Hampton Court Flower Show – nature in the city

On Monday I had the great experience of an invitation to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show press day. You might remember, I visited Hampton Court gardens last autumn, but I’d never before been to the famous Flower Show held in the Palace parklands.

What a treat!

This impressive event is not quite as famous as Chelsea Flower Show, but I had noticed among Twitter and Facebook gardening experts that it is their preferred Show to visit… a show for ‘real gardeners’ who have dirt under their fingernails. It didn’t disappoint (although all nails looked nicely scrubbed for the occasion). With its sprawling, spacious setting, trees, water and cool grass, it’s a much more relaxed and enjoyable experience all round.

The show continues for the rest of this week, ending on Sunday afternoon with a sell off of plants to the public at special prices. If you’ve never been before, and can get to Hampton, I urge you to give it a visit. Tickets are still available for sale, so what, with this fabulous weather, are you waiting for?!

Read on for my take on the key trends at the show…

The Show Gardens: everything’s going natural…

(above) the Children’s Wild Garden

If you thought Chelsea has gone unfathomably extreme with its emulations of arid Maltese mountains, ‘untamed’ Provencal river beds, Heathcliffian wildernesses etc, yet impossibly high-maintenance with those set-in-time biblical stage sets, then the Hampton Show gardens are the antidote…

(above) Andy Sturgeon’s ‘Recycled’ garden

The bedrock ethos here, in nearly all the gardens, is about bringing nature, real, native, seasonal nature, into our gardens. And embracing its unkempt glory of daily change – birth, growth, decay, not just a static snap shot of false perfection – as the real beauty… an inner beauty that shows, even in an inner-city garden, nature can be encouraged and fostered and multiplied to great reward…

(above) The beautiful Oregon Garden, in the USA Gardens group

So I think the biggest trend in these shows is not driven top-down from the designer with a big sponsor’s pay cheque in his/her pocket, but how strongly garden designers are being influenced by the ground swell of campaigners for nature… who have also touched the public… who are in turn demanding more than just colourful borders of throw-away bedding and fashionable exotics from the design and gardening industry at large…

(above) a garden inspired by brownfield sites in the Gardens for a Changing Wold section

And also the call from urban activists to not develop every square inch of our cities with concrete carports and hardscaped BBQ patios… instead to nurture untamed pockets for nature to thrive, creating corridors for wildlife through our cities. With the demand for brownfield land so high, these spaces have become even more rarefied to a point that they now appear as garden ‘art’ rather than ugly wasteland.

(above) My favourite garden at the show, London Glades

These unsung ‘Davids and Daniels’ – who have been beavering away for years, decades, to bring us news and facts… About our changing climate, our threatened wildlife, our declining bees, butterflies and other pollinators… Who have simultaneously strived to not offer doom and gloom but to show ways, methods, ideas and solutions for change and improvement that we can all easily, inexpensively, adopt – These heroes, so often unnoticed, disregarded as cranks, berated and ridiculed by the might and ferocity of the ‘Goliaths and lions’ of Big horticultural companies and the broader agricultural industry. If there’s one uniting trend to celebrate with Gold medals, stars and accolades, at this Show, I would say it is them.

(above) One of the few more ‘formal’ paved gardens, is otherwise very natural: World of Discovery Arden

Nevertheless, I hope this is not just a fashion that in a year or two will be dropped by designers and become passé… I hope that, like here at Hampton, garden designers get more sophisticated with the challenge of making gardens attractive as landscapes for nature in synthesis with human needs, and that design will continue to evolve with creative, innovative and inspiring ideas that help us all (however tiny our spaces), collectively, make our world a real Eden again.

Click here for the RHS Top Things To Do at the Hampton Show

If you’d like to read more in-depth about the gardens at the show then I can highly recommend Nic Wilson’s blog, Dogwooddays.net . A fellow garden blogger, and designer-in-training, with a lot more horticultural knowledge, I had the pleasure of her company and expertise walking around the show. Thank you, Nic!

And for two more perspectives on the show, why not check out Andrew’s blog GardensWordsandWeeds.com and Sean’s at SeanJCameron.com

Are you tempted to go to the show? What are your thoughts on the gardens?






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