Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Malvern - a Shopper's Paradise

Buying hostas - the green of Spring - from a knowledgeable 
specialist in the Floral Marquee
PLANTS, PLANTS, PLANTS in marquee or pavilions; and for those who desire more than plants, an elegant shopping parade along which to linger, a feel for country living, or a browse around an Arts Market and Artisan Food stalls. There is so much to entice and beguile us all come May, it’s more a question of what to do first! And Malvern has that undeniable quality of location; you cannot miss the feel of Spring, or that sense of exuberance on the Showground, with the Hills so close, watchful and protecting.

There's plenty of choice in the Floral Marquee
from foxgloves to fritillarias, poppies to pelargoniums - and more
Garden and plant lovers more often than not head straight for the Floral Marquee or the Plant Pavilions. The former under cover – and the latter a row of tented nurseries with outdoor plantings in which you can see many of the plants growing in realistic situations. Intrepid plant hunters will know the ropes, but newcomers to gardening and first-timers at the Show may feel a little bewildered. So first, a few tips: wear comfortable clothing and sensible shoes. Cash in hand will speed up your plant purchases and there’s a plant crèche and porter service conveniently placed on Row 3 so you can snap up those ‘must-haves’, deposit them into safe keeping, and enjoy the rest of the day unburdened. (Don’t forget to collect them!) Alternatively, stalls abound selling trolleys or folding barrows, so there isn’t a problem if you get carried away!

Sampling the Plant Pavilions
(plant creche is in the 

black building middle left)
It would be invidious - and unfair - to single out specific nurseries or plant exhibitors for there are so many, and we all have our favourites,  'must haves' and an understandable penchant for different plants. But a suggestion to make the most of having so many marketing ‘live’ at a single location (as opposed to looking at their websites) is to take a look around your garden – now, today, and onwards until the Show – and list what you might want to look for: a shrub or climber to fill that gap where the neighbour has positioned an unsightly compost heap (important as they are); or perhaps grasses for a new-style border, or alpines for a trough. I’ll be looking for foxgloves (a love of mine since childhood, and this year’s Show emblem).

You can't mistake the Floral Marquee, but signposts around
the Showground will direct you
A few facts: there are around 30 Plant Pavilions and these are all located in Row 2, opposite the range of covered halls: Avon Hall packed with Floral Art, Gardener’s Shopping Pavilion with the Allotment Theatre and its ‘Dig for Prosperity’ theme, and the Wye Hall filled with food and wine stalls and the Three Counties Guild of Craftsmen - all with wares to sell. As for the Floral Marquee, it covers more than 7,000 square metres and accommodates 100 of the best nurseries from the UK and abroad. Exhibitors' displays are judged by some of the top judges from the Royal Horticultural Society, with many of the displays winning coveted RHS Gold Medals. A truly impressive sight and definitely not to be missed, if you are addicted to plants.

Enjoy the shopping experience along the 'Elgar Parade'
Shopping Paradise exists in other parts of the Showground, so leave yourself time to explore. The prestigious ‘Elgar Parade’ is this year re-sited onto Row 5 at the very heart of the Show with easy access from all parts of the Showground. It has new tentage, floral displays and incorporates entrance to the RHS/TCAS Members Pavilion. Shopping par-excellence. And the significance of Elgar? Classical music-lovers will be aware that Elgar loved the area all around the Malvern Hills, and explored the countryside on his bicycle in the early 1900s. He wrote far more than the music for ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. It is perhaps more fitting that his name is celebrated here, for he commented, "This is what I hear all day – the trees are singing my music – or have I sung theirs?" He is buried in a local Churchyard, within sight of the fields and wooded hills where he once cycled.

Self-explanatory and well worth it
Across from the Elgar Parade, at its intersection with Avenue F, is the chic and fashionable ‘Country Living Pavilion’ with numerous boutique-style stands. Associated with stylish ‘Country Living’ magazine, this area is for anyone whose heart is in the country; it offers a "unique lifestyle package, mixing homes and decorating with food and farming; crafts and gardening with fashion, health and beauty". A wonderful eclectic mix, whether you are seeking a new outfit, fabrics for your home, or art and nostalgic memorabilia.

Allow yourself plenty of browsing time inside 'RHS Life'
Stroll across to ‘RHS Life’ in the Show Garden area, for more shopping delights. As well as offering expert gardening advice, you will find details on RHS membership and quality gardening books to buy. Plus a range of specially designed and commissioned gifts inspired by the subject of gardens: from fine china to tea-towels and floral paper napkins – I am addicted to buying these and use them in my hand-made Malvern Journals. An Arts Market is also to be found in the Show Garden area, and Artisan Food Stalls by the striking Three Counties Centre. If you still have time, the rest of the Showground is host to numerous other exhibitors selling all manner or garden related products – no-one is likely to leave empty-handed! Have you booked your tickets yet?

AND PLEASE ‘KEEP VISITING’: I’ll be blogging again in two weeks time, and weekly after that. But meanwhile, I recommend regular clicks onto the Spring Gardening Show website for regular updates and more breaking news.

WHY NOT ALSO TAKE A LOOK AT THESE PAGES, TOO?  (Just click on the links)
Malvern Spring Gardening Show
Love our Shows, Like our Page - Facebook.com/threecounties
Malvern Autumn Show

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

On Show - On Stage ....

The Malvern Hills provide the perfect backdrop
to the Malvern Spring Gardening Show

Theatre is very much in evidence at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show. Look around you, and you will see how carefully and lovingly everything is staged. Nothing haphazard, nothing left to chance. From the backdrop of the stunning hills, to the immaculate presentation of nursery displays in the Floral Marquee to the innovative and inspiring Show Gardens. Even to the way tools and gardening equipment and sundries are displayed, everything is all so very carefully stage-managed. Breathtaking. 

If it weren't for all the visitors, you would think you were in an alpine rock garden
Regular visitors will know that expert advice is always available from stall holders, whether it is how to grow a specific plant to perfection, or how to nurture edible crops. For general advice, RHS staff on the Royal Horticultural Society stand are a mine of information on both mundane and esoteric topics; pick their brains; their help is invaluable, as I have discovered personally more than once. The enjoyment factor is much in evidence with knowledgeable experts to inform and entertain. Scheduled talks and question and answer sessions will feature throughout the fours days within TWO theatres – both with alluring ‘sets’ to beguile you - created by established garden designers. As I write, the designs are still under wraps but are sure to be as amazing as ever. 

Mark Walker (left) alongside his 'Somerset Pride' show garden, 
for which he received a 'Best Edible Garden' award in 2011 
- presented to him by Mike Warner, TCAS Chairman of the Board
and Elizabeth Banks, RHS President
A facelift is being given this year to the ‘Allotment Theatre’ in the Gardeners’ Shopping Pavilion  (on Row 2), with a theme of ‘Dig for Prosperity’ and a garden to match, designed by Mark Walker of Walker's Garden Retreats. Mark is no stranger to Malvern - his ‘Dig for Victory’ garden at the 2012 Autumn Show was a show-stopper, as was his 'Somerset Pride' (above) in 2011, for which he was awarded 'Best Edible Garden' and an RHS Silver-Gilt medal. Both gardens were overwhelmingly nostalgic, with such attention to detail, that I just wanted to stand and stare and drink it all in. 'Somerset Pride' depicted a rural farmyard setting with the use of authentic rustic materials - a trade-mark of Mark's garden designs. As a sneak preview for his 2013 theatre design, Mark says, “Grange Cottage is closely based on my mum’s childhood home in Oddingley, near Droitwich, where they grew veg, had chickens and worked the local land. We believe every garden has a story to tell, and its purpose for the allotment theatre is for talks on all things veggie, chickens and horticulture in general.”

Mark Diacono last Autumn, 
discussing culinary herbs 
with Kim Hurst of
The Cottage Herbery
Hosting all the entertainment in the ‘Allotment Theatre’ will be Reg Moule, gardening guru for BBC Hereford & Worcester. Reg comes from a family that has been involved in horticulture for several generations, and before this they were all farmers, back to the 1740s. So he knows his stuff. As does Mark Diacono who will be joining him at specified times every day. Mark D. says, “I am lucky enough to spend most of my time eating, growing, writing and talking about food. At my smallholding, Otter Farm in Devon, I grow unusual and forgotten food along with the best of the more familiar.” 

James Alexander-Sinclair (left, nearest camera) hosts
a question-and-answer session in 2012 in the 

'Plants & People Theatre'
As for the spectacular and tented ‘Plants & People Theatre', this is where you can listen to, and meet, more celebrities, each with a widespread knowledge on a number of subjects. The theatre seats fill fast, so check your show guide when you arrive for exact times, and grab a coveted front-row spot for some fantastic live entertainment. Your compères during the four days will be the elegant and amusing James Alexander-Sinclair, an established garden and landscape designer, writer, television presenter and speaker.

Katie Johnson in the 
P&P theatre
And when James is not on stage, sit back and enjoy the friendly interviews conducted by Katie Johnson, a farmer turned broadcaster and writer, and also a presenter at food, drink, and gardening events. 

Carol Klein, 
vivacious and ebullient
Specific and more general topics have yet to be announced, but you won’t want to miss either Chris Beardshaw on Thursday and Friday or Carol Klein on Friday and Saturday. Both are highly entertaining and of course, expert. Carol works as a television presenter and newspaper columnist and will be familiar to TV viewers of Gardeners’ World and Life in a Cottage Garden (her own).

Chris Beardshaw talking to a group of schoolchildren
Chris Beardshaw is also well-known to TV viewers, with a pedigree that includes BBC Two’s Hidden Gardens and The Flying Gardener, amongst many others. (Remember him leaping in and out of a helicopter?) He is also a regular voice on the weekly Radio 4 Gardeners' Question Time panel and will be joining the team at Scotland’s Beechgrove this Spring,  putting his unique horticultural mark on the garden. But Chris is also passionate about passing on his love of horticulture to youngsters, and at the Show on Thursday he will be involved in the theatre with a children’s presentation.

“All the World’s a Stage,” wrote Shakespeare in 'As You Like It' in 1599, “and all the men and women merely players”. Mere players? Everyone involved with the Malvern Spring Gardening Show is dedicated to staging an event ‘par excellence’. 

Don’t miss it. 

Why not book your tickets now?

AND PLEASE ‘KEEP VISITING’: I’ll be blogging again in two weeks time, but meanwhile, I recommend regular clicks onto the Spring Gardening Show website for regular updates and more breaking news.

WHY NOT ALSO TAKE A LOOK AT THESE PAGES, TOO?  (Just click on the links)

Malvern Spring Gardening Show
Love our Shows, Like our Page - Facebook.com/threecounties
Malvern Autumn Show