• Jamie Langlands


RHS Malvern spring show is one of the horticultural highlights of my year, every year!

A show that really gets you enthused about the start of the gardening season. Brimming with fantastic flora, sophisticated show gardens and all manner of take home ideas for your own little green haven! This year I was fortunate enough to spend a little time with Mr Horticulture himself, Monty Don and he gave me his thoughts on RHS Malvern, conceptual garden design and some tips on how to start your own journey into becoming a sustainable gardener!

What do you find so special about the RHS Malvern spring show?

Well Malvern has its own character, it’s the spring show, it’s my local show in other words it’s the nearest one to me. I went to school in Malvern, so I’ve been coming to the three counties show ground for 50 years.

I have a long relationship with it. I think also, apart from that, its very much a spring show and it’s the very best of spring, I don’t think anybody will disagree with that. In terms of gardening you’ve got a huge range of plants, but they absolutely belong to the season. And once you go to, even Chelsea, which is only a few weeks away, you’ve moved on. And so, it’s kind of both a celebration and pays tribute to spring.

It’s that lovely time of the year when everything is coming into bloom and you can start getting excited about your garden again.

Yes, and this morning when I got up it was the most amazing misty morning with the mist rising up out of the green, and the garden just appearing out of the mist. And the fact that it’s been raining for the past few days and its been cold and miserable suddenly it’s all gone and it’s all been washed away!

Designers are allowed the freedom to become more conceptual these days, do you think that’s a positive progression for garden design?

Yes, well let me put this into context. The gardens at Malvern, with the best will in the world, were the poor relatives, both in terms of the marquee and of other shows. And there has been a huge improvement over the past 5 years and really taken it to another level. So now, what you’re seeing here are high-class gardens. And if that is a result of being aloud to be more conceptual, then three cheers for that!

Sebastian Conrad's 'What if' Garden
Sebastian Conrad's 'What if' Garden was a star of the show.

I couldn’t agree more; I think the show that Peter Dowle for instance, puts on every year is second to none! And I think that show gardens and flower shows are, to a certain extent a cross between a stage set and a work of art. And they should not be recreating existing gardens, there is no point. It’s like doing an exact copy of a Rembrandt, however well you do it, it remains a copy. Not the real thing.

''And the one thing you are always looking for in life for inspiration, is the real thing. That sense of having your whole being enlarged and expanded by a new experience. ''

It maybe one that other people have had, it may just be new to you, but at the same time you have to feel that this is thrilling and exciting and deeply rewarding and I think that means giving people their head. It means allowing people to do things that you don’t like!

I think it means allowing people to fail. There has been a reluctance to go down that road, particularly when the stakes are so high It costs so much money. If you’re a sponsor the last thing you want to do is sponsor someone to fail. And that is one of the conundrums of the modern show garden. .

Some sponsors are doing great things with young designers. Backing them because they’re young. Because they’re going to do things that others won’t do. But I am completely sympathetic to designers who have a business to run, they have a practice, they have clients. Clients tend to want what they’ve seen elsewhere and tend to want what’s been done before and there must be huge commercial pressures to give people what they already know they want.

I think it needs people to be visionaries, to push horticulture into new directions that are uncomfortable. To find out what is right and what is wrong.

Yes. The RHS, to their credit are certainly going down that road, I think there is further to go. There are several ways you can do it. You could cap expenditure, you can have separate sections for young designers, you can have briefs that insist on originality of some kind. So, you know, you’ll be marked down for any kind of pastiche. A combination of those things gives people the encouragement. But by the same token, quality will out, good designers will do good work.

A garden of quiet contemplation designed by Peter Dowle Malvern
The Leaf Creative Garden. A Garden Of Quiet Contemplation designed by Peter Dowle

Sustainability is hot topic in horticulture at the moment, what would be your top tip for someone looking to garden more sustainably?

Well first of all you have to accept that your garden is part of a wider ecosystem and wider environment. So therefor be responsible for it. If you want to kill the insects eating your rose, you are destroying part of the insect life of the planet.

You need to connect yourself to what’s going on. I would say without any modification, cease to use all pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. Just stop that now, right away. It’s actually not a very good way to garden.

There is plenty of evidence and experience available now that shows there is very little to be gained. And what is gained is counteracted by what is lost.

A garden needs a healthy balance. I think the other thing to say is to start to look after your soil, it’s the unsung hero. If you anyway degrade your soil or undervalue it then everything else will follow badly. Conversely, if you look after it both by giving it good texture and substance and by not abusing it then your garden will grow well.

We’re very keen on trying to cut back on plastics at the moment and that’s part of the big picture, I just think try and garden as you would like the planet to be run!

I think that’s a beautiful way to say it.

Do as you will be done by!

And there are obvious specific things like, do not use peat. There is no excuse, no justification. The RHS don’t use peat, they’re not allowed to bring peat to shows, the National Trust aren’t using peat. It is flat earth to use peat.

So, there are little things like that, but fundamentally it is a broad picture. Don’t see your garden as your little precious island you have to protect, but as part of the bigger picture. I recently gave a lecture on Sustainability within our own tiny little green spaces, and how that impacts the wider world. If we all start taking those steps suddenly it improves the bigger picture.

That’s the thing, gardeners individually are tiny little dots on the landscape. But put together there are millions and millions of us. And we can make a difference.

And I think it is up to us to start the movement!

I agree and what I think is great is your generation is coming through and doing that. The people who are now in their late 70’s and 80’s somehow saw that their manhood as gardeners was being challenged by not using chemicals and by not controlling things. That nature was something that was destructive and your skill as a gardener was your ability to hold it at bay. I think thankfully that is now rapidly disappearing! And I think we’re all glad about that!

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