So the show itself, where to start? I felt a little bit excited when I saw this sign and knew it was time to get the tickets out of my bag! And the sign is pink. Make a note of that: pink.
The first thing you see when you enter is the start of the display gardens, so I’ll focus on them in this post. Desolation to Regeneration is a garden by Catherine MacDonald, based on the second part of The Hobbit. I was fascinated by this Orostachys ‘Chinese Hat’ which looks like perfectly-formed sparkling roses used to decorate a wedding cake. It also has ‘Milk Chocolate’ foxgloves; a slightly worrying name for a highly toxic plant, but never mind! The Macmillan Legacy Garden gave away packets of these seeds, which was nice of them (and Thompson and Morgan, who produced the seeds), so I look forward to growing but not eating them next year.
August 1963 – I Have a Dream is designed by Stephen A Ryan and Classic & Modern Gardens. As you can imagine, it is inspired by Martin Luther King’s speech. There are segregated areas of white plants and black plants, and an area where there are mixed together which also includes a black and white water feature that draws from the Lincoln Memorial where he made his speech. Light comes in from behind a trellis made of Western Red Cedar and there are quotes from the speech inscribed into obelisks. The black plants include ‘Schwarzwalder’ calla lilies and Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’ and the white plants include another calla lily, ‘Crowborough’, and Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ or ‘False forget-me-not’.
The McCarthy and Stone Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw (yes, the man who designed the Desmond Tutu Peace Gardens in Grove Park) is a celebration of people over the age of sixty. As well as beautifully-designed deckchairs and stunning wildflowers, it has a large head sculpture in the centre which plays recordings of retired people talking about their experiences. They also did their bit for bumblebees by giving visitors a packet of wildflower seeds.
Athanasia was inspired by Emma Peios who died from Leukaemia in 2012. She was a founder of the Professional Garden Photographers’ Association (PGP). Greenacres Woodland Burial Parks also inspired the garden, as did Epping Forest, where Emma is buried. The designer David Sarton has also worked as a horticultural photographer. There are astrantia, foxgloves and geraniums, which were also popular in other gardens along with hostas and violas.
Layers and Links quietly celebrates the diversity of modern Britain. The surfaces, sculptures and planting are influences by cultures from all over the world. Designed by Raine Clarke-Wills, it is her fifth year exhibiting at RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. It includes olive trees, Stipa tenuissima (grasses) and English lavender…which doesn’t originate from England but the Mediterranean.
After 25 years working as a doctor in the NHS, Peter Reader gave into the charms of gardening and retrained as a garden designer. Provender Nurseries, who provided the plants, run a design competition for students in association with the RHS, and Four Corners was the winner. The brief was to create a relaxing, suburban garden for a young couple, to reflect their love of travel, art and nature. It was inspired by an early Persian style of garden layout called Chahar Bagh, where the garden is divided into four sections. Planting includes white Ammi visnaga, and purple spires of Salvia nemorosa ‘Caradonna’ and Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’. It also has dry stone walling, which is something I adore – in especially stressful times working full time in publishing, I often said I would quit to become a dry stone waller! Peter explained to me that dry stone is great as it provides lots of hiding places for insects. Four Corners is lovely – the sort of garden where a character from one of my stories would fall asleep amongst the tall stems and have the sweetest dreams. Peter kindly posed for a photo too, so you can see the designer in his garden - surely the best kind of celebrity-spotting.
I’m sorry I haven’t written about all of the gardens – there are so many wonderful gardens to write about! But I will add some photos of other gardens and links to them here, including the tombstone-laden Ashes to Ashes by Bruce Waldock, the award-winning Ecover Garden by Matthew Childs, the Metallica-inspired I Disappear by Arek Luc, the childhood-inspired The One Show Garden by Vicky Stothard, the QEF Garden forJoy which has celebratory bubble machines and a circular path to make it wheelchair-friendly, and Tip of the Iceberg, designed by Caroline Tait and John Esling to show the how discarded fridges can be used to create something pretty instead of being left to rot in a landfill. Finally, as an English graduate, I have to include Jenna Stuart’s garden The Witches of Macbeth!