RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Festival has a new name and a new look with a new vibe and there really couldn’t be a better venue, set in beautiful parkland with an historic castle as its back drop, for the worlds greatest and largest flower festival celebrating first and foremost our fabulous world of horticulture with good food and great music thrown into the mix. The sun shone, the flowers took centre stage and the visitors seemed to dance with joy, it really was a great success.
I was lucky enough to be involved in the build of a garden in the weeks before the show and we suffered every extreme weather the UK could throw at us from torrential rain storms, thunder and lightning and high winds to extreme heat and sunshine! It was not an easy build, plants and contractors wilted alike but, we all made it to the end and there were some stunning, beautiful and thought provoking gardens created by the worlds most talented designers, horticulturists and contractors, it was a privilege to be a part of it.
There were so many things to see and do including the ever inspiring gardens, fabulous trees, plants and flowers, the floral marquees to explore, workshops to take part in, speakers to listen to, experts to talk to, food to taste and music across the show ground to entertain from the large festival stage to smaller ‘pop up’ stages and the new floating stage on the long water.
The main focus of the show was health and wellbeing with many gardens reflecting this message including the beautiful ‘Back to Nature’ garden that had wowed Chelsea earlier in the year and was again supported by the Duchess of Cambridge at Hampton Court, it was bigger and better with even more ideas for children and families to play and interact with each other
The Springwatch garden brought home the importance of wildlife and biodiversity in our gardens with ideas to take home to create beautiful wildlife friendly spaces without compromising on style, a message and philosophy I incorporate in all of my garden designs for my clients and fully support.
The power of community was repeated at the festival, from Chatsworth, celebrating the coming together in allotments and taking down boundaries within our gardens.
The gardens that inspired me at the show, included under the show garden category, were “Through Your Eyes” which explored the path of life and the obstacles we overcome through our journey. Mental health, age, family and friendships are all addressed through planting and material choices. It was extremely clever, well executed and very well done. The other show garden that stood out was the APL ‘A Place to Meet’ which showed how small spaces can be modern, functional whilst beautiful and beneficial to wildlife. It was stunning and would look great in any garden with some real inspiration to take home for the visitor which can often be lacking in a show garden.
The ‘Lifestyle’ gardens also had some real standout gardens on show to include the ‘Naturecraft’ garden inspired by botanical crafts, creating objects from the plants we grow. The garden showed some beautiful time-honoured artisan crafts that are on the brink of being forgotten and I loved this garden, it told a storey and took you on a journey whilst being informative and elegant. Another lifestyle garden I want to mention is the ‘Stop and Pause’ garden inspired by meditation. It was a quiet, calm and still space sat amongst trees that leant itself to improving wellbeing. The design, planting and overall execution was faultless and was a truly inspiring garden, this could be a hidden gem within a larger garden that could easily be created in your own garden at home, a small sanctuary where you can take time out and contemplate, a must for everyone.
The garden that told the most important message of the show was ‘On the Brink’ drawing attention to the worlds plastic blindness and an ocean on the brink of manmade ecological disaster. There is more plastic in our oceans than there are fish. A really important and horrific message that we all need to take responsibility for now before its too late. The answer is simple STOP using plastic and resolve the mess we have already created.
The gardens this year did seem to be a little harshly judged with many receiving a slightly lower medal than hoped and we are told next year there will be a change in the rules and the judging criteria throughout all the RHS shows, which will make it even more difficult to reach that ever sought after gold medal.
When a garden is judged there are several considerations taken into account which in short include the delivery of the brief, which the designer will have written on application setting out the objectives of the garden. How original the design is and if its layout works for the proposed purpose. The overall impression, choice of materials and if they complement the garden is considered. The planting, condition of plants, plant associations and relevance, right plant right place and if they work together visually to create the intended impact. Finally, the construction, the quality, the finish and the attention to detail across the whole garden. The judging team will represent a wide cross section of landscaping, horticultural and design experts to give a balanced opinion during the process, they will scrutinise every little corner of the garden, nothing is hidden! It is a brave designer and contractor that puts themselves through this process and I can confirm it brings with it many sleepless nights and endless days of worry, I know because I have done it, thankfully resulting in some great medals that I am really proud of!
Hampton Court Flower Festival, as its now known, has always been my favourite show of the year and it even exceeded my expectations this year. There could have been more gardens on show but I hope with the success of this year more designers and contractors will be inspired to apply.
If you love gardens, horticulture, food and music with a laid back happy, family friendly feel then this show is the place for you, if you didn’t get there this year make a date in your diary for next year its taking place 6th – 12th July 2020.
The next festival to look forward to this year is on our door step, more focused on the music and good locally sourced food with their roots in farming and some great community and wildlife gardening on the side, it is the Valley Fest taking place from the 2nd to the 4th August. I look forward to joining you there.