Annie Green-Armytage kicks off an occasional series on garden shows and festivals with a summer celebration of RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show
High summer is upon us, and the festival season is in full swing. No, not music festivals (although that’s true too) but garden festivals. Chelsea Flower Show has always gained most attention with its highbudget gardens and unrivalled celebrity-spotting opportunities, but other festivals have seen an upsurge in popularity in recent years.
Hampton Court Flower Show, like Chelsea, is run by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), but its focus is different, with an emphasis on seasonal fruit and veggies as well as flowers, and a relaxed day out in the green spaces of the parkland at the Palace. It takes place at the beginning of July so this month I am showcasing a gallery of pictures reflecting the flavour of this more laid-back, but just as enjoyable, flower, plant and garden festival.
The festival surrounds the impressive and historic ‘Long Water’, a canal which forms the central avenue and vista from the palace. It was constructed in the 17th century by Charles II, in preparation for the arrival of his bride, Catherine of Braganza. Apparently when they honeymooned at the palace, there were boats in the shape of swans sailing up and down the canal. No boats at the show, but there are bridges across the water at several points and a new feature for 2018: a meadow of airy purple Verbena bonariensis sweeping along it.
The show gardens are spread around the site, and these are brim-full of ideas to hijack for your own garden. Outdoor living ideas range from comfy outdoor settees to complete kitchens. You can learn how to make your garden more sustainable too, with rain chains, green roofs and even recycled bike wheels as a see-through fence. For purely ornamental design, check out hard landscaping details in the gardens or go straight to the horse’s mouth with a multitude of exhibitors showcasing their garden art and craft; or browse amongst stands of innovative tools and ranges of brightly – some might say bizarrely – coloured wellies and gloves.
At Hampton, it’s full-on summer, and the plant palette reflects this with vibrant hot colours from achillea and echinacea, and cool blues of agapanthus, eryngium and echinops. These plants have stature as well as brilliance: architectural shapes, contrasting foliage, and bold flower forms. And as many crops come naturally to their harvest time, you can also see scarlet chillies, purple beetroot and rainbow chard.
In the floral marquee there will be more than 80 specialist nurseries, including National Plant Collection holders from Plant Heritage, who celebrate their 40th anniversary this year. One of the RHS themes this year even illustrates a journey through evolution, from pre-historic jungles through flowering meadows, fossils and the development of seeds.
Families are made welcome here, with a range of ideas on show for younger members. Past years have seen the winning entries from a primary schools’ Rocket Science scarecrow competition, veggies grown in recycled baked bean tins, and homemade bug motels. What’s more, up to two under-16s get into the show free with each paying adult.
RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, at East Molesey, KT8 9AT, runs from July 3 to 8 (July 3-4 is members only), with a preview evening on July 2. Each paying adult can bring two under16s free of charge.
For ticket information see rhs.org.uk/showsevents/rhs-hampton-court-palace-flower-show and follow the links.
Lunch among the flowers. An idyllic setting for this impossibly floating cedar table which is cantilevered - no more knee-bashing on an inconvenient leg. The inspired planting includes Agapanthus ‘Silver Moon’, Verbena macdougalii, Perovskia atriplicifolia and Deschampsia cespitosa. Behind the table are Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, Ammi majus, Angelica ‘Ebony’, white agapanthus and Ferula communis in the corner. Vestra Wealth’s Vista, designed by Paul Martin
Achillea millefolium ‘Red Velvet’ with Stipa tenuissima create a perfect contrast in this naturalistic planting in one of the Gardens of the USA, designed by Sadie May Stowell An unusual white echinacea, E. ‘White Spider with Eryngium ‘Jos Eijking’ in a cooler planting combination. Designed by Jeni Cairns and Sophie Antonelli as part of the Space to Connect and Grow garden
Fruit and vegetables are an important part of the Show: here scarlet chillies are trained up a bamboo cane wigwam Cool blue Agapanthus with Verbenabonariensis in the NSPCC Legacy Garden, designed by Wolcott and Smith
Yellow Eremurus (fox-tail lily) contrasts with Agapanthus ‘Back in Black’, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and Stipa tenuissima in the Space to Connect and Grow garden. Designed by Jeni Cairns and Sophie Antonelli
Plenty of veggies are included at Hampton; this small containerised garden has wooden raised beds for ease of maintenance. Vegetables include Chard ‘Bright Lights’, Tomato ‘Santa’, carrots, courgettes, beans, lettuce. Garden of Regeneration, designed by Philippa Pearson.
This inspired planting includes waterloving marginals Hosta ‘Halcyon’,Persicaria microcephala ‘Red Dragon’, and creeping jenny (Lysimachia nummularia), within the water feature Japanese bloodgrass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’) and Agastache, in the gravel scree beneath.
White marble-look paving contrasts the brilliantly coloured planting in this idea for a sheltered city garden. The plants include drought resistant choices such as Eryngium × zabelii ‘Neptune’s Gold,Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’, and Geum ‘Fire Opal’. Designed by Beautiful Borders Garden Design.
A bug hotel formed a focal point in the Growing to Eat, Eating to Grow Garden, designed by Alton Infant School. Created with a variety of materials, including cut-up bamboo canes, straw, fir cones and seedheads, it is surrounded by runner beans growing in baked bean tins recycled from the school kitchen.
A hessian hedgehog with chives for spikes formed part of the Hedgehog Street garden, designed by Tracy Foster for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species. This garden was raising awareness around the dramatic decline in hedgehog numbers. Research undertaken by the Trust shows that the hedgehog population has decreased by around a third since the millennium
Entries in the Rocket Science Scarecrow Competition included Abbey’s Astrawnaut by Abbey Primary School and Atomer the Tomato Alien by John Ruskin Primary School.
The Silver Space Scarecrow was one of the entries in the 2016 Rocket Science Scarecrow Competition. With lavender for hair, naturally
Growing to Eat, Eating to Grow, was the theme of this tiny containerised garden created by the children of Alton Infant School in 2016. It featured vegetables, herbs and edible flowers, including pot marigolds (Calendula) and nasturtiums. Veggies included purple-podded French beans, runner beans in baked bean tins recycled from the school kitchen, and salad leaves and African blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum)