Visits with interesting plants

Visits July 2019 – Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival

July 2019

RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival

There was so much to see at the Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, formerly known as the Hampton Court flower show.

The layout of the show was slightly different from previous years, but unless you go to the show regularly, in which case it’s a bit like going to the supermarket and realising they’ve moved the milk, you probably wouldn’t know it had changed.

The only drawback to the new layout to my mind is that this year the show gardens formed small clusters in different areas of the show rather than being concentrated in a couple of main areas. It’s such a big site this does mean you could easily miss some of them, especially if its very crowded, so you really need to buy the programme if you want to make sure you see them all!

There was quite a lot you wouldn’t want to miss this year, including the Beth Chatto Drought Resistant garden. Designed to fit in with her philosophy of using the right plant for the right place, this was a masterpiece of colour and texture and a masterclass in taking relatively ordinary plants that are easy to grow and using them in combinations that create a gorgeous tapestry. Incidentally, you can buy a collection of the plants used in this garden from the Beth Chatto nursery, making it easy to re-create something similar at home. I’ve often bought plants from the nursery for trials when I was working for Which? Gardening magazine, so I can recommend them as I know the quality is good.

Also easy to find, not least because of the scrum of photographers, video cameras and general gawpers (myself included) trying to catch a glimpse of Michaela Strachan and Chris Packham who were there on the press day, was the Springwatch garden. The garden was designed by Jo Thompson to show you how easy and attractive it is to ‘re-wild’ your garden and I loved the look of it, although I have to confess it’s not something I’d do in my own garden.

In my experience insects aren’t overly bothered about how you arrange your plants and this ‘wild’ look wouldn’t work in my long, narrow terraced garden. Plant communities that support a wide range of wildlife don’t have to look like this either, they can look like a normal herbaceous border or they can look like the Beth Chatto Drought Resistant garden, above, which was also teeming with insects. To encourage and help the many different forms of life that can exist in a garden, it helps to look at lists of plants that are good for pollinators and use as many as possible, and it helps to plant closely and allow things to be a bit messy. It doesn’t have to be specifically ‘wild’. This isn’t just my view, it is backed up by a considerable amount of research carried out at Sussex University and at RHS Wisley, amongst others. But I do think that a wildflower meadows looks very attractive when done well like this. If I had a much larger garden I might aim for something like this in part of it.

These two smaller show gardens particularly caught my eye. It was a hot day, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that A Place to Meet (the two left hand pictures) looked so alluring, with its pint-sized plunge pool. How lovely to have one of these in your garden on a hot day, and it wouldn’t take up much space! The seating area was also very attractive and the planting looked natural and effortless, a sure sign of a designer who knows what they’re doing. The Cancer Research UK Pledge Pathway to Progress in the two pictures on the right was also beautiful, using circles and spirals to both illustrate its theme and to create a harmonious and very colourful garden that felt surprisingly calm and relaxing, despite the hubbub of the show all around.

One of the things many visitors love about the Hampton Court Palace show is that unlike the RHS Chelsea Flower show, you can buy plants, as well as ornaments, lights, tools, clothes, jewellery and food. This is true of most of the other shows round the country as well, and is one of the main reasons people like to visit them.

In the flower marquee and on outside stands, there are a huge number of top-notch nurseries displaying their range. This is a great way to buy good quality plants, especially if you want something specific or a bit out of the ordinary. For instance, Downderry Nursery displays more different cultivars and colours of lavender than you might have thought existed. Achillea, so popular in the show gardens and also very popular with pollinators, are displayed in an array of colours that open your eyes to the possibilities of using them. There are many new varieties of plants, too. Specialist nursery Thorncroft Clematis launched several new clematis, including ‘Spotlight’, above, an ethereal blue large, early flowering variety that managed to stand out in a very diverse and already crowded market. A vibrant and alluring new crocosmia called ‘Firestarter’ was being launched on the Hardy’s Cottage Garden stand. Rosemary Hardy is well known for the many new plant varieties she’s introduced and often bred (though the crocosmia was bred by Paul Lewis, who also bred ‘Paul’s Best Yellow’). Echinacea ‘Pink Tip’ was also on the Hardy’s stand.

In a slightly different vein The Little Hanging Garden Company displayed some exquisite wreaths of succulents, hardy and tender, tapping into the current trend with panache.

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