5 Jul 2018

Some observations from the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

Settle in for a long post, folks - I spent Monday at the third of the four main RHS summer flower shows, held in the best of locations at the rear of Hampton Court Palace.

The show is vast - allegedly the biggest flower show in the world -  and is hosted on a huge site straddling the Long Water canal created by Charles II (1660-85) to welcome his Spanish bride. The different categories of show gardens are dotted throughout the site making it quite a challenge to take it all in. There are show gardens, world gardens, gardens for a changing world, lifestyle gardens, a conceptual garden, flower box gardens, veg box gardens, and feature gardens. That alone would be enough for me but there are also treasure trails for children, a community growing area, an enormous Floral Marquee, the Festival of Roses marquee, talks, workshops, celebrity demonstrations and, thankfully, lots of seating and eating. Comfy footwear is essential if you want to see it all, and more than once I wished I'd taken my hat to combat the day's bright sunlight and heat!

Just one of the celebrity theatres hosting demonstrations.  Celebrated Chef, Raymond Blanc, put together delicious salads on the day I was there.  Click pic to see larger timetable!

It was a lot to take in - and to think about afterwards. Thousands of Busy Lizzies swayed the judges to award a Gold Medal to one show garden; I have to beg to differ on that, they're not my favourite plants although it made a change from seeing the more ubiquitous closely planted achillea, orlaya, rudbeckia, salvia, etc. As I overheard from one onlooker "these gardens all look the same"!  To a certain extent, maybe.

Better, there was a lot more naturalistic planting - Anne Marie Powell's feature garden celebrates the 30th anniversary of BBC television's Countryfile programme with hedgerows, a gnarled willow tree, streams and stepping boulders across a pond.  Good to see the British countryside represented here, albeit in a finely honed, designed version. Hopefully it will encourage a few more ponds and wildlife areas in domestic gardens, although not on this scale!

Water featured in many gardens - from the fountains in the Charleston garden, the hot tub in the Nordic garden, the waterfalls of Oregon, streams, ponds, gushing water features and the beach of Galicia (which I chat about below).  Rocks were a recurring theme too.

Waterfall feature in the Oregon World Garden.
Even if the country wasn't in the middle of a heatwave, a water feature is such a great addition to a garden area, whether in the form of a small wildlife pond, a water fountain, or a more formal water feature. Water ripples on the breeze, trickles to make sounds, hosts wildlife, and provides bathing and drinking for birds. With luck, a small pond might also host a few slug eating frogs. It was brilliant to see water features in both small and large gardens here at Hampton Court.

Also this year the RHS celebrates Iconic Horticultural Heroes with a new feature area. The first of these heroes is Piet Oudolf and he'd planted up a large meadow area in his inimitable style.  With sunshine and an evening breeze, the grasses and perennials swished around to full effect.  A glorious sight with identifiable planting making it easy to copy for a perennial meadow effect at home.

Hoping for some of this in my own garden this year - Monarda fistulosa aka Wild Bergamot

Achillea aka Yarrow

Echinacea pallida

Helenium, Echinacea, Stipa grasses, alliums, flowering wild carrot,  and lots more that I can't remember!

Of all the show gardens, the first garden I saw has remained my absolute favourite - A Garden at the End of the Earth, designed by Rose McMonigall for Galicia tourism. As a yachtswoman, she is well acquainted with the rocky coastline of Finisterre in northern Spain and used that to evoke a calm, secluded fisherman's garden in one of Galicia's sheltered Rías or estuaries.  A boat moored in the shallows, a rock pool, dappled shade, a backdrop of scallop shells, simple planting and the Finisterre coastline combined to conjure the perfect antidote to the scorching hot day.

I love the attention to detail in the garden; not just the authentic lobster pots, rustic bench and nets outside the fisherman's cottage but seaweed, pebbles and razor shells tucked around the rocks on the beach. There was even a tiny crab placed at the edge of the water.

The simple planting is representative of the natural flora of the Finisterre region but is also hardy enough for a coastal or city garden in the UK.  Asters, Euphorbia myrsinites, grasses (Stipa and Carex), Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima),  Eryngiums, Erigeron and Sea Campion kept the palette simple and all would thrive in free draining soil.  Beautiful, I hope you agree?

And, on that note, I'm off to the coast myself to enjoy some of this lovely weather with sea breezes. But there's more to write about from the show - good ideas from the Dig In plot to plate arena, the Floral Marquee, and the tiny Flower Box and Veg Box gardens.  Back soon with this news but, in the meantime, if you can get to the show, it's well worth the effort!

Looking back towards Hampton Court Palace from the bridge across the Long Water

The show is easily reached by train from London with the station just a short walk away from the show grounds along the very scenic river path. (Car parking is also available but expensive.)


  1. Fantastic post for those of us who weren't able to make it to the show - thank you!
    Ps: I always think those Echinacea pallida look like jellyfish (in a good way).

    1. Yes! You're right about the Echinacea, they do look as if they'll drift away :) I really should grow some myself.

  2. Love that garden too, the attention to detail is marvelous. I'm not a bizzie lizzie fan either, but do love monarda, I have it here but it is susceptible to mildew.
    Have a lovely time at the coast.xxx


Thank you to everyone who leaves a comment, it helps to know that my scribblings are being read! If you have a question, I'll answer it here or contact me via the 'Contact Me' form at the top.

Comment moderation is on to avoid spam nonsense getting published. No offence to genuine commenters who are very welcome!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...