was on the horizon...

Thanks Claire - and for those of you dying to have a sneak preview of progress with pictures, here's the latest over at her blog. There's more to come from Claire tomorrow as she gives us some insights into aspects of the Unseen Show Garden...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Malvern Memories: Magnificent Malvern

The first of our views of one of last year's Chris Beardshaw Mentorship show gardens, courtesy of Claire Potter...

I have come to believe that building a showgarden is very much like riding an extremely long rollercoaster. There are ups, there are downs, there are twists and turns, and somewhere along the line you will scream, cry and probably be sick.

And with this in mind, we set off a couple of weeks ago to build the latest in our offerings - 'dancing with the trees' at the Malvern Spring Show.

I have to admit, the staff at the Three Counties Showground are wonderful, so the rollercoaster runs much smoother than at other venues, but the threat of precipitation and a tight build schedule always tingles the nerves a little...

My first few days were spent working alone, excavating what seemed to be a roman path left over from previous gardens, and sleeping in a tent which I had somehow pitched on a scale replica of the Malvern hills themselves. Nice.

But then, on day four of the build, our proper accommodation arrived... our green bean trailer...

The prototype version of what we are now putting into production rolled up from Brighton on the back of Alberta, our Morris Minor, all shiny and new and itching to be used. The Green Bean is a little teardrop trailer that we have designed and built which we believe is possibly the most eco friendly mini caravan in the UK and was shown very briefly on Gardeners' World... but more of him in another post...

With an increased workforce, we rattled through the rest of the build, hampered only by the occasional rain, gale force winds and frequent biscuit breaks with our friends and neighbours (which made up most of our diet for two weeks...)

Judging day. Last minute touches to the garden. Leave. Cannot bear to watch judges on the garden so wander off. Hear reports from spies that the judges did indeed 'dance with the trees' as we had intended...

The first day dawns of the show, and we dutifully man our gardens from 8.00, awaiting the RHS medals or the dreaded 'no award letter'... So, what did we get? Another silver, which was great, but again, room for improvement.

So, up and down and up and down, the show rollercoaster, the Chris Beardshaw Scholarship... after hearing a report from Chris about how each of the potential scholars were received by the judges, 5 were invited to speak. I was lucky enough to take the stage, and spoke about my sustainable commitments as a designer. Others spoke about their own desires and aspirations as designers, then the board retired to deliberate...

An hour later, we were all reassembled, and even though I was disappointed not to be chosen, I was over the moon when my friend and show garden neighbour Paul Hervey-Brookes was awarded the scholarship. He is a wonderful and modest designer with a wealth of knowledge, and I have no doubts that he will do fabulously in his next year and beyond. Follow him via his very new blog here. Welcome to the blogging fray Paul...

The sun shone on us all for the vast majority of the show, which included a fantastical fashion show, cookery demonstrations and general frivolity, courtesy of the ever eloquent and engaging James Alexander-Sinclair, who I adore to bits.

So - hello to all of those who visited us, hello to those who didn't make it, and hello to all those wonderful people who made the garden happen in the first place. And congratulations to all of the scholars, who did themselves proud and were each awarded a medal. Another special well done goes to Deb, who dressed Lola to perfection, and was awarded a Silver medal and Best Border status. Well done and well deserved.

I will be doing a series of posts in the next week or so, highlighting specific bits and bobs in the garden and the show, so in the words of the eco Arnie himself, 'I'll be back'...

Monday, 19 April 2010

The Chris Beardshaw Mentorship

One of the major highlights of the show garden side of things since 2007 has been the Chris Beardshaw Mentorshing Scholarship. At the moment 7 finalists are beavering away building their show garden entries ready for the judging for this years scholarship which will take place on Thursday 6th May. The prize at stake? A year's mentorship with Chris and other garden industry/design professionals with the funding to build other show gardens along the way. A fantastic opportunity. Last year's winner, Paul Hervey-Brookes is currently busy finalising the arrangements for his garden at this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Chris always chooses a theme for entrants as part of the design brief. Last year it was Dance: this year it's The Circus. You can preview the designs here. The organisers of Malvern Spring Show always align some of the events with the theme. This year there'll be trapeze artists performing above the Mentorship gardens and Mr Alexander's Travelling Show will be nearby. Our VIP area will be very close to the action.

Last year our guest blogger Claire was one of the finalists, but was pipped to the post by Paul. I'll be featuring her blog entries about her experiences over the next couple of days so you'll get more of an idea of what's involved. She might not be at Chelsea this year, but being part of the Malvern team building the biggest show garden ever seen in the UK, shows she's still a winner :)

Photograph of Chris Beardshaw courtesy and copyright of James Alexander-Sinclair.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Meet the Gang...

It's about time we peeped behind the curtains to see who's involved in making Malvern Spring Show go with a swing. Some of the following are already familiar faces; others not yet, but all will be working hard to ensure we have a tippity top time over the weekend.

Laydeeeeez and Gentlemen I give you:

Sharon Gilbert (Press and PR Manager) and Nina Acton (Shows Development Officer) two of the small but perfectly formed team at the Three Counties Agricultural Society (TCAS) who plan and put together the show. Unfortunately I can't bring you Vicki Lanni (Marketing Manager), the other member of the team whom Helen and have been dealing with, but I'm sure that'll be rectified during the weekend. These are the people who've really got behind what Meet @ Malvern is about and are making us feel most welcome.

Local radio's Katie Johnson and Reg Moule will be attempting to keep order in the Design for Living Theatre - probably with varying degrees of success. They will be making the introductions and ensuring maximum audience participation.

Thwarting their plans and generating as much fun and mayhem as possible are these three 'characters'. Joe Swift and James Alexander-Sinclair are old hands at the show: Cleve West is making his debut and together they form Three Men Went to Mow.

And last but not least: Claire Potter and Deb Bird - our show garden bloggers extraordinaire :)

However, this is just a tiny portion of who'll be there ensuring we all have an enjoyable time. We've already heard from Pat Austin and Sarah Walker for instance. We'll all be able to contribute pictures of some of the hundreds of people who make Malvern Spring Show what it is today: such as the nurserymen, exhibitors, artisans, caterers, other visitors and even ourselves!

Other programme highlights to follow :)

Pictures courtesy and copyright of James Alexander-Sinclair

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Malvern Memories: Here Come the Girls!

Normally when the Sock visits a Garden Show there will inevitably be some gardens that she dislikes - not so at Malvern. Whilst it is quite possible that the Sock didn't actually see all of them she was pretty impressed with those she did, in particular those competing for the Chris Beardshaw mentoring scholarship. This year it was themed around 'Dance' and the gardens also inspired students from the Worcester School of Art and Design to produce some beautiful garments and body art modelled both in the gardens and on a fashion parade hosted by James Alexander-Sinclair. This was heaven for the Sock combining aspects of her favourite TV programmes Project Runway (fashion design), America's Next Top Model (fashion and photography with a little too much girlie screeching) with garden design. More on that in a later blog but for now we have Chris Beardshaw with assorted models (clic on the pic for the bigger picture)

and two lovely gardens from 'Ladies who blog', first Claire Potter's 'Dancing with Trees' entered for the Chris Beardshaw scholarship.

It was quite impossible to capture in a photograph the movement and serenity of this garden or the fantastic way, the model wearing the garment inspired by this garden, both integrated into it and enhanced it.

Then Deborah Bird's 'Hort Couture' one of the 'Borders without Gardens' a beautiful, delicate flowing gown of flowers (I've blurred the background to show the dress off to better effect).

Text and pictures courtesy and copyright of Arabella Sock.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Meanwhile over on Twitter...

...Malvern stalwart @DebBird [and creator of the lovely Lola who graces the top of this blog - Ed] contemplates the start of this year's show garden build, egged on by Meet @ Malvern organisers @patientgarden and @malvernmeet, with occasional forays into the progress being made by @clairepotter and discovering new skills such as how to load pictures successfully into Twitpic (see photo below).

Now read on...

12th April - day 1 of official build, but the day before Deb is due to start:

@DebBird: Day One of Malvern build tomorrow, & I have to be in Stoke for the day-job...marvellous timing! Exciting to be able to get going though :)

@Malvernmeet: @DebBird Yay - go Deb! Good luck and I'm hoping to sneak up to Malvern to have a look if I ever get to grips with my allotment.

13th April - day 1 of Deb's build:

@DebBird: Ground broken at Malvern. VERY exciting!! :)

@Malvernmeet: @DebBird ooh ooh ooh - we want pictures! we want to see!

@DebBird: @Malvernmeet ha! at moment it's an 8x5m square of bare earth. I'll try & work out how to TwitPic. Greenhouse base going in on Thursday :)

@Malvernmeet: @DebBird don't worry, I took a pic of Claire's back in Feb 2 days after they started. It's so exciting to know it's all happening at last.

@DebBird: @Malvernmeet Claire's is starting to look REALLY good... :)

@DebBird: Malvern Build: Day One - contain your excitement now...

@patientgarden: @DebBird I say a square of earth - so much potential

@Malvernmeet: @DebBird oooooooooh! Why Ms Bird you are spoiling us :) Must go and look up where you are on the map Nina [Show Development Officer - Ed] sent me today

@DebBird: @patientgarden @Malvernmeet I did warn you... ;) Will start to look like 'something' by Thursday night, I promise!

@Malvernmeet: @DebBird are we meant to contain our excitement in those railway sleepers you've so thoughtfully provided for us?

@DebBird: @Malvernmeet I'm hoping the sleepers will stop the dogwood stems from blowing toward Pershore...time will tell!

Well folks ... will Deb's dogwood stems blow away towards Pershore? Will the base be ready for when the greenhouse arrives? Will we ever find out what the railway sleepers really are for? Tune in on Twitter to find out!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Concepts and Scribbles…

The build phase for the show gardens officially started yesterday, so Claire Potter's latest installment about the Anniversary Show Garden is timely indeed...

The meeting went well. We had formulated a small brief, a large wish list, bantered about some ideas and eaten some very tasty sandwiches and mini cakes. Meetings are always better when taste buds are stimulated.

It was decided by the collective that Alex and I would begin the design process as we represented two thirds of the design team and both lived on the borders of East and West Sussex.

The drive back from that first meeting was fantastic – three hours of chatting and discussing the possibilities in more detail and by the time Alex and I reached the familiar sight of the South Downs, we were both confident that we knew where we were going.

But every designer is different. Even having similar thoughts might not translate into similar concepts, and our designs were always destined to be completely separate entities. How could we, and would we be able to combine both of our ideas into one design? And then what would happen when everyone else added their input?

Back at the studio I sat in front of my drawing board, fully equipped with a brain full of ideas, some pens, tracing paper and far too many biscuits. A few hours and a small pile of crumbs later, my blank sheets had been converted into a map like jumble, showing trains of thought, sketches, web links, key words and patterns. I was quite happy with the brain pouring, but how was Alex’s brain pouring going?

The next meeting was arranged and (quite nervously) I drove up country to Alex’s studio to discuss the ideas.

Tea was made and I seem to remember that biscuits and cupcakes made an appearance. We both sat down and spread our scribbles onto the table.

Similarities could be seen, sketches followed the same brain trail as the next and full of relief, we both realised that the joint design process might actually work quite well.

More scribbling, tea and discussions followed, and after a couple of hours I drove home to rejig the design, ready to combine my concept with Alex’s rejigged space in the wonder that is Computer Aided Design.

The bones were there, but what would the rest of the team think of our efforts?
The first concept design was sent to the whole design team, and Alex and I waited for the comments. Were we on the right track?

Marvellous stuff Claire, thank you. If you missed her first installment, then here it is...

Monday, 12 April 2010

Ticket Deal Update - Important!

Over the weekend I wrote to everyone eligible for our ticket deal* about the arrangements for obtaining your ticket. The process is now much simpler than originally planned and you need to call the ticket office and quote the special promotion code when making your booking. Details of the number to ring and the promotion code are in the email.

If you haven't received this, have a look in your Spam Inbox as it might have gone into there - I wrote to you using the Malvernmeet email address. If you still don't have it, then please contact me and I will resend it to you.

I've sent your names along to the booking office so they know who should be giving them a call. Note that the closing date for bookings is 20th April. You should be able to include booking tickets for friends and family or for any additional days you need at the full price if you haven't done this already.

I will be getting tickets on behalf of Ewa, Frances, Gail and Yolanda :)

* = except Frugilegus whom I can only contact via her blog and tweets - here's hoping my message gets through in time...

Update 11am 12/4: Yay! Frugilegus has been in touch and Malvern have confirmed they're ready to go with taking your bookings :)

Friday, 9 April 2010

Spring Cleaning?

And now for a brief word from Anna...

Don't worry - despite the title of this post you're in the right place! Will you be having a spring clean before you come to Malvern - rationalising your stash of seeds, pruning your surplus gardening books (if you can have a surplus) or possibly even have the odd plant to spare? If you are and are prepared to donate these to a good cause, we thought it would be fun to raise some additional funds for the National Gardens Scheme, which is the charity that the Malvern Show is donating to this year.

Originally the plan was to a have a grand bring and buy at Malvern but this idea was shelved for various reasons. The idea of a virtual bring and buy was floated about but again it was difficult working out the logistics as folk will be at the show at different times and different days.

So we went back to the drawing board and wondered how about selling your surplus goods on eBay, at a car boot sale, at your garden club plant sale or through whichever method suits you. Once you have disposed of your goodies donations can be made by clicking on the JustGiving button which you can see on the right hand side of the blog.

If you do sell on eBay why not inform fellow Malvern bound bloggers by sending an email to Meet@Malvern letting us know when your listing will be up? Details can then be included on the blog (and tweeted) so that we can bid too.

Come on folk dig deep and let's see what we can do!

NB Any funds raised in this way and notified via the JustGiving button on this page will also be eligible for the Yellow Book/gardenersclick T-shirt draw announced previously - Ed

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Celebrity gardener threatens to eat chick unless audience buys new book shocker!*

"Go on... what's 15 quid compared to the priceless life of a small chick?"*

*No - not really. Joe was overcoming his chicken phobia. I can report that he is most definitely a Very Nice Man.

[It looks like chickens will also feature in this year's show. And Joe of course. Though not necessarily together this time - Ed.]

Text and pictures courtesy and copyright of The Inelegant Gardener.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Remembered Hills

My Malvern goes back to well before the Spring Show was a twinkle in The Three Counties Agricultural Society's eye...

I love Malvern. It's a place of good times and memories as it was our family's premier choice for a day out when I was little. It was like magic - the number 144 Midland Red bus from the end of our road would whisk us away from the dingy outskirts of Birmingham and we'd arrive in a sparkling new world full of hills and fresh air. We'd climb up Worcestershire Beacon, unpack our picnic and drink in the view as well as a welcome cuppa brewed up by dad on a tiny camping gas stove. The rest of the world was spread out below us like a map and it was easy to spot the Three Counties Showground from our perch atop the hill.

For me the Malvern Hills represented freedom. My mum's disabled and there were few places safe enough for her to have a good walk on a day out. The path to the top of Worcestershire Beacon was one of those and for once I'd be allowed to run and wander pretty much as I pleased, rather than having to keep hemmed in to my mum's side and pace.

I also had other freedoms there: in the summer holidays before starting secondary school my parents sent me off on a children's holiday for a month. I'm an only child and there were very few children where I lived, so a whole month's rough and tumble with my peers was absolute heaven.

We were based at the Abbey College for the duration. We walked the entire length of the hills, visited Elgar's grave, walked to Eastnor Castle, rolled down British Camp, played wide games and hide and seek in the bracken and discovered a disused bottling plant in Malvern Wells. It must have only just closed down and had been using the famous Malvern Water to create all kinds of concoctions bearing brightly coloured labels which we collected: American Cream Soda, Sarsaparilla, Sparkling Lemonade and their version of Cola amongst dozens of others I can't quite recall. A couple of times we walked to the top of Worcestershire Beacon at night and sang songs round a camp fire whilst roasting potatoes in its embers. It was a truly magical time which I still treasure.

I have one particularly distinct memory from then. We'd just climbed the hills on a very hot day and had stopped to catch our breath. I looked down to the plains below and asked what the clearly visible large site was directly in front of us. The Three Counties Showground was the reply and I can remember thinking Well, that's one place I'll never go to then. It must have been its perceived remoteness to a city dwelling child which made it seem such an impossible place to visit.

It just goes to show how wrong you can be :)

Photo courtesy and copyright of James Alexander Sinclair.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

A Curiosity for you to check-out

As I have mentioned in a previous post Malvern has quite a few historical connections but it also has another claim to fame - well maybe not so much a claim to fame but it is in the Guinness Book of Records. The photo above gives a clue to its claim to fame - can you guess?

No its nothing to do with the double yellow lines though they do seem to dominate the photo above.

Its the Theatre of Small Convenience The theatre was created in an old public convenience in 1999 and regularly puts on various performances. Do look at the link to see some photos of the interior. In 2002 it won its place in the Guinness Book of Records - see below

I'm not sure if they will be having any performances on while the Spring Show is on but its well worth checking out just as an oddity - you may even pass it on your way from the car park to ASK is you are joining us for the meal on Saturday night.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

This is my Malvern Post...

...and now for a simulcast(ish) with the legendary Award Winning Blogger Mr James Alexander Sinclair...

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

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 been boiling hot and absolutely soaking wet.

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