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I’m sure I intended to write a post about the Flower Shows last year, but never got round to it. So here we are in 2012, a week after the Chelsea Flower Show. It’s colder outside today, and started drizzling earlier, so I’m not out planting our garden as I have been in the last couple of weeks (update coming soon, I promise!).

Malvern Spring Gardening Show is the first on our calendar, at the beginning of May. The first couple of days were wet and cold, and I’m glad it wasn’t me standing in the rain selling to miserable punters! Husband and I did the Saturday and Sunday, which fortunately were sunny at least. The wind was still strong, making for some very indecisive customers, and Saturday was definitely a battle between wind and sun to see who could get our coats off. I didn’t have much time to look around this year, but had a quick look at the show gardens with my mum.

The general theme seemed typically Malvern – vegetable gardening, alongside sustainable and environmentally friendly gardens, with the occasional added sculpture. Also prevalent were the school gardens. Now, this is going to make me sound very bah-humbug, but very few of the gardens really excited me. As far as the school gardens go, I fail to see how they can interest anyone whose children didn’t have a hand in planting it. Perhaps that’s a little harsh. There was some good planting, and some innovative ideas, but for me, gaudy painted bumble bees on stakes let down some pretty planting.

Lovely planting… despite the oversized bees

This was an attractive example of a school garden. There were others of this calibre, but what really let the side down were the few gardens that looked hastily planted with ill-conceived ideas. In theory, strawberry plants in a wall of halved plastic bottles is an environmentally friendly innovation that might encourage children to think about a) gardening, b) where their food comes from, c) how to recycle waste, and d) how to combine recycling with growing your own. However, in practice, I wouldn’t particularly like to look at a wall of mouldering plastic bottles day after day while doing the washing up, even if they do provide strawberries for tea. Nice try, school children, but think again.

One school garden did impress – and was unsurprisingly awarded Best School Garden. Planting here was well-thought-out; the design was both practical and appealing, and a recycling-cum-grow-your-own idea was attractive and easy to replicate.

Burlish Primary School garden – impressive!

An old step-ladder and some old tin cans is all you need to make a pretty and practical display of plants. Beats plastic plant pots any day!

A lovely idea

There were several gardens that were advocating environmentally friendly ideas, from insect houses to planting up old tyres. Some themes, particularly the insect-friendly gardens, seemed to be a repetition of what we saw at Chelsea last year. There was a big push towards insect-friendly planting, and creating parts of the garden specifically for insects to live in. One garden at Malvern this year had a large wall of insect housing – a tower-block for bugs if you like – which replicated a lower and more organic shaped wall in one of last year’s Chelsea gardens. Like in fashion, I guess trends take their time to travel west! And while the tower-block idea isn’t something I’d put in my herbaceous border to that scale, it is a laudable idea, if only to demonstrate what can be achieved in our own gardens with a few old books, broken canes, and the rolled up Sunday papers.

High-rise housing for bugs

I like seeing sculpture in the garden, and once mine is a bit more organised/established, I hope we can fit some in somewhere. The sculpture at Malvern this year went from the sublime to the ridiculous – there were some lovely wooden shapes around a pond garden, complemented by soft, wild planting.

There was also some very natural sculpture in the form of a huge hollowed out old log, which, if I had the space, I would love. The ridiculous I’m talking about was what looked like a beached flying saucer. Put in an art exhibition, on a gallery floor, and I’d probably say wow, isn’t that exciting! But here, with a forlorn little monkey puzzle tree behind it, I just wonder what went through the designers’ heads.

The mind boggles…

I’ve come to the conclusion that I might have been more impressed with the Malvern show gardens had I actually had time to push through the crowds to see the boards that tell you what you’re looking at. It is rather a problem when you work at these shows, and snatch a few minutes to see the exhibits. We were busy right up until the end of every day, so I didn’t even get a chance to wander around after the crowds had gone home. Oh well, there’s always next year.

If there’s one thing that Malvern show is good at, its proving that size isn’t everything. The show gardens are mostly the size of pocket handkerchiefs, so the good ones do demonstrate what you can do in a very small space. It’s a good showcase to the public of achievable planting ideas, and design schemes for small spaces. I could say that an injection of new ideas is also needed, but I probably think that every year. Gardening, like everything else, goes in trends and cycles, and it’s quite hard to get away from that, as we saw at Chelsea (watch this space for the next post…)

Ramshackle beauty – my favourite Malvern 2012 garden