RHS Malvern Spring Master Grower: Avon Bulbs

Avon Bulbs' breathtaking display of spring colour was packed with planting ideas to get the new gardening season under way


The team at Avon Bulbs

Centre stage in the Floral Marquee at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival was an outstanding display by bulbous plant specialists, Avon Bulbs, the show's RHS Master Grower.

Visitors were able to walk through the display, and get up close to a spectacular selection of spring-flowering bulbs. Many of these bulbs were rare and unusual, including pink-flowered Camassia 'Stellar Pink'. Guests could also catch a glimpse of life behind the scenes at the nursery, with an informative video and large black and white and colour photographs by Neil Hepworth being displayed on boards above the plants.

The journey to Malvern

It's been a long winter and difficult spring growing season for the Somerset-based family-run nursery, which specialises in “interesting and uncommon” bulbs and plants.

Avon Bulbs’ Chris Ireland-Jones said that freezing weather in February and March presented several challenges that had to be overcome: “At the beginning of April we were starting to wonder whether any of our ‘main players’ for Malvern would make it. Then we had a hot week and the bulbs thought that summer was here and shot up as if they were on steroids. Thankfully the hot weather did not last. Who would have imagined it could be such a season?”

The Master Grower exhibit is larger than regular exhibits at flower shows. The main part is put together by Alan Street, using a wide range of bulbous material. 

Chris added: “We are featuring Camassia and will have at least six forms on the exhibit, most of which we have ready for sale. Some of the later-flowering ones are not going to make it. With a bit of luck, and having had to be forced slightly this year, there will be bold clumps of Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus, which people love.

"Bulking-up the display are a wide range of tulips. These are Interspersed with some less-colourful Orlaya grandiflora and Polygonatum in green and white which softens the effect of the upright and sometimes over-colourful bulbs. We also have wonderful pots of Tropaeolum tricolor, a South American winter-growing bulbous climber that flowers in the spring. The display also features Pimpinella major ‘Rosea’, a pink flowered member of the cow parsley family,” Chris added.

Some more unusual bulbs also featured included Gladiolus tristis from South Africa, noted for its creamy yellow-and-green colours and evening scent and Ornithogalum magnum, a white-flowered bulb with a tall, elegant raceme. Scilla peruviana, a low-growing Mediterranean bulb with glossy green foliage and a large, electric blue head of architectural merit, took centre stage.

Chris added: “Across a path is a long, narrow bed, over which are the photographic display boards. This is where we put on a less colour-coordinated and wackier construction with pots of bulbs emerging from the cardboard boxes that we use to send out dormant bulbs. We aim to link our ‘Bulbs by Mail Order’ strapline with the flowers that visitors see. The message is that if people buy big enough bulbs, and do more or less the right thing with them, they are almost guaranteed to grow and flower because the flower is already contained within the bulb when it is sold.”

Avon Bulbs has an enviable track record of medal-winning at RHS flower shows. To date, it has won 30 RHS Chelsea Gold medals.

What is an RHS Master Grower?

The RHS Master Grower scheme launched at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show in July 2016 and continues to shine the spotlight on the UK’s finest specialist nurseries. Master Grower nurseries must offer excellent customer service and propagate a high percentage of plant material at their own nursery. They are focused on ethical and sustainable plant production and breed their own varieties. Master Growers produce unusual plants that thrive in UK gardens and have a proven track record of supporting RHS shows – with a proud collection of awards and medals. They’ll inspire visitors at shows by sharing expert gardening advice and offering practical demonstrations.

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.