Friday, 24 May 2013

Royal Three Counties Show - first preview

Previewing the Royal Three Counties Show
(food, farming and countryside)
Welcome back to those of you who have been following my gardening posts, and ‘hello’ to those of you who are joining me for the first time. Ann’s Malvern Jotter (this Blog) now encompasses other activities on the Showground.

Much more to entertain visitors than just food and farming:
The Red Devils in tandem as they descend towards the main arena
I’ve been visiting the June show every year for as long as I have the gardening shows. Of course, it wasn’t the ‘Royal’ then, but plain ‘Three Counties Show’. In its new guise (and since the demise of the royal event at Stoneleigh), the Malvern ‘Royal’ is growing; so much so that it now utilises almost every square metre of the 98-acre showground. Bursting at the seams in fact with a profusion of fantastic activities to inform and entertain you. I will need all three days to see it all!

There will be six food
and cookery demos
every day
Food, Glorious Food: Billed as ‘the best of British food, farming and countryside’, I am concentrating in this preview today on the food aspect. Centrally placed within the Showground is the ‘Regional Food & Drinks Village’ in the Severn Hall. Included in this spacious permanent building, and in no particular order, will be artisan food stalls; the Three Counties cheese competition – open to producers in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire and neighbouring counties.

Feeling hungry? Stalls to buy local produce will tempt you ...
Meat lovers will enjoy the butchery demonstration from EBLEX plus the Three Counties Cider Show together with a People’s Choice competition; local cider makers selling their produce and giving tastings; education on cider and how to make it, plus cider making equipment; a new class for Hotels and Restaurants and a stand featuring the HEFF Diamond Food award winners 2013. Additionally, farmers’ market stalls will lead into Severn Hall from Avenue F to create the Food Market. (For the uninitiated, EBLEX: the organsiation for the beef and lamb industry; HEFF: Heart of England Fine Foods.)

Cookery Theatre hosts
Glyn & Katie Johnson
Returning to the Show will be the immensely popular 'Cookery Theatre' (also within the Severn Hall) featuring local chefs and products in an immensely packed programme of demonstrations. The theatre programme will be hosted by experienced broadcasters, Katie & Glyn Johnson of ‘Wot’s Cooking’.

The 2013 Cookery Theatre in the Severn Hall 
(image copyright Wot's Cooking)
Reading through the advance list of what is on offer in the Cookery Theatre is tantalizing. On Friday 14th: Robert Swift, a 5th generation baker, who has recently opened his own artisan bakery and baking school in Ludlow, producing some of the most delicious and inventive breads imaginable. Vegetarian Cooking ideas will be demonstrated by Lizzy Hughes who runs ‘Our Lizzy’ Cookery School in Malvern Link – discover how to prepare simple, tasty, nutritious food. Daren Bale of The Hop Pole in Bewdley, recently recognised for his commitment to cooking by Worcestershire and Warwickshire Life Magazines, will feature Cooking Local & Seasonal; Rayeesa Asghar Sandys runs Herefordshire’s first and only authentic Indian Cookery School from her home in Mordiford and is a regular at Herefordshire Farmers' Market.

Bread - a necessity of life
Saturday 15th: Daniel Jones – All About Chocolate – worked at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage but his real love is as Master Chocolatier and Owner of 'Daniel Jones - Artisan Chocolatier'. Felice Tocchini – Ready Steady Cook; Felice has appeared on numerous TV programmes including The One Show, Countryfile, and The Gadget show as well as in the media worldwide for his innovative creations. Robert Swift (Artisan Baker) also returns on Saturday.

Cider, fruit juice and
perry all on tap
Sunday 16th: Steve Brown – head tutor of the cookery school at Daylesford Farm; following years of cooking in Michelin-starred kitchens, Steve followed his passion for local, sustainable, organic food, allowing the ingredients to do the talking. Matt Slocombe – It Has To Be Local – serves the very best food and drink that Herefordshire has to offer at the traditional Crown Inn, Woolhope; he is a huge supporter of the region’s produce, especially the cider! Daniel Jones reprises ‘All About Chocolate’.

Starting young - chefs in the making
A Recommendation: With less than three weeks to go until the opening of the Royal Three Counties Show, may I suggest that you purchase tickets now, for advance purchases come for as little as £8.00 per ticket (based on advanced family ticket price) – tremendous value for a grand day out for families: food, shopping and entertainment – and not forgetting the farming side of things.

All the fun of the fair - and Adam Henson (second left -
presenter of BBC Countryfile) will be
at the Show on Saturday 15th June)
And if you love Malvern and their shows as much as I do, it’s worth considering purchasing Showground Membership for yourself or family, or as a gift for friends. For this, you obtain free admission to three Show days in total per year, VIP Parking, Members VIP Areas at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show, Royal Three Counties Show and Malvern Autumn Show. Most importantly save some money!

Up close and personal with the sheep
I’ll be back in two weeks with my second Show preview, and look forward to welcoming you again, Meanwhile, do also follow the posts of sheep-loving young farmer Jack, in Jack’s Blog. And for all aspects of the Show continually updated visit the Royal Three Counties Show website.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

In between Shows and an announcement

My tiny hand-made 'Malvern Jotter'
I was back at the Showground yesterday and it hardly seems possible that so short a time ago I was heavily into writing about gardening. All those beautiful gardens are no more, though I spotted the odd olive tree looking somewhat forlorn by the roadside. The positive news is that I will be back very shortly with news of the next major Show at the Three Counties Showground. Meanwhile, you might like this little sketchbook page which I created at the Spring Gardening Show in my tiny hand-made jotter.

watching the bees - and honey for sale
Visitors to the Spring Gardening Shows may not be fully aware of just how exciting is the  June show  (14th-16th) featuring 'food, farming and the countryside' - known previously as the Three Counties Show, but now with a royal seal of approval it has become the 'Royal Three Counties Show', and vastly augmented in its new status.

Delicious organic cheese - time for a tasting
Yesterday, I was asked to preview this Show as well as the gardening shows and whilst I am getting to grips with all the exciting things on offer, here is a tiny taster of what you may expect. There is so much to cover in the short time available - informative and above all full of family fun, and incredibly good value if you purchase family tickets in advance.

Top quality animals can be viewed at close quarters
From fabulously fresh regional food to dancing sheep; grand parade of livestock and lifestyle farming; equestrian events, country pursuits village, discovery zone and rural skills; shopping opportunities galore plus a full programme of entertainment, there is something for everyone, young and old alike.

Images from past June shows, before acquiring 'Royal' status
I'll be posting more news on Friday, once I have assimilated all that is on offer. Apart from my view of things, do read Jack's Blog. Jack is an enthusiastic young farmer who is definitely going places whilst writing regularly about his farming experiences. He owns his very own Suffolk sheep and hopes in the future to expand his flock and produce meat to sell and eat. Don't miss what he has to say. (And do make a diary date with me late Friday for the first proper preview of the 'Royal' - tickets available to visit the show by clicking the ticket on the right.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Signing Off .....

Final scrapbook collage of the Malvern Spring Gardening Show
The Final Day

Hills and crowds
And so to the final day and the last post at this Show. And what a Show it has been, struggling with rain and high winds, and yet visitors have not been deterred. But that’s Malvern with its own micro-climate; something to which I have grown accustomed over the years. And it’s still such a wonderful place to be. Little things have made such a difference to this year’s visit: hard-surfaced walkways between the Show Gardens and in the Floral Marquee; plenty of seats around the Showground; ample places from which to buy refreshments – and lots of new exhibitors, activities and events.

Watching the crowds
It can’t have been easy for exhibitors of plants. Indeed at the Press Briefing on the first morning of the Show, RHS Head of Judging, Bob Sweet commented on the bravery and commitment of nurserymen to exhibit at all, and that to have achieved what they have must have involved an enormous fuel bill. And despite conditions earlier in the year, there are more gold-medal gardens than ever before. I still have my favourite, regardless of medals!

Start of the Malvern Spring Sportive Cycling Challenge
And those of us up really early this morning were able to watch the start of the Malvern Spring Sportive Cycling Challenge, organised by Velo Events, which the Showground is hosting for the first time. Each of the three races of 50km, 100km and 160km take place on public roads, and the 160k event is truly challenging.

James Alexander-Sinclair in the Plants & People Theatre
I have yet to find time to attend one of the talks in the Plants & People Theatre and am determined to do so this afternoon, so this will be a shorter than usual post. I would have liked to have heard the talk on Edibles but will take pot luck today and know that as always, hosting by James Alexander-Sinclair will be informative and enjoyable.

'The Team' : Isobel (left), Sharon (centre), Ann (right)
It will be strange not to be totally consumed by the Spring Show. I shall miss the camaraderie of being one of an extremely busy team and of the support of both Communications Manager, Sharon Gilbert, and Isobel Coulter (Communications Officer) – we are a team, even though it may be my name that heads the Blog. And a huge ‘thankyou’ to all our blog visitors; statistics show that in just three months, we have had over 5,000 hits, which is so pleasing for a site that did not exist until this year.

Sunset over the Malverns
I will miss the spectacular hills but will be back blogging again prior to the Royal Three Counties Show, and then again in late June, starting previews of the Autumn Show – “a charming celebration of food, gardening and nostalgia”. Meanwhile, thanks for being with us, enjoy your gardening; and please keep visiting.

Shopping Spree & Wish List

Quality shopping in the Elgar Arcade
I have hardly had time for a spree, but from the streams of visitors leaving the Showground on their way back to the car park yesterday evening, laden with plants and equipment, they must have had a field day. But I did still manage my shopping ‘fix’ without which I would have felt cheated. Blogging away all day in the Press Room (or at least preparing posts) does not leave much time for spending money.

This year there were for me some delightful new surprises – and I have to say here that this is not a round-up of what is on offer at the Show (that came in my Shopper’s Paradise post of 19th March, which from the statistics seems to have been highly popular). No, what follows is what I sought, and what I happened upon.

A touch of nostalgia
In the re-vitalised Eco area near the Brown Gate was first-time exhibitor, Long Toms, who specialise in reclaimed vintage hand-made terracotta pots. I have a passion for old planters, but no way could we fit any into the car this time, so these are an item on my ‘wish’ list, which grows gradually month-by-month.

Yet more nostalgia
Just across the way in the marquee was one of my favourite sources of unusual herbs and edible leaf plants (another passion!) – The Cottage Herbery run by dear friends Kim & Rob Hurst. There were racks of plants to tempt me (yet again!) and for first time gardeners with small gardens, planting ideas some of which were beautifully presented in unusual containers supplied by Tansy Tulip. I need to find time to re-visit the stand today, as I meant to buy one of the lovely photographic gift cards produced by the Hurst’s daughter, India for her own input into the business under her brand ‘Culti-Vate’. (note to self to get up early!)

A beautiful plant with an
unpronounceable name
More plants – and it’s a small world. Next to us in the exhibitors’ caravan site is the lady who runs Mandy Plants, specialising in ‘Mandevilla’ and ‘Dipladenia’. What? I am ignorant of so many plants but when I discover her husband works for the company for whom I also write a blog, I know I must investigate. Beautiful woody-stemmed, semi-evergreen, twining plants ideal for conservatory or outdoor summer patio (of which I have neither), I nevertheless challenge myself to somehow provide the right conditions. I buy one – a perfect specimen (not looking at its best on the step of our caravan). I just hope I don’t kill it.

Local plants from the Cotswolds
I’m on safer ground with my next discussion in the Floral Marquee at Cotswold Garden Flowers. Who says you shouldn’t grow Cow Parsley? Invasive as it self-seeds all too easily but heads can be cut off when the seed sets. But it wasn’t the common wild variety which was of interest but Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Raven’s Wing’ which caught my fancy, with dark almost black leaves and more delicate creamy umbels than in the hedgerow plant. Perfect for wilder areas of the garden.

We were all hungry in the Press Room!
By now, late morning, hunger sets in amongst those journalists still filing copy. My photographer husband is sent forth for food and drink, and returns with Welsh chicken and leek pastries, a magnificent fresh cheese baguette and local farm butter from the Artisan Food Market; and for quaffing, an inestimable dry cider from Ralph’s Cider & Perry.

My fabric 'fix'
So to the other side of my creative life: a love of textiles, collage, and hand-made sketchbook journals. Imagine my excitement when a hand on my shoulder turned out to be that of the owner of Natura Leigh who sell amongst other items the most marvellous French chambrey fabrics, vintage print ribbons and floral print wooden buttons. (They’ll be exhibiting again on the Showground next week at Quilts UK.)

On my wish list
On my perpetual wish list are the exquisite Historic Building in Clay exhibited under the umbrella of the Guild of Herefordshire Craftsmen by their creator Neil Spalding. Raku-fired ceramics par excellence that I always envisage (for me) as part of a mixed-media collage, machine-stitched on a paper/fabric background. I can but dream to own an original.

The most amazing book
And finally when investigating activities in the children’s Discovery Zone, I meet the most remarkable lady. Jane Smith lives just down the road on Malvern Common and has recorded the annual cycle of wildlife on the common in words and exquisite photographic images. Her book, ‘Malvern Common in Spring and Summer’ make me determined to stop the car – how much we miss when travelling by car. These are flower meadows full of wild orchids, and butterflies long-gone from most of our beleaguered landscape, yet here on the Showground doorstep. And Jane is donating all proceeds of this and other projects towards a very worthwhile charity she has set up to support local training enterprises in Gambia.

This is my penultimate post relating to the 2013 Malvern Spring Gardening Show. A summary will be posted later today, along with news of first-time-at-the-Show events – though I always make such announcements with some trepidation as a Sunday seems to be a favourite day for Blogger program maintenance, and there is nothing anyone can do about one’s inability to work online.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Gardeners of the future win awards

So much interest in the School Gardens section
One of my earliest memories at school in north London in the early 1940s was learning to distinguish between an ash and horse-chestnut bud and then painstakingly to draw a twig of each to show the difference.

"Look, listen and absorb"
Later, in the late 60s when I became a teacher, I encouraged my young pupils to look around them, at wild flowers,  annual and perennial plants and trees, and the landscape in which they grew. I wanted to see them – and their parents – curious about the world in which they are growing up, and passionate about books – and, of course, gardens.

And books have been the theme for the children’s and students’ gardens this year. The results are ingenious and many show an understanding of bio-diversity, focussing on “issues that affect everyone, and how we can make the world a better place to live.”

Checking on the planting, with one of the children's project books
Books upon which the School Gardens were based ranged from Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland, The Jungle Book, The Green Ship, The Chicken Gave it to Me, The Hodgeheg, Where;s Wally, The Railway Children, to The Wizard of Oz and The Iron Man, The Selfish Giant and Romeo & Juliet. 

Usborne Books gave a
book to each
The gardens have been judged for certificates of commendation by a panel from the RHS and Three Counties Agricultural Society. In addition, Frank Hill from CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) joined the other judges to make cash awards to top gardens.

'100 Plants that almost
changed the world
Lots of awards were given for serious and whacky categories – from best grower to wackiest wellingtons. Awards were presented by Gardener and Author, Chris Beardshaw, who also donated a copy of his latest book to every school for their library. The gardens were sponsored by Bam Construct Ltd, whilst Blue Diamond sponsored the plants, trees and shrubs used .

Interpreting a theme is not easy
Whatever book title was selected by participating schools and colleges, they clearly perceived that gardens should be more than ornamental; all included ‘edibles’ in their designs. Maybe campaigns running over recent years to encourage healthy eating have been sufficiently successful that at last plenty of fruit and vegetables has impinged on their gardening.

Sweetcorn growing in the Wizard of Ox garden
And the marvellous news is that Horticulture is to become a part of the National Curriculum from September 2014, a step welcomed by the RHS. Sarah Cathcart, RHS Head of Education and Learning says, “We have been campaigning for this for nearly 10 years so we are thrilled that the Government has recognised the need for children to be taught gardening at school. We now need to help teachers and school staff get the support they need to teach horticulture to children.”

Busy, busy, busy
More reading will be involved for pupils and students participating next year, for the 2014 theme is to be ‘Great Moments in History’. The choice is enormous – with over 8,500 years since the recognised emergence of civilisation, there are plenty of events to choose from. Make sure you come back next year to enjoy the results.

Shopping Spree post will appear later this evening, or first thing tomorrow.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Spring Gardening Show Scrapbook - day one (Thursday)

What a setting - the Malvern Hills are a backdrop 
to this Show Garden
Scrapbooking a day late - by the time we had downloaded and sorted all the images we had taken, struggled with the wind and the rain and generally decided how I would create today's post, the light had gone. Today is calmer, and now bright and sunny.

Such a surprise !
I find it impossible to visit all areas of the Showground in one day - had I been solely visiting for my personal delight, I would have done as I advised in an earlier post and concentrated on a specific area. Fortunately, I am here for all four days so can pace my areas of enjoyment. (Today was actually my 'shopping fix'! But more of that tomorrow.)

Collage of some of today's photo-shoot
Show Gardens: seeing them actually finished, as opposed to watching how the various plots emerge from a piece of bare turf, was a revelation. I am not going to cover them all, but have picked our my favourites - your choice might be entirely different. I am personally not concerned about medals but look at any garden as a source of inspiration. Inspiration for more than our own acre, but for my sketchbooks and hand-made journals.

The BBC were filming in the rain yesterday
I have to admit to three favourites, each quite different in style and planting and each lovely to me for various reasons. It's surprising what will trigger a response when viewing any garden - here at Malvern, or at Shows large and small around the country. And as a visitor it often has nothing to do with evaluation, or size, or the amount of work that must have gone into the design, creation and build, but something that sparks the imagination, evokes a memory.

Mark Eveleigh's 'Boathouse No.9' (page 24) has such a gentle simplicity about it, as Mark's gardens always have. A garden with atmosphere that grows out if its surroundings; as near to nature as a patch of ground can possibly be, with hedgerow shrubs, nettles and wild flowers; a clinker-built wooden dinghy gradually decaying. A haven for wildlife, and for me reminiscent of the walks I took as a young child with my grandmother in the early 1940s. Mark's boathouse has been created from an old gardener's shed that has stood overlooking the River Severn for the last 65 years. Props complete the feeling of a bygone age.

Back in Cornwall (via Malvern)
And then my teenage years and visits to Cornwall, continued in early married life, when my new husband and I visited so many gardens and drove around the countryside in an old Austin Seven. Such different scenery, so lush, and plants I had never then heard of. Paul Taylor of Alchemy Gardens sourced materials from Cornwall for his 'Room with a View' (page 27) which was inspired by the gardens at Trebah nestling within a valley near Falmouth. Both the 'real' Trebah and this recreation have a subtropical feel - indeed the contractors were so determined to feature the correct plants, they visited the gardens to check authenticity. The colours of the stone imported by the ton used are subtly beautiful, just as is the stone found on the Lizard. It's doubly poignant for me to feel I am back in Cornwall, as I am currently re-reading 'All the Day Long' by Howard Spring, set in a landscape so near to Trebah.

And so to France (also via Malvern)
And so to southern France and camping trips in olive groves, picnics down little side roads - a memory that instantly came to mind when I saw the build-up - and now the finished garden - of 'Reposer Vos Roues' (Rest your Wheels) which Villaggio Verde has created: a rustic cafe which has played host to professional cyclists for more that 100 years. Now an important  refreshment stop along the route of the Tour de France for riders and their teams. There's an interesting story to the age-old olive trees used to create this garden: they are re-cycled. Greek farmers are offered a subsidy to grub them up and replant with young, more productive stock - ordinarily they would be burned, but their reprieve means they have a further life, bringing joy to lovers of the Meditarranean, and to show garden visitors.

A glorious Spring arrangement
I have been back to all the 2013 Show Gardens many times since we arrived on Wednesday, but had not realised that in fact these three, coming together as they do this year, encapsulated three ages in my life - and I am almost back to my theatrical scenario, and Shakespeare's "seven ages of man". Tomorrow, my 'Shopping Fix around the Showground' (WiFi permitting).

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Spring Gardening Show Preview - Reprise and Welcome

Sunny and breezy and marvellous to be  here again
Everyone and everything is ready, awaiting all the Show visitors who, in less than a fifteen minutes will be streaming through the gates, heading towards Show Gardens, Floral Marquee, the Plants & People theatre and trade stands galore.

Scrapbook collage of my first build-up visit
The build-up is over, the judging done. Wraps are removed from exhibits, the final tweak to plants and people; everyone is waiting to greet you. And oh, what a transformation, not only to the Show Gardens but all around the showground. I have just walked up to the Press Centre past rows of artisan local food producers (made my mouth water!); the hills are bathed in sunshine, and all is looking glorious.

More buildup images from the last two weeks ago
Here to delight those are visiting this blog for the first time is a Reprise - the four collages I posted on Facebook, brought together as an online scrapbook of the Show build-up period, or at least of the two days I visited the Showground.

And more ....
I hope my collage scrapbook will equally delight those who have kindly been following this blog - it has been a fascinating experience pulling it all together. 

And not forgetting the children who create 
the most amazing gardens, too
(these images are from last year; shortly awards will be presented
to the 2013 winning schools)
And now, as I start to blog live actually from the Showground, I have a dilemma: am I seeing it all through my authoring eyes, or as a visitor, perhaps someone here for the first time. Am I audience or backstage crew? (And I have my notebook and tiny sketchbook all ready, and a raincoat, just in case ....) I'll be back 'on stage' every day of the Show, with images of finished gardens, activities, and more of all that goes into making The Malvern Spring Gardening Show a wonderful experience.