The reason that I love Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival so much is that I think it encourages a lot of people to get into the garden. Chelsea Flower Show is amazing, aspirational, inspirational etc etc, but I am always left feeling a bit over-awed. By contrast, when I come away from this show, I am always buzzing with ideas for my own tiny patch. This year’s show seemed to me to be even more achievable than ever, so I thought I would pass on some of the fabulous ideas that I saw – and hope that it might enthuse you in a similar way.
I was very excited to be visiting this year. It’s my fourth time at the show, and I was anticipating the beautiful walk from the immaculate station at Hampton Court, along the River Thames with moored boats bobbing at the edge, and the spectacle of Hampton Court Palace on the left. There is something very special about the location of this show and once again, the weather was fantastic. On press day, the show gardens are just finished and looking fresh and immaculate, ready for the judging to take place. I liked this floral welcome by the RHS….
The BBC Springwatch Garden (above) designed by Jo Thompson
Although this show is a parade of delights and a garden fantasy in many ways, I did feel that there were more serious messages emerging from the fun and frivolity. Climate change is something that designers had taken on board: Beth Chatto’s Drought Tolerant garden was one example of this. Growing your own food and flowers, not just as a means to an end, but as a way of attracting pollinators and helping the beleaguered bee, was another strong trend. And then there was mental health and wellbeing, something we all know is a fantastic benefit of gardening, and which featured strongly in some of the gardens. The Lagom Garden, sponsored by Viking Cruises, was all about calm, The Urban Pollinator Garden by Caitlin McLaughlin was about combining style with a nature friendly plot, the BBC Springwatch Garden also embraced this theme, and Pollyanna Wilkinson’s Naturecraft Garden focussed on creating beautiful objects from the plants we grow, and within that, it highlighted the many benefits of creativity – both mental and physical.
The Lagom Garden – a calming palette of blue, white and mauve
Of course, there are many ways that we can all encourage bees to our plots, and the Urban Pollinator Garden by Caitlin McLaughlin (see below) was a mass of takeaway ideas to try. Incorporating habitats within a stylish garden design was key to this one – hexagonal paving concealed straw-lined cavities for underground bumblebee nests, and the walls featured Bee Bricks, homes for solitary bees. A crab apple tree provided a source of spring pollen and a shallow cobble pond was the ideal spot for insects to drink. Bee friendly plants, such as Campanula, Astrantia, Digitalis, and Achillea, were present in the planting – all great plants for including in borders, and all widely available to buy from garden centres or nurseries.
The urban pollinator garden
Growing your Own is no longer about muddy boots on the allotment – we can all have a go at it, and it is a brilliant way to reduce plastic consumption. I found so many excellent ideas about edibles at the show this year.
Whether it’s a row of juicy tomatoes (or a pot, or a gro-bag) or a container full of spicy chillis, it is worth having a go at raising some home grown produce.
The presentation is so tempting – it just makes me want to rush home and get planting.
The stall holders get on board with the themes.
And alongside the messages and the food for thought, there is also an abundance of inspiration. The Floral Marquee is especially good for this. It hosts nurseries from all over the UK, the ones at the top of their game, and it’s just a joy to wander through absorbing the displays, making a note of names of plants that you’d like to try, and maybe even buying one or two to take home. Here’s a small selection of what I saw and loved:
Gorgeous – I loved this patchwork of textures.
Hostas – a wonderful way to grow them in my courtyard garden, and look at all these amazing varieties!
Cottage garden planting by the famous Hardy’s. Lovely achillea on the left, and those dianthus are just right at the front.
Probably my favourite – just dreamy, spires, circles, spikes. Lovely. And you wouldn’t need a vast space to recreate this effect (or a vast budget!).
And how about this for a neat idea? Old wooden crates full of hardy geraniums on a gravel bed. Can’t beat an up cycled focal point like this weathered watering can. I love the green against the purple.
Phew – so many ideas everywhere I looked. At times, I had to go off for a sit down to process what I was seeing. All that loveliness can be a bit overwhelming. An ice cream under a tree in the park always works…
Even when I was having a break, I could not stop ogling plant stalls … I was, in fact, oblivious to the celebrities who often come along on the quieter press day, though. It was only when I saw a massive crowd that I realised that Kate (Duchess, Royal person) was a few metres away, that the presenter from The One Show was feeding her baby at the next table, and the man who was constantly leaping up to have selfies taken with fans was Brendan from Strictly. I was sorry that I did not spot Lee Mack, one of the stallholders told me he was wandering round, and I would have liked to have seen Jo Whiley (she always wears great dresses) …but never mind. The plants are enough for me.
So many amazing plant sellers.
One lovely thing about Hampton Court is that children are so actively encouraged to get growing. There were lots of school parties present when I attended, plus competitions, installations and show gardens all aimed at encouraging their enthusiasm. Believe in Tomorrow was one such. The Springwatch garden was also very inclusive, and imagined three neighbouring gardens in the same street.
I’m going to finish this post with the Naturecraft Garden which gained the People’s Choice Award. Designed by Pollyanna Wilkinson, this was a craft lovers’ paradise, designed to show how plants can be used to make wonderful things.
That could be plant dyes for fabrics and paper, plants for herbal medicines, flower pressing, wreath making – all the things I love to do. I particularly loved the Shepherds Hut where you could open the doors and reveal a secret workshop. And look at those tiny alpine strawberries in the shot above!
Inside the Shepherd’s Hut…
And a general view
My favourite detail was the erigeron planted in the crevices of the paving.
When I got home, I went and bought some of these and did the exact same thing! This is what I mean about Hampton Court – you really can find so many takeaway ideas.
I hope you enjoyed this short tour. I do highly recommend it for a day out.