When it comes to the RHS’s London flowers shows, Chelsea’s all very well, but Hampton Court’s far more civilized. Just as many celebs and socialites on press day, but far more relaxed, far more spacious and, with far more opportunity to buy plants from nurseries and all manner of related paraphernalia from the trade stands, it tends to draw people who are interested in gardening, rather than being interested in being seen to attend an event. You know. Real people. Like us.
Which isn’t to say we don’t want to see the outlandish, the bonkers, and the frankly bloody awful. It’s all a matter of taste, and we’d feel cheated if we didn’t have something to whinge about – we are British, after all. There was plenty to keep us happy in that respect, but it’s always been my intention on this blog to accentuate the positive, and to leave others to mess with Mr Inbetween and, in that spirit, I’m pleased to share with you my highlights from the gardens at this year’s show.
The first thing that hits you about the appropriately named Colour Box, by Charlie Bloom and Simon Webster, is it’s sheer vibrancy – encountering the garden delivers a shot of adrenalin to the system via the optic nerves. And usually, I might find such gregariousness a tad offensive, but not so here.
There’s a delicacy in the planting which, accompanied by a painterly touch to the use of strong colours – in the plants and the cube seating – and the more muted shades of the laser cut CORTEN steel panels and the dark paving, renders the overall effect at once energizing and meditative. The second thing that hits you about this show garden is that the entire project has been fulfilled in the absence of major sponsorship, a triumph of goodwill, enthusiasm, and the power of the horticultural corner of social media.
I kept sneaking back here throughout the day to gaze, and take further photographs, like some dodgy garden stalker, peering through the verbena. A real highlight of this year’s show for me.
Another highlight was Rose McMonigall’s The Pazo’s Secret Garden for Tursimo de Galicia, a portrayal of a secluded courtyard garden in this temperate region of northern Spain. It was a garden I could feel immediately at home in, and not just for the attractively worn stone hardscaping, the formally trimmed box cones and hydrangeas in stone urns. But for the shady corners populated with harts-tongue ferns, the weedy geraniums taking a hold in dry cracks, the Mind Your Own Business colonizing one corner of the terrace – it was a relaxed and slightly weedy space, with strong structural bones that perfectly trod the line between order and chaos where, as those of us who garden upon this precarious margin know too well, a kind of dynamism exists in the tension between the natural and the built environment. I could wax lyrical about it for an age, and I loved the garden, but even more so finding a kindred ‘weed’-loving spirit in Rose.
Martyn Wilson told me how he had been inspired by New York’s High Line and the Landshaftspark in Duisburg-Meiderich, Germany, for Brownfield – Metamorphosis, the latest in a developing trend in RHS show gardens which explores the theme of nature reclaiming abandoned industrial sites, and the reclamation of the land as a positive and sustainable resource for the local community.
I talked with Andreas Chistodoulou, who has combined his professional architectural approach with the plantsmanship of Jonathan Davies in creating London Glades – a naturalistic space which is refreshing, not just for its incorporation of sustainable ideas such as Hugelkultur – which uses the natural composition of harvested deadwood and prunings to promote a moist, nutrient rich environment for plants – but also for embracing phenomenological philosophy within the design. It results in a space rich in tactile and sensory experience (the designers were encouraging visitors to walk through the garden barefoot in order to feel the textures of the different ground cover plants), where the placement of individual elements had all be carefully modeled in relation to the aspect and the prevailing light.
One of the most successful gardens appears to have had probably the loosest brief– you can do this when you’re designing one of the RHS gardens that are excluded from the judging process, and Andy Sturgeon has made the most of this flexibility with Watch This Space, reusing elements from past RHS Chelsea Flower Show gardens. The process of building the garden was intended to encourage young people into the landscaping industry by focusing on the GoLandscape initiative from the British Association of Landscape Industries, and if the students and apprentices who put the garden together derived a fraction of the pleasure from it as we get from looking at what they’ve created, we can only assume they’ll be suitably hooked on the landscaping career path.
I’ve never before been at Hampton Court late into the day for the gala evening, but it’s certainly worth experiencing, if only to see a combination of the low evening sunlight slanting through the plants, and the gardens themselves filled with people, making them suddenly appear less static than they seem on a normal show day. One garden that demonstrated this perfectly was the Zoflora and Adwell Children’s Wild Garden by Adam White and Andrée Davies, a playful and engaging space designed to appeal to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
I spent some minutes mesmerised by the expertly weaved willow structures on the The Blind Veterans UK: It’s All About Community garden by Andrew Fisher Tomlinson and Dan Bowyer. The writhed out of the kitchen garden beds and through the orchard and ornamentals, before engulfing the gazebo like a tentacle sea-monster around a ship. It was a willow-weaving tour de force.
Continuing a theme noted at Chelsea, the trade stands are look fabulous. I loved the retro detail on the Gabriel Ash greenhouse display.
Part 2 of my RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2017 blog posts will follow shortly – the Floral Pavilion. I hope you’ll come back soon!
Are you going to the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show this year? What are you looking forward to seeing or, if you’ve already been, what really struck you? Let me know, either in the comments below, or on twitter at @andrewtimothyob.