06 July 2017
Hampton Court Flower Show 2017
Flowers or tennis?
By Lynda Goetz
It is that time of year again. The time of year when the pull of South West London becomes irresistible to many and the yellow and black AA signs sprout up around Wimbledon and Kingston, directing traffic to either ‘Wimbledon Tennis’ or ‘Flower Show Hampton Court’. Those who simply wish to pursue their usual routines become ‘Through traffic’, although with little chance of getting very quickly through the inevitable jams.
Hampton Court Flower show has now been the second RHS show for 24 years and has a distinctly different character to that of its older and more prestigious sibling, Chelsea. The main difference (apart from the luxuries of space and grass, of course, which I highlighted last year – Hampton Court Flower Show 2016) is the fact that Hampton Court is, in all honesty, as much about the shopping as the gardens. Mainly shopping for the garden, you understand, but that does not eliminate some luxury self-indulgence in the Country Living tent where you can buy all kind of things from wine, cheese and olive oil to bedspreads, cashmere capes, merino blankets, embroidered silk jackets and jewellery. The Hampton Court flower show is, in many more ways than Chelsea, a ‘lifestyle’ event.
Imagine yourself of a warm summer evening out on your patio or decking. You will need a table and chairs of course, but do you have the luxury outdoor furniture as well? What about the pizza oven, the garden fireplace, the outdoor beanbags, the discreet lighting, the beautiful carriage lamps to stop your candles from succumbing to the breeze? What if, heaven forbid, it should rain? You could perhaps still be outside under the shelter of a covered wrought iron gazebo or an African-style thatched hut. Would you like the sound of tinkling or cascading water nearby, perhaps with a beautiful sculpture in bronze or stone? At Chelsea, you can get the ideas from the magnificent show gardens; you can see and be seen; you can also buy from the trade stands; but because of the constraints of space the choice is not as extensive or as varied as it is at Hampton Court. Hampton Court is a wonderful alluring, dream-filled shopping opportunity.
On the first day when the show is open to the paying public (albeit RHS members only), it is probably fair to say that most of those attending have quite probably got over the need to impress the neighbours with their Indian fire baskets, Raj tents or obelisk-style sculpture, and are indeed keen mainly to fill those gaps in the white garden or find another of those stunning pink and white roses they found last year. Indeed, from the number queuing to get in before the gates open at 10am, one might imagine that the supply of purple hydrangeas or variegated miniature hostas might disappear unless snapped up from the outset. In fact, the many nurseries for whom this show is a highlight of their year have ensured that they have a sufficiency of stock ready behind the scenes. Unless you really are after something very rare or unusual, it is unlikely that you will be disappointed.
This is a show of abundance. There is the Plant Village at the Stud Gate or Long Water Gate entrance – an eye-catching collection of stands and displays by specialist nurseries and growers. Here you can buy everything from the simplest of country cottage plants and herbs to the sophisticated intricacies of living willow sculptures suitable for city roof gardens; rare perennials and shrubs to shade-loving plants and fully grown trees. Inside the Floral marquee, your senses are likewise assaulted by the vibrant colours and scents of exotic lilies, perennials, conservatory climbers, indoor and outdoor plants and shrubs from specialist nurseries around the country. All are available to purchase and most can be taken away on the spot to be left at one or other of the plant crèches dotted around the 25 acre site, ready for collection later in the day. In the Festival of Roses marquee you can indulge your passion for ‘England’s favourite flower’, artfully arranged and wonderfully scented and also available in every colour, habit and variety. Once purchased, these too can be left at the crèche and will be delivered to your gate of departure.
Apart from the buying aspect of the show, there are of course the show gardens, ‘attracting garden and landscape designers with impeccable credentials as well as up-and-coming talent’ as the brochure explains. Some of these gardens are ‘worthy’, some pretentious, some inspiring, some charming. The Centre for Mental Health Garden: ‘On the Edge’ was for me the best of these in the category and is of course highly topical. The garden attempts ‘a physical evocation of the journeys people make to manage their condition’. From a narrow path and up steep steps with dark and spiky planting through to a more open broad staircase descending to a pool and lighter, softer planting, the whole is executed with thought and elegance as well as attractive planting. The Southend gardens built by young offenders are also worthy of mention and will be on show later in Priory Park in Southend-on-Sea as part of their 125 year celebrations.
The four World Gardens are also interesting, particularly the Oregon garden, taking its inspiration from the mountainous landscape of that state. The colour palette of deep red, creams and pinks with a backdrop of conifers and maples around a still pool makes a delightful space. The Gardens for a Changing World category requires the designers to address the questions of sustainability, regeneration and recycling and these are on the whole thought-provoking rather than beautiful or inspirational, and the Conceptual Gardens category ‘offers designers the chance to push the boundaries of what defines a garden’.
A day is possibly not really long enough to do and see everything there is at this show. We did not make it into the Butterfly Dome or to any of the Celebrity Talks (Chris Packham and Charlie Dimmock were mainly on offer on Tuesday), nor did we manage the Floral Design Studio or the Cook and Grow venue. I guess there is always next year. As we made our way back to the car with our booty, we were reminded of the notice we had seen on entering, ‘Please Stagger Your Departure’. We were not sure how you were supposed to know when everyone else was leaving, but there was no doubt that laden down with plants and other goods, there was certainly a lot of staggering!
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