By Ann Evans

Photos by Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography

It’s not just gardeners you meet at garden festivals as Ann Evans discovered when she visited the RHS Malvern Spring Festival.



The Garden in the Egg designed by Jonas Egger

It took a month to create and five days to dismantle, but the four-day RHS Malvern Spring Show held at the Three Counties Showground was worth the effort. The show just gets better and better with the horticultural talent shining brighter each year.

Around 100,000 visitors enjoyed all the show had to offer, which included 500 exhibitors, 70 award-winning nurseries in the Floral Marquee, 10 Main Show Gardens, 4 Green Living Spaces and 12 School Gardens. There were talks and demonstrations, famous faces, plants, flowers, shrubs, garden ornaments and furniture, advice and inspiration in abundance.


Teresa Ward ‘Migorian’ of the Black Country Steampunk Society

Garden designers and gardeners have been working for months and months in perfecting their show garden for the festival and competition was high. In addition to Bronze, Silver and Silver Gilt medals being awarded, The Royal Horticultural Society awarded 6 RHS Gold Medals, which went to:


RHS Gold Medal Winner The Garden In The Egg

Best Show Garden – Keyscape Gardens: The Perfumer’s Garden.

Best Construction Award – Howle Hill Nursery: The Spirit of the Woods.

Best Green Living Spaces Garden – Outside Number 39, by Elaine Portch.

The Garden in the Egg, by Jonas Egger, of Greenhance.

Memories of Service, supporting the RAF100 Appeal, by Martyn Wilson, of Wilson Associates Garden Design.

Billy’s Cave, by Jason Hale, of Villaggio Verde.



Steampunk style visitors


There was a host of gardening experts at the show – Alan Titchmarsh, Carol Klein, Joe Swift, Chris Beardshaw to name but a few but we were very fortunate in talking to two well known TV personalities, who aren’t usually connected with gardening.


However, John Challis who plays Boycie in Only Fools and Horses and The Green Green Grass knows lots about gardening – now. John was enjoying the Malvern Festival and signing his books, the latest being a lavishly illustrated book about his own home, Wigmore Abbey, with beautiful photographs by Alex Ramsay. He kindly talked to us about how his interest in gardening came about.

“My wife Carol and I bought this abbey in Hereford in 1998. It’s 800 years old and was very neglected. It had once been a great monastery but the only habitable part when we bought it was the abbot’s lodgings. The gardens started small and we just kept uncovering more and more. There’s about an acre and a half of cultivated garden which I’d describe as romantic and chaotic.


John Challis with his new book

“Carol grew up in the country and we found this place by accident. We were living and working in London, but the abbey just seemed to draw us to it. Since buying it we’ve discovered that my wife’s ancestors lived here centuries ago! We found a framed depiction of a coat of arms on a wall which Carol recognised. They were the arms of the Cockeram family – Carol’s ancestors on her maternal grandmother’s family. We’ve researched and since discovered that in 1556 Philip Cockeram of Wigmore lived in the old abbot’s lodgings after Henry VIII had done his bit in dissolving the monasteries.”

John was far from sure that he’d made the right career move in getting out of London to live in the wilds of Hereford, but in fact the house led to yet another popular TV series being made. He continued: “My wife organised a surprise 60th birthday party for me and invited the cast of Only Fools and Horses. The writer, John Sullivan came up with The Green Green Grass idea, using Wigmore Abbey as the location for Boycie and Marlene to move to. So, buying Wigmore Abbey spawned a new TV series. I think it must have been fate!”

Wigmore Abbey – The Treasure of Mortimer is available now.



John Torode cooking steak for visitors

Another famous face at the festival – who also had a new book out was Aussie chef and presenter of Masterchef, John Torode. John was doing cookery demonstrations in the live theatre throughout the festival but had time to chat to us about his work and his life. I asked John how he first got into cooking.

“Two reasons,” he said. “I love it and it was out of necessity. Growing up there was dad and two boys – we looked after each other. Then later I started to love the kitchen environment and the lifestyle. I liked being able to work at the night time and swim at the beach in the day.”

His career brought him to the UK and his break into TV came in 1996 with This Morning. “I made a little film called World on a Plate, afterwards I said the them, if you want me to do any more telly, let me know. They called me back three weeks later, and I’ve been there 20 years now.”


John Torode striking a pose for photographer Rob


It was interesting to learn that his working relationship with Masterchef Gregg Wallace, is strictly reserved for Masterchef and socialising together isn’t what they do. John said: “We have a great respect for each other. Gregg has always been a really hard worker. Originally It was chef and greengrocery supplier. He really was a flat cap and wellies guy. But we’ve never been to each other’s homes, we eat at different sorts of restaurants, we have different tastes, different opinions – and it works.”

But do John and Gregg ever get an inkling as to which amateur chefs are likely to make it through to the final. John answered, “On that first day you can predict the winner – then on the second day they’ll have gone home!

“They are all individuals, coming from different backgrounds, with different influences and using different ingredients. You do see people who seem to have a certain amount of magic but you don’t know what is going to drive them. The competition is about people who want to change their lives.”

With a new series of Celebrity Masterchef starting on the BBC I in July, John is also planning on visiting the Middle East and Egypt for UK TV.

John Torode’s new book is called, My Kind of Food – Recipes I love to cook at home.

And if you’ve ever wondered about the statistics of shows such as the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, here’s a few snippets of trivia that you might enjoy. Over the 4-day show:

More than 47,000 cups of tea were drunk.

Over 23,000 pieces of cake were eaten.

23,000 glasses of Pimms were sipped.

35,000 sandwiches were consumed.

Around 106,000 plants were sold.




Katrina Sparrow 2nd from right and her Pop Up Vintage Tea Room


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