The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show is the largest event of its kind in the world. Held this year over the week of July 2-7, the show features glorious gardens, floral marquees and pavilions as well as many expert talks and demonstrations.
Erected on the north and south sides of the stunning Long Water in Hampton Court Park, West London, it is the second major national horticultural show after Chelsea. But it has a different character, focusing more on environmental issues and growing your own food, as well as selling gardening accessories, plants and flowers.
There are 21 gardens in total but here are three of my favourites to see this year:
Cancer Research UK Pledge Pathway to Progress
This is an immersive walkthrough space for visitors to the show (see main picture). With its striking curved layout, the garden is formed of a pathway that meanders through a richly scented planting scheme. At the centre of the space is a sunken seating area that encourages visitors to relax and reflect beneath the shading of the pledge tree. The tree signifies the mighty Cancer Research UK supporters, whose generous gifts in their wills will be felt for generations. The garden represents the important role of legacy gifts for Cancer Research UK’s progress.
The Urban Pollinator Garden
Designed by Caitlin McLaughlin, this garden focuses on plants that encourage pollinators, specifically bees, to thrive. Contemporary honeycomb shapes feature in the sculptural habitat wall which runs along the hedge boundary and is packed with twigs and branches to encourage solitary bees.
Hexagonal paving incorporates bee-printed tiles to identify entrances to underground bumblebee nests. The naturalistic-looking planting features bee-friendly plants in a variety of colours which celebrate summertime. After the show, the garden is being rehomed at Cransley Hospice in Kettering, Northamptonshire, to benefit patients, visitors and staff.
The Thames Water Flourishing Future Garden
Tony Woods, who won an RHS gold medal and ‘Best In’ category at Chelsea 2018 for his Urban Flow garden, is the master behind this garden. You can see how to encourage biodiversity, reduce water use and prevent flooding in homes and community spaces. The garden is also home to the Thames On Tap water bar, where visitors can get free refills of water and help to protect the planet by reducing plastic bottle waste.
Going for gold: My Hampton Court experience
I have exhibited twice at Hampton Court Flower Show. I was awarded with a silver medal for my first garden there – just after I had finished my garden design diploma in 2013. I then won gold and a ‘Best In’ category for my second garden in 2016.
It takes over a year in design, planning, form-filling and sponsor finding, before the big day finally arrives and you start to build from the ground up on site. You have less than three weeks to deliver and maintain a show garden – plus try to get a gold medal – so there’s a lot of pressure!
Every aspect of your garden is looked at by the judging committee, even how you keep your site throughout the build! But when you achieve a gold medal it is the best moment for all the team. All the hours you sit and plan and walk through the garden in your head before the build, come to fruition. It really is a wonderful thing.
I approach every client’s garden with the same mentality, assisted as always by Cobtree Landscapes, who have built every one of my clients’ gardens and both my Hampton Court show gardens.
Sowing the seeds of success
A local grower in Hadlow has been named as the RHS Master Grower for the Hampton Court Flower Show 2019. Downderry Nursery will be in the Floral Marquee at this year’s festival so if you’re going along make sure you pay them a visit. This nursery specialises in lavender and rosemary, cultivating plants for garden use and oil production.
Co-owner Simon Charlesworth started Downderry Nursery in his garden near Maidstone in 1991 and grew sun-loving plants in a 3 x 2.4m (10 x 8ft) greenhouse, selling by mail order. “Everyone went for lavender so that’s what I decided to specialise in,” says Simon.
His Master Grower display at the festival will feature rare lavenders and a mix of popular types. Rows of lavender and field cultivars for oil production will form the backbone of the display while a tabletop still piece of equipment will run each day to show how oil is obtained.