Growbag Blog

Hampton Court Flower Show – Laura goes solo


Yippee!! with Elaine decamped to Normandy for the summer and Caroline now retreated back to the Scottish Highlands, it meant I got to go solo to the Hampton Court Flower Show this year.

Without my two bossy sisters telling me I’m weird for liking carnivorous plants; that my ancient Barbour jacket is now out of fashion or that a foil-wrapped stack of peanut butter sandwiches doesn’t constitute a balanced diet – I was all set for a great day out!

Hampton Court
Luckily the RHS judges were on the same page as me and judged Hampshire Carnivorous Plants the Best Exhibit in the Floral Marquee

My first foray into the show ground was via a run of refreshingly different American themed gardens. We know that a growing band of gardeners from across the pond follow our blog (welcome, you know who you are!) so it was lovely to see the USA so well represented at this very British flower show. Starting with two gardens enticing us to visit Oregon state and Charleston in South Carolina there followed a linked trio of wonderfully glamorous landscape-themed gardens ‘America’s Wild’ showcasing desert, prairie and mountain habitats. Breathtaking in its scale and ambition, this installation resembled a high budget film set and rightly won both the Best Show Garden AND the Best Construction (Show Garden) awards.

Hampton Court
Rock, water and wood in perfect harmony, one of the trio of impressive landscape creations sponsored by Trailfinders and Visit The USA

I think British show garden designers could learn a thing or two from these dramatic and beautifully finessed American garden sets – in recent years our lot seem hell-bent on including an abandoned mine shaft or a burnt-out car to gain any traction with the judges.

Hampton Court
Often our show gardens seem to resemble overgrown salvage yards, although I have to say the abandoned railway siding in the RHS Wildlife Garden made an important point about the biodiversity value of the interface between industrial and back garden sites.

My only slight wobble over the American gardens was the borrowed landscape in the form of a plasma screen showing beautiful imagery of the real thing. I’m sure it was within the Law of the RHS regulations but was it in the Spirit of the Game? I worry that next year we might only have holograms of the plants and maybe the first garden designed entirely by AI….

Hampton Court
It was very effective but was it quite cricket?

Round the next corner I stumbled on another masterpiece (with so many beautifully designed trade stands you do have to play ‘hunt the actual show garden’ a bit at Hampton). It was Tom Massey’s ‘RHS Resilient Garden’ and this man needs to immediately become an expert mentor to all housing developers in every district council and his new book, with the same name, compulsory reading for every town planner.
His detailed and clearly documented transformation of sterile back and front gardens into a sustainable and bio diverse series of habitats was so skilful it took my breath away. Bravo Tom!

Hampton Court
Tom’s garden worked its magic on everyone who experienced it. Art and Science working hand in hand

Some other gardens I was deeply impressed with were in the ‘Get Started Garden’ section. Straightaway I have to say that none of these small gardens bore any resemblance whatsoever to my efforts when I first ‘got started’ with some random pots of nasturtiums and a Clematis montana that got out of control almost immediately (regular readers of our blog will know that Caroline has not moved on very much from this stage). These were mature designs, beautifully executed to create deeply arresting small spaces.

Hampton Court
I agreed with the judges that this ‘Renters’ Retreat‘ designed by Zoe Claymore for the Wildlife Trusts was the best in its class
Hampton Court
but this exciting ‘Nurturing Nature in the City’ designed by Caroline and Peter Clayton of Viriditas ran it a very close second

Onto the rose garden and I would be very happy if this marquee is what heaven turns out to be like. But, with a warning to anyone of a nervous disposition as I know it’s sacrilegious to cast any slight aspersion on a David Austin rose – I wasn’t completely bowled over by new DA introduction, ‘Penelope Lively’. Even Elaine’s WhatsApp comment of ‘well it’s a pretty shape and does well in shade I’m told’ wasn’t the normal over the top endorsement we normally get from her.

Rosa ‘Penelope Lively’
Hmmm it’s a bit like other several other David Austin roses isn’t it?

By now the heavens had opened but determined not to be the least bit sensible, instead of sheltering like all the grown-ups……

Hampton Court

I grabbed the chance of having Carol Klein’s masterclass of planting all to myself.

Hampton Court
Without my sisters there to tell me not to be so silly I reverted to my 12 year old self and just embraced the soaking I was getting as a small price to pay for having Carol’s lovely garden to myself for five minutes.

Carol is a consummate plantswoman and her Iconic Horticultural Hero Garden was a distillation of her years of growing plants at Glebe Cottage all in one place. If I could be as entertaining, enthusiastic and passionate about gardening as Carol at her age I would consider myself to have had a life well lived.

Hampton Court
I think Carol’s planting list included every single plant she has ever grown and loved

Knowing that there would definitely be some collateral damage in the form of plant purchases to be lugged home I left my visit to the Floral Marquee to the end of the day.

Hampton Court
The Floral Marquee definitely delivers on its strap line

Crowded and steamy, it was a febrile atmosphere of hopeless plantaholics indulging their habit. So many wonderful nurseries but one stood out for me. It was the D’arcy and Everest stand that ticked every box. A peerless Gold Medal winning display (our feature picture at the top of the blog) backed up by a well organised bank of eclectic but affordable alpines in portable 9 cm pots, slickly served by friendly, knowledgeable staff. That’s how you do it.

Hampton Court
Delighted with my little collection of plants from D’arcy and Everest- 6 for £20

Finally, and without my sisters there to veto my voting preferences here are my own set of special Hampton Court Flower Show awards:

Best Gate to Come Through : Ditton Gate – you enter by actually walking through the impressive formal garden of Hampton Court Palace itself.

Hampton Court
The Ditton Gate has the added bonus of a traverse across the Hampton Court Palace formal garden itself

Best Outfit: Arit Anderson by a country mile, I had loved all her Chelsea frocks but she’s lifted her fashion sense to another level at Hampton

Hampton Court Arit Andersen
Arit is fast becoming one of my favourite presenters. A really lovely person inside and out

Finally, Most Overheard Comment: all the following were on mobile phones ‘Where are you?’ ‘Which gate did you come in ?’ ‘Ok let’s meet in the Country Living Marquee for a coffee’ – for Hampton Court is not just a Flower Show, it’s a place to meet up with old friends, shop together, swap family news, spot a few celebrities and maybe buy a plant or two. I went on my own but bumped into so many old pals that it felt like the best sort of garden party – it was lovely to see you all Eleni, Fiona, Arran, Clare, Jonathan, Caroline…

In a rare feat of technical endeavour I (well Caroline if I’m honest) has made a short little film of this review.

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By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

6 replies on “Hampton Court Flower Show – Laura goes solo”

Thank you Laura, I really enjoyed your review. I love David Austin roses but agree that this years is nothing different from his many other beautiful roses.

Hello Mary, I think the thing is that we all have such high expectations of David Austin roses but there must be a limit to his creativity. We loved his new introduction at Chelsea ‘Dannahue’ but it takes to breed and then bulk up a new rose for the market and we can’t expect novelty and perfection several times a year! Glad you enjoyed my review, it’s not an easy show to get to with all the challenges of public transport strikes and traffic congestion so I wanted to pass on my experience to others who weren’t able to get there in person. Best wishes Laura

Re the DA rose, disease resistance reduces over time, so if you want a beautiful pink rose of this type, this might be a better choice than an older variety.

Also, I know DA has ‘retired’ some of their big name roses (Munstead Wood! Shropshire Lad! Graham Thomas!), so Penelope Lively may have replaced a similar old favourite.

Hello Barbara, thanks so much for getting in touch I had no idea that there has to be a replacement policy for roses that are reaching their allotted timespan with regard to vigour and disease resistance. That would explain entirely why Penelope Lively looks a bit reminiscent of some of the older DA introductions (feel a bit guilty now for criticising …) That’s the great thing about gardening – you learn something new every day! Thanks again and best wishes Laura

So pleased to watch your walk around Hampton Court. I’ve been very disappointed with how little there has been on BBC of this wonderful show. Having been regular visitors for many years, we’re now unable to go because of my husbands health. Watching your video almost took me there. Thank you.

Thanks Margaret – even making a little video like that is quite a challenge for us oldies but a nice comment like yours makes it all worthwhile. Thanks for taking the time to tell us how much you enjoyed it. Best wishes Laura

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