Saturday, 9 May 2009


INTO my heart on air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
                                             A. E. Housman

Garden Judges at enthusing over the show gardens at Malvern.

You know it really is spring when the Malvern Show comes round again.  So there I was, on Wednesday afternoon, a little breathless from being late, joining the Garden Judges to assess this year's creations.  Meanwhile, a vicious gale was bouncing off the Malvern Hills, getting under our shirts and playfully wrecking all the careful planting and prinking that had just taken place.

The gardens at Malvern are better, this year, than they have ever been.   I loved the variety and the imagination: moonlight colours with plants selected for their soft tints, in flower and leaf, which would light up best at night; a wood to dance through; cyclical learning with old tyres and Quality Street sweetie tins turned into giant abacuses; scary dragons which breathed paraffin fumes; a sleazy theatre for burlesque shows and another one designed for retired dancers who have just finished Putting on the Ritz.

Scroll down for more pictures.

The judges, as you can see, were ecstatic about all they saw.  On the first public day of the show, I was knobbled by Nina, the bouncing firecracker of a lady who is the perfectly matched combination of glamour, talent and energy and who organises all the publicity for the show. She had thanked me profusely, the day before, for a plug in the Daily Mail.  But now she tore me off a strip (ouch!!!) for so few high awards in the gardens.   I explained to her that two Golds and a cluster of Siver Gilts was an excellent result, particularly since the RHS has raised the bar significantly since the early Malvern shows.

We dropped by at the excellently designed outdoor Theatre, hoping to see the
Award Winning Journalist J-AS  performing in his usual charismatic and comedic fashion.  I expected cavorting celebrities gushing about flars 'n' gardens but instead watched a very worthy Mr Beardshaw listening to an even more worthy garden designer making a solemn case for being part of his mentorship scheme thingy.  Also on stage was an even more sombre Robert Hillier, fellow RHS Trustee and meganurseryman.   The wit and charisma of the aforementioned AWJ was being made to work overtime.  I hope he had more fun later in the day.

As always with flowershows, it is the Floral Displays that really float my coracle.  Because I finished my duties very early on the Thursday morning, there was time for purchasing lots of goodies, including sausages, Welschcakes, cheese and superb Scottish lamb in the food halls.  

I was smitten by Claire Austin's wonderful irises, especially the Arilbred jobs.  What fantastic garden plants they are going to be!

Dwarf Bearded Irises on Claire Austin's Stand at Malvern

Woodland lovelies continue to woo me. Yet another Tiarella foamed its way into my heart, as did the rich cream Trollius x cultorum 'Cheddar.'  Variegated things usually leave me colder than death but I just couldn't resist Disporum sessile 'Variegatum.'  The palest cream-white stripes are subtle and go so beautifully with the green-tipped, pendant flowers.  If I ever wore pyjamas (pajamas to you lot over there) they would be precisely that colour.

For sheer spectacle, Southfields cactuses were in full song, with vivid orange, pink and yellow flowers among the spikes but my fave, beyond all, was Fir Trees Nursery proprietor Helen Bainbridge's wonderful show of pelargoniums.  At the apex of her central arch, she had hung a huge, overflowing basket of Pelargonium renata parsley.  This is one of the prettiest of the tribe, with oar-shaped, toothed leaves and wine-pink and near-white, bicoloured flowers.  It's an absolute sod to grow and yet hers must have been a metre across.  There's clever!  (Picture lower down)

Arilbred Iris 'Onlooker'

Last night (Friday) I was about to put on a DVD of Christian Bale and Russel Crowe in 3:10 to Yuma when I discovered that Gardeners' World was to feature Malvern and decided to stay with the programme for a bit.  I wish I hadn't.

The title sequence to the programme - is that new? - is spectacularly awful and induces seasickness.  The first 15 minutes of this episode had little to do with horticulture and I had the impression that I was seeing way too many people and too few plants and flowers.  Carol Klein's histrionic presentation goes well beyond manic.  She could upstage Ian McKellen and should try real theatre.  

Mr Buckland seems sound and sensible, although I notice that his faux enthusiasm has been razzed up to the tightest possible ratchet, too, since I last watched. Indeed, they all appear to have been directed to become ever more operatic, wild eyed and, well, luvvy-ish.  The scripty bits make one cringe but the horticultural content - the whole reason for the programme, for heaven's sake - gives the impression of having been shoved into third or fourth place.  

I think the presenters all do a difficult job with skill, panache and accomplishment.  But the programme makers, directors and their bosses at the BBC are not delivering what I, as a gardener would like to see and hear.  I want to know the names of the plants and how they behave. I want useful tips, hints and ideas.  I want to be introduced to new and lovely plants, and then to know whether I could grow them. 

When Toby B. had completed his '30 minute task,' I switched off.  It it really does take someone half an hour, to bung newspaper and a bit of compost into an old fruit box and then sow it with a few seeds, he should seek a different career.  A child could do the same thing in five minutes. Indeed, he did it in a single piece to camera before an adoring Malvern audience, so where does the 30 minute bit come in?  Or have I missed a point, here?  With my attention span, plus a second Friday whisky and soda, I probably have.

Fir Trees Nursery's display of pelargoniums.  Note renata parsley in the arch.

I'm listening to  Beethoven's Piano Sonata number 15 in D Opus 28.  The impeccable Alfred Brendel, known in our family, affectionately, as The BandAid Kid. - who else can do grumpy Beethoven better?  

The film, as you know, was 3:10 to Yuma.  A goodish modern Western with Crowe and Bale in top form.  The screenplay plods a bit at times, and sometimes the action was a little hard to follow but the ironic ending is so-o-o worth waiting for.  Not as good as Unforgiven but a decent bit of cinema.

This day in 1983  we were packing up the last of our potato crop (we farmed in those days) and had about 1 tonne left to go.  'They are highly whiskery,' I wrote in my diary, 'I hope they get sold.'  (They did.)  The General Election was announced that day, for 9th June and we ate at the local Chinese.

Gosh - there goes my resolution to do shorter posts.  Sorry! Sorry!  Bye Bye.


  1. The wind was even worse on Friday and causing real problems for some of the exhibitors. I agree that the gardens are getting better and better, they no longer seem like an after thought.

    Yesterday JAS was comparing a fashion show with a drag queen - a site to behold but he coped gallantly!!!

    The new titles on GW have been there for a couple of weeks - hate them. Also getting tired of ALys adoring looks at Toby. Having watched the programme for years my enthusiasm is waning

  2. Aw blimey. It wasn't that bad.

    Well, that's not strictly true.

    The fashion thing was crap and some of the rest was a bit ropey - esp. the designer using a flower she'd never even seen in bloom - OMFG.

    The trouble is that to non-gardeners most shows are a bit the same. So the TV people zoom in on what is different from the normal show stuff, which is then given uneccessary precedence and then pisses off the gardeners watching.

    What they need is a production team wholly made up of gardeners - or at least faintly clued-up people.

    Or better still, you as a veto wielding consultant Nigel.

    Anyway treat yourself to a whisky as you contemplate a bit of a clean-up at this year's Fork and Monkey awards.

  3. PatientG - JAS had told me about the drag queen show. I can't wipe this recurring vision/nightmare of seeing him doing an ABBA number in highly coloured flared pants, glittery bra plus a tiara instead of his usual titfor.

    GM - I'm blushing with coy and bashful false modesty, about all those FNM nominations.

    Perhaps I was a bit jaundiced about GW. But it would be great if there was a TV programme made BY gardeners FOR gardeners. A certain amount of knowledge would be assumed and every plant on screen would be properly tagged with correct nomenclature. We might watch DIT tissue culture or scaling snowdrop bulbs as well as learning how to make a bonded resin path look decent. The audiences might tiny in numbers, but think of the quality!

  4. This might help your imagination

  5. Nige

    I should record and send you some gardening shows from the US. They all seem to have the title 'desperate' or 'makeover' in them and typically result in a lot of hired machinery (like a backhoe) and then a finished product of very little plant activity surrounded by an acre of mulch. I'm sure at that point Gardener's World would seem far more tolerable. The only UK gardening show we got over here was Ground Force (back in it's day) and while entertaining it would be a stretch to learn from.

    Don't get me wrong, American's are great gardeners but it doesn't translate well onto the box!

    What always surprises me is how much plant life is in bloom at these shows and it's only mid way through spring. Our tulips are still going here! Makes me feel like I'm always terribly behind with my planting (which I probably am).

    Always a pleasure reading your posts.


  6. Waaahhh we missed you at Malvern!

    I can confirm JA-S had much more fun later on, not only from what PG has told you already, but also hordes of adoring bloggers descended on the Design For Living Theatre to pay homage to the AWB.

    Expect nothing short of an en-masse blogging invasion next year.

  7. Is it just me or does the first shot look like the unsuccessful auditonees of the next Werther's originals advert?

    And please, don't make these posts any shorter!

  8. I love the long posts too and the pictures.

    I did the flower quiz and I am a canna. It reminds me Scottie on Star Trek "You canna change the laws of physics".

    I wish I had been a sweet little saxifrage.

  9. It could be worse Arabella - I'm a snapdragon.

  10. Hi Nigel - I've just spent a very happy half hour perusing your posts (and I only popped in for a quick visit!), so please don't shorten them - I had a lovely read!

    I'm with you on the Gardener's World debacle. I'm still pretty much a novice and I want PROPER information, not some plonk prancing manically about and telling me NOTHING!(ahem, sorry about that - I feel better now!)