The Great Hampton Court Bake Off

RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

With temperatures high enough for Mr Softee to retire, the high-summer, thirty four acre spread RHS Hampton Court Flower Show opened its doors,… and a rabble of rare butterflies escaped. Be it a door or operator malfunction, the Eden Project’s butterfly dome, inadvertently granted freedom to some of its strikingly elegant and rare inhabitants, now probably flying high on the dregs of leftover Pimms. The butterflies were lovely, but if a suitable last minute replacement for the sponsor scaring Willy Wonka’s chocolate themed, Diairmuid Gavin garden, we’ll never know.  I suppose in this weather, it probably would have melted anyway….

Undercooked the veg

Normally a show where edibles are much prized, this year’s Growing Tastes marquee was admittedly somewhat of a disappointment. Apart from a minority of novel exhibits such as the ‘Grow your own curry’ stand, ‘food’ seem to have overtaken the ‘veg’. No sign of the Edulis’, Otter Farms, Jekka McVicars type nurseries, nor even the large players such as Sutton’s with their Incredible Edibles range. Seems a rather unfortunate (commercial) shortcoming, especially as HTA News1 reported Grow Your Own online searches now exceed Big Brother and the X Factor. So it’s not just me….

The Roses & Floristry Vintage Festival marquee certainly geared up to embrace one’s inner Great British Bake Off, with enough bunting to make Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood proud. Despite soaring sauna-esque temperatures, the vintage marquee was a marvel, filled to the brim with delightful rose tinted exhibits, especially by Peter Beales and David Austin.

Gas Masks On

Ever the antagonist of the conceptual garden, unfortunately habitually prevalent at the Hampton Court Flower Show, this year proved somewhat different. Granted, there was the mountain of fridges2, large plastic bottles3, man sitting on armchair with gas mask4, and the halloween-esque ash tree apocalypse5 garden reminiscent to a rather crude rendition of Stephen King’s ‘Pet Sematary’. Now, I fully realise this to be a dreadful personal shortcoming, especially as one of the aforementioned gardens was awarded Best in Show. The concepts are probably very clever, and have deep meaningful connotations, yet they remain so far beyond my perception of a ‘garden’ that one can’t help but feel that they belong more at Disneyland rather than a flower show. That is not to say, that gardens cannot be meaningful with profound subtexts, but apocalypticism need not always be the best way to put that message across.

Jekka McVicar's Ecover Planter
A Room with a View - Arun Landscapes
The Garden Pad - Dan Bowyer (Fisher Tomlin & Bowyer)
James Alexander Sinclair's bit of fluff - Ecover Planter
Rose & Floristry Vintage Festival Marquee
The Ecover Garden by Matthew Childs
I Disappear, by Luc Arek Garden Design
Four Corners by Peter Reader
'Smile? Smile?! You can't be serious!'.....
The Hot Stuff Garden by Victoria Truman & Liz Rentzsch
When the sun's out, weather girls are off duty - Sian Lloyd

My failings aside, the show gardens were of a very high standard this year, with some really lovely examples such as ‘A Room with a View’ by Arun Landscapes, ‘The McCarthy & Stone Garden’ by Chris Beardshaw, and ‘The Garden Pad’ by Dan Bowyer. The latter beautifully planted, was much trialled as a pad, and served to be an excellent abode for the afternoon to sit, natter with friends, and sip Pimms. The smaller show gardens too included some lovely gardens such as ‘Anthanasia’ by David Sarton, ‘Four Corners’ by Peter Reader and the ‘Valley Garden’ by Sophie Walker.

Back by popular demand

In conjunction with the Association of Professional Landscapers and the Horticultural Trades Association, the RHS brought back the concept of the ‘Low Cost High Impact Gardens’, to demonstrate that high quality design can be achieved with a low, fixed budget. Hence, providing show visitors with ideas for attractive but achievable gardens, based on a fixed budget for hard landscaping, plant material and labour.

The impressive Arun Landscapes garden, ‘A Room with a view’ was part of this category budgeted at £15,000 and so too was the boldly orange ‘Mid Century Modern’ garden by Outdoor Creations. The concept of fixed budget show gardens is a good one, perhaps even one to consider for Chelsea as it provides visitors a realistic basis to comparisons. Yet as with all these concepts, even this one should be taken with a grain of salt, as when an unnamed contractor was asked if he could recreate that garden for someone at that price, he said he’d be pushed….

Show theatrics

For those show gardens that fortuitously had the stunning Hampton Court Palace as their backdrop, the positioning of the show gardens in the grounds was not a problem. Though, too frequently the show gardens at Hampton Court tend to be rather unadventurously ‘plopped’,  in succession, just off the walk ways, often abruptly backing onto the commercial areas which is a shame, as it makes it difficult to focus on each garden. Probably for budget reasons, or enforced due to lack of space, the show garden staging tends to be so much better at Chelsea. Possibly something for the RHS to reconsider for next year?


  1. July/August 2013 edition
  2. Tip of the Iceberg, by Caroline Tait and John Esling
  3. The Ecover Garden, by Matthew Childs
  4. I Disappear, by Luc Arek Garden Design
  5. Ashes to Ashes, Outerspace designs & the Conservation Foundation