National Gardening Week is on its way (1 – 7 May 2023): seven days when the nation celebrates the wealth of benefits to be enjoyed from growing plants and being in green spaces. Fittingly this year it falls during the week of the Coronation of HM King Charles III, who is well known for his love of horticulture, and also just a few days ahead of the RHS Malvern Spring Festival (11 – 14 May).
Held at the Three Counties Showground, RHS Malvern Spring Festival is the perfect place for new and experienced gardeners alike: there will be inspiration-packed show and feature gardens to admire, a varied programme of live talks featuring green-fingered celebrities and various specialists, and an unmissable opportunity to come and stock up with bulbs and plants from the Floral Marquee and Plant Arcade and seek face-to-face advice from some of the UK’s top nurseries.
Every Festival features a ‘Master Grower’, a scheme created by the Royal Horticultural Society that shines the spotlight on the UK’s finest specialist nurseries, and this year the accolade goes to Shropshire-based Hillview Hardy Plants. John and Ingrid Millington and their daughter Sarah have no fewer than two National Collections of Auricula and will be bringing in excess of 640 different cultivars for customers to buy. During the festival they will be showing modern ways to display these dainty-looking flowers and providing advice for those keen to grow them at home.
Ingrid Millington of Hillview Hardy Plants explains: “Auriculas aren’t difficult to keep at all. People think they’re going to be difficult and mollycoddle them, but it’s really not necessary. Generally, auriculas don’t like the summer sun or winter rain, and they need lots of air movement.”
Hampshire-based Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants will be back for their 31st RHS Malvern Spring Festival with plenty of beautiful spring-flowering perennials, all raised in a 100% peat-free growing media. Rosy and Rob Hardy are used to giving advice on ‘the right plants for the right place’, helping customers to make good choices for their soil types, location, degree of sun and shade and other needs.
Rob Hardy, of Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, said: “We love the festival due to its beautiful setting with the backdrop of the Malvern Hills. We’re always made very welcome.”
Three new cultivars are set to appear within a display of camassias created by Hare Spring Cottage Plants. National Collection holder Stella Exley is keen to spread the word as to how easy these starry flowers are to grow and naturalise, especially as slugs and snails don’t make a meal of them. Stella says coming to Malvern is a highlight of her year, especially with the show’s overriding sense of calmness, which she attributes to exhibitors and visitors having the space to move around. The most common advice she’s asked is when to lift and divide established clumps – something she undertakes during July and August when plants are dormant.
Rose specialists CK Jones from Chester are often the people to whom customers turn for advice on pruning, especially the thorny question of how hard to go and what time of year. Feeding, watering, where to plant and whether a particular cultivar will thrive in a pot are also familiar questions.
Keith Jones and his team will be bringing the stunning rose ‘You’re So Special’ to Malvern and is confident visitors will fall in love with its smoky orange rosettes, which bloom from June to November. This plant reaches around 18 inches (45cm) and is ideal placed towards the front of a border or in a pot. According to Keith, colours that are that little bit different appear to be the ‘in thing’ this spring, so he’ll be bringing along cultivars such as ‘Koko Loko’, ‘Honey Dijon’, ‘Mokarosa’ and ‘Minerva’ too.
Keith Jones of CK Jones commented: “I always say, ‘if you need information, come to Malvern and talk to the people who do the growing.”
Another nursery with something new to bring to Malvern is Chrysanthemums Direct, which will be introducing the Branpetit and Bransound range of ‘pot mums’ from the German breeder Brandkamp this year. For Martyn, who has been coming to Malvern since 1987, chrysanthemums are well worth the effort of growing.
Martyn Flint, of Chrysanthemums Direct, said: “They are great plants for containers and will flower in September and October. The main question we are asked is, ‘are chrysanthemums hardy?’ The answer is that they are perennial, but may need protection over the winter, especially from getting too wet – so plant in well-drained soil or grow in pots and move into a cold greenhouse overwinter.”
“Chrysanthemums have the reputation of being hard to grow, but that is not the case, and they will give lots of colour late in the year when there are not many other plants in flower in the garden.”
For some gardeners, lilies are the star, and often the fragrance, of summer, and Harts Nursery from Cheshire ensures visitors to Malvern are spoilt for choice. And after winning the EH Trophy for their display at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2022, the Hart family have rightfully earned themselves a reputation for their stunning arrays of blooms. New plants they’ll be bringing to the festival include the double roselily ‘Olympia’, which is white and frilly, and the deep pink ‘Petronella’. Choosing the best lily for certain soil types is often a question the Hart family is asked at shows, along with advice on combating the dreaded lily beetle.
Victoria Hart of Harts Nursery explains: “The roselilies are proving extremely popular at the moment. They’re full of fragrance and just so pretty; they make a great addition to pots or can be used as a cut flower.”
To see an eye-catching ‘Siberian Tiger’, along with several other variegated hostas such as ‘June’, ‘Autumn Frost’, ‘Catherine’ and ‘Firm Line’, visitors will need to head over to the Brookfield Plants’ display. Kent-based grower Paul Harris travels to Europe to procure stunning new cultivars and says Malvern is his favourite show to show them off. He’s also delighted to pass on advice, especially those looking to control slugs.
Paul Harris, of Brookfield Plants, commented: “I favour organic methods personally, such as nematodes or placing a barrier around a pot – WD40 oil is good.”
Priorswood Clematis will be bringing along a number of its evergreens that flower in winter or early spring, with sizes ranging from container plants to those big enough to cover a garage wall or pergola. These can be grown on their own or mixed with other clematis for an extra-long flowering period. The nursery stocks more than 400 cultivars at its Hertfordshire base and will have plenty of advice on getting new additions off to a great start.
RHS Malvern Spring Festival caters for all kind of gardeners, including those with ponds who are in for a treat in the shape of Menyanthes trifoliata, commonly known as bogbean. These produce impressive flowers followed by leaves that create a rafting effect that’s a perfect habitat for frogs and newts.
Bogbeans will be just one of the attractions on the Lincolnshire Pond Plants stand. Others include the oxygenating water shamrock Marsilea quadrifolia, the floating leaves of which are often used by newts to protect their egg and emergent species such as iris, which create the right environment for nymphs when they’re transforming into dragonflies.
Dawn Fisher and her team came to Malvern for the first-time last year and enjoyed the warm and welcoming atmosphere. She’s expecting to be asked for her advice on preventing green water and blanket weed, both of which can occur when nutrient levels are too high. Growing numbers of people are also keen to learn more about creating the right environment for encourage wildlife, with rafting, emergent and oxygenating plants all playing key roles.
Those who enjoy growing plants indoors will no doubt head for Southfield Nurseries to see what’s new. Linda Goodey and her team are hoping to bring along a new hybrid of the graptopetalum succulent and have their fingers crossed it will be in flower and looking its best.
Meanwhile they’ll be making sure they have plenty of plants that are already proving popular in 2023, including those from the astrophytum genera, which have beautiful structural shapes and, when mature, pretty yellow flowers, and chamaelobivia and rebutia hybrids, which are easy to look after and not easy to find in garden centres.
Linda’s advice on growing cacti includes keeping them in a sunny position, water approximately once a week in summer and do not allow to sit in water, and to provide a high potash feed during the growing season.
There’s no doubt that whether you have a penchant for primroses, a hankering for hostas or simply can’t get enough of lilies, the relaxed environment at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival is the place to indulge your passion and possibly even ignite a few new ones.
Tickets for RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2023 start from just £25 (with under 16s free of charge). For full programme details and to book tickets, see https://www.rhsmalvern.co.uk/