I went to the Malvern Spring Show with Gardening SIL yesterday. It was wonderful, if totally exhausting. I’d been to Malvern before, for a VW festival.

VanFest 2007

The setting was the same, nestling in the shadow of the beautiful Malvern Hills, but everything else was a little different…

BIL dropped us off at the entrance, relieved not to have to feign interest in plants, and headed in to Malvern to find coffee and WiFi. We set off for the show gardens.

It wasn’t the most auspicious greeting to my first ever gardening show.

Disturbing Garden Art

Happily things rapidly improved – though I was disconcerted by the high volume of what I would personally call “Garden Tat”, not to mention a vast number of clothing stalls. It rather reminded me of one of those large chain garden centres, which seems to have more tartan and kitchenware than plants and tools. Thankfully there were plenty of plants, and tools, and who am I to criticise someone wanting a shiny arbour to train their roses over.

My head is buzzing with the things we saw, good and bad. I had planned to start with a kind of overview, first impressions of a newbie show visitor etc., as I am definitely going to have to blog about this more than once, if only to get my own thoughts straight. However, going through my photographs I couldn’t get past my excitement about the show garden that won Best in Show. I am just going to have to start with that and get it out of my system!

Garden For Life

“A Garden for Life” was designed by Stuart Gibbs of Graduate Gardeners, which is a Gloucestershire-based design and build company that also won a gold medal and best in show at last year’s Malvern Spring Show. And in 2009. The beautiful multi-purpose wooden building sits at the heart of a space that is so crammed with great ideas it set my head spinning. For me it started before we’d even seen the garden proper, when we walked past the lovely hornbeam hedge that marks one of the boundaries:

Hornbeam Hedge

I think it would be even better if the framework was made from coppiced hazel poles, but I love this idea, you get privacy from a living boundary but it doesn’t take up the space that a conventional hedge would.

Rounding the corner I fell in love with the shady planting alongside the brick path. This yellow aquilegia was everywhere at the show, and somehow made its way back to my own garden too – of which more anon.

Garden For Life Planting

The path skirts a wildflower meadow – no lawn in this garden – which was buzzing with insects.

Garden For Life Meadow

I loved it. I’ve never really thought of myself as a romantic, but it became clear to me wandering around the show gardens that I love loose, naturalistic planting, and this garden had that in spades. It also has a gentle change in levels, with steps running alongside some beautiful sun-loving planting set off by large rocks. Yet another idea that I came away feeling one could steal.

Garden For Life Sunny Planting

Around the side of the garden building were yet more clever ideas.

Garden For Life Building

Every space has been put to good use. No green roof – far too steep – but photovolatic cells, rainwater recovery, and a built in coldframe. I’m not entirely convinced that the doors on the coldframe are very practical, I couldn’t immediately see how venting would work, but then again I couldn’t go and play with it!

Garden For Life Veg Patch

Opposite the broad beans was a small but packed veg patch, bordered with “step-over” fruit. I’m not entirely convinced by how workable that would be in practice, I am far too clumsy, and would almost certainly end up knocking blossom off every time I had to get in to work the bed, but I liked the principle of showing that even the smallest space has room for some edibles.

All in all, I found it genuinely inspirational, and given how beautifully executed it was, the gold medal was no surprise. Now I’m off to work out exactly where to plant my new acquisitions. If you can get to the show, I’d certainly recommend it. I’ll blog about the other show gardens, the floral pavilion and some of the other things that struck me another day – and will hopefully use fewer superlatives!

16 thoughts on “I want ‘A Garden for Life’

  1. It is a lovely garden – never been to Malvern as we were put of gardening shows by the totally false gardens some have for instance using black alder as a bedding/edging plant!

    1. Hi Sue, we seem to be on a similar wavelength when it comes to show gardens. I think you’d enjoy Malvern though, laid back and full of plants. Lots of great nurseries were selling. I did see someone using Eucalyptus in a mixed low growing border, and even if you cut it back hard religiously every year, it would still grow to al least 6′ once established…

  2. I’m so glad you enjoyed yourself at your first show, Janet – probably good you didn’t choose Chelsea as a first visit – too full of people! I’m really enjoying reading about the impressions you and others have of this show; it means I can enjoy the show without leaving home! I look forward to more. Christina PS I’m in the middle of making the ciabatta for the second time, it looks like it will be amazing this time, thanks for reccommending the River Cottage book too!

    1. Hi Christina, delighted to hear you are making ciabatta! And that you have The Book now. I’m enjoying reading about other people’s impressions too, and you are right, I don’t think Chelsea is for me. I have friends who go every year, and love it. They do Hampton Court too, including the fireworks + picnic night. Not for me…

  3. Thank you too for showing us more pics of a fantastic design. Glad you loved Malvern. You have made me feel rather homesick. At least l can watch it on Gardeners World tonight!

    1. Pleasure, Trevor, though sorry I made you homesick. We saw Monty filming, so looking forward to watching the results.

    1. I think it was worth going just for that one garden – and the Floral Marquee…

    1. Beautiful, isn’t it! Very peaceful too – unlike the “Colour from Carbon” garden…

  4. I was thinking about the practicality of the coldframe, too, although it looks great! This garden has a cottage garden feel, but it seems very organized at the same time. Interesting…

    1. Glad I wasn’t the only one wondering about the coldframe! The garden had a wonderful relaxed feel about it, but I could also see it working practically, for day-to-day living, which is a rare thing in a show garden I think.

  5. Fabulous!

    I’d like a garden for life too!!! xxx

    Glad you had fun :) at least I now feel I’ve kind of gone too :)

    1. It was great – not least because I was wandering around with a fellow gardening fanatic, so we were constantly discussing everything we saw and debating how to use some of the plants in our own gardens. Glad you feel you have sort of been there too! It was weird watching it on Gardener’s World, having been there myself.

  6. What a marvelous garden. I can see how you would like it so much. I love the casual blue and white blooms —very soothing.
    I like how you look at it with a critical eye….I agree with you about the cold frame, looks like there should have been a working example… sometimes the garden shows here in the states the planners put some things together that would not work in the real world.

    1. Hi Janet, there was a lot of very restful planting at Malvern, I suppose partly because of the time of year, it is a natural time to be doing woodland planting. I was surprised by the cold frame as the rest of the garden seemed so well thought out. Which made a change!

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