I was thrilled last week to receive an invite to the hottest event of the month. Was it the Wimbledon finals, or men’s Olympic relay? No! While both of these would have been welcomed, instead it was something to delight the gardener in me: VIP tickets to the preview evening of the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.
World of gardens
Perhaps in honour of the Olympics and the many international visitors who will be flooding to London this summer, this year’s show featured four gardens designed to transport guests to faraway lands without leaving the palace grounds.
From Russia to the Azores I wandered, discovering Jordan along the way, finally reaching my favourite of the four, the Swiss Alpine Garden. Designed by Sadie May Stowell, and winner of a Silver Gilt medal, the garden includes a traditional Swiss chalet and glacial lake. The stark contrast between craggy rocks and delicate planting represents a Swiss mountainside, whilst the beautiful wild flowers whisked me away to an alpine meadow.
Of the Conceptual Gardens, I most enjoyed Light at the End of the Tunnel. Designed by Matthew Childs, a survivor of the 7/7 London Bombings, the garden was crowned ‘Best Conceptual Garden’ and awarded a Gold medal. A one-way system directs visitors through the tunnel-like garden which at first is dark, confined and sparsely planted. Moving along the path the tunnel opens up becoming lighter and revealing, at the end, more voluptuous planting. The journey through the garden depicts the road to recovery taken by the designer following his ordeal in the 2005 bombings, showing how something positive can come from a negative.
Whilst browsing the gardens I was interested to see how many incorporated sustainability into their designs. I was pleased to see a number of environmentally conscious concepts within the displays.
The headline sponsor of this year’s flower show was Ecover whose show feature, designed by Tony Smith, was by far the most ecologically conscious. The display of renewable Arundo donax represented a tropical sugar cane field, inspired by Ecover’s new product packaging. Made entirely from sugar cane the ‘Plant-astic’ packaging offers a sustainable alternative to petrochemical derived plastic bottles. Many trees around the show could be spotted ‘fruiting’ the 100% plant material bottles, demonstrating that packaging really can grow on trees.
The Butterfly Jungles Transitions, designed by Paul Allen, Lucy Hughesdon & Lydia Harvey was another highlight for me. It aims to raise awareness of the worldwide decline in butterflies. There has been a significant lack of butterflies in my own garden this year so I was interested to learn what plant varieties would attract and support them. How do you lure these beautiful creatures to your surroundings? ‘Butterfly Jungles’ incorporates butterfly friendly planting ranging from wildflowers to exotic vegetation. The climax is the tropical greenhouse which is home to a striking selection of butterflies. Wing your way over to the display and you may be lucky enough to spot some of the common UK butterfly species which will be released during the show.
I spent a considerable amount of time in the Romance & Roses Marquee, enjoying the sight and fragrance of the hundreds of rose varieties on show. I was determined to find the perfect gift for my grandparents’ forthcoming Diamond Wedding Anniversary. There were a number of aptly named roses but none of the blooms seemed special enough to mark an incredible 60 years of marriage. If you know of a glorious ‘diamond’ rose, I’d be delighted to hear about it.
Being a romantic at heart, the flower which stood out for me was ‘William & Catherine’ a delicate lace-like variety reminiscent of the stunning dress worn by Miss Middleton at her marriage to Prince William last year. Another personal favourite was ‘Champagne Cocktail’, with gorgeous variegated pink and yellow petals.
It was whilst viewing these beauties that I was dragged from the marquee to enjoy a cocktail of my own at a reception with delightful musical accompaniment. This was followed by a sumptuous 4-course dinner in the Allium restaurant, with panoramic views over the show. The evening closed with a breathtaking fireworks display over the Long Water, my enjoyment of which was not hampered by the persistent rain.
If you’re heading to Hampton Court this year you’re guaranteed to discover a few delights and I look forward to hearing your highlights. If I have any advice to offer it would be to check the weather forecast- Take it from me, open-toed wedges and muddy walkways are not a great combination! Secondly, allow yourself plenty of time to explore. Although it’s a privilege to be among the first to view the show, the preview evening was a little too short to enable me to see everything I’d hoped. However this does give me a reason to return for a second viewing. Encore!