5 July 2023
The designers of the show gardens in this year’s festival successfully conveyed the message that we gardeners cannot ignore the fact that our climate is becoming dryer and hotter. We need to put sustainability into practice by making our outside spaces resilient to such changes. Alongside this, and often as a consequence of gardening in this manner, we can attract and sustain the wildlife which would otherwise fall prey to climate change, pollution, the indiscriminate use of pesticides and the mania for covering our domestic open spaces with artificial grass or impermeable hard landscaping.
Tom Massey’s RHS Resilient Garden contained clever solutions to some of these threats. In the sunny front garden area, freshly dug gravel was replaced with recycled aggregate made from construction waste. ‘Rubblazzo’ paving made with such waste also featured. Rather than excess water produced by heavy rain storms overwhelming the sewage system, run-off was reduced by gathering the water into a wide shallow pool spanned by a boardwalk constructed from reclaimed timer. Day lilies, Agapanthus and (I think) Origanum vulgare contributed to a predominantly yellow, blue and mauve colour palette. To coincide with the unveiling of this inspirational garden, Tom Massey has penned a book for the RHS, Resilient Garden: Sustainable Gardening for a Changing Climate.
Unlike the Chelsea Flower Show where only invited guests get to step onto the show gardens, many of the Hampton Court gardens encouraged you to walk through them, a far more immersive experience than standing behind a rope and craning your neck to see the furthermost corners of the exhibit. The path in the RHS Wildlife Garden designed by Jo Thompson and Kate Bradbury replicated an old railway track with disused industrial land on one side (suggested by rusting machinery) and the rear portions of urban gardens on the other. If proof were needed that the clever planting in this garden was specifically designed to attract pollinators, the flowers of purple orchids and bergamot (Monarda didyma) were being mobbed by small skipper butterflies. The planting scheme included the native hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna, often cited as one of the best species for providing a food source for wildlife: nectar rich flowers in spring for invertebrates and juicy berries in the autumn for birds.
The winding path in Carol Klein’s RHS Iconic Horticultural Hero Garden passed six habitats: a bog garden representing wetlands, a small wood planted with beech trees, a native species rich hedgerow, a meadow blending grass and perennials, a rocky mountainside area for alpine species which merged into a shingly beach. The variety of species and cultivars used throughout was hugely impressive, as you’d expect from an expert plantswoman like Carol Klein, exemplified by these purple, mauve and silver shades in differing flower forms creating an exquisite painterly effect. There was even a vegetable patch and a greenhouse in which Carol could be seen sharing propagation technique tips with visitors. The plants used in the gravelly seaside garden were raised for the show by Beth Chatto’s Plants and Gardens. I loved the blend of mauves and deep pinks of Verbena officinalis var. grandiflora ‘Bampton’ and Allium sphaerocephalon punctuated occasionally with pops of yellow and flowing Stipa tenuissima.
A restful pool sat at the heart of the Cancer Research UK Legacy Garden designed by Paul Hervey-Brookes. Looking at the photographs now, it is hard to imagine that a month earlier this tranquil space would have been a construction site. The willows and hostas sprouting between the massive rocks edging the pool gave the garden an air of permanence and screened visitors onto the garden from the show hubbub a few metres away.
I enjoyed the theatricality of the Oregon Garden, where a mini vineyard sat alongside a colourful meadow bordering a miniature lake. White corncockle (Agrostemma githago) shone out alongside pink and yellow Achillea, the overall palette deepened by burgundy Hylotelephium (formerly Sedum).
The key components for attracting and protecting wildlife (food, water and shelter) could be seen in a couple of the smaller show gardens. In the Nurturing Nature in the City garden by Viriditas, the walls created from stone-filled gabions would provide ideal homes for solitary bumble-bees as well as cover for small mammals. Ponds in rectangular boxes made from scaffolding boards made habitats for amphibians and invertebrates and drought tolerant and nectar rich flowers such as Achillea and Salvia nemorosa Caradonna were attractive for bees and butterflies. I liked the free-standing vertical garden idea where climbers like honeysuckle (a favourite for night-flying insects like moths) were being encouraged to grow up railway sleepers and along strainer wire fitted between the sleepers.
More wildlife friendly and sustainable ideas were included in The Wildlife Trusts: Renters’ Retreat designed by Zoe Claymore. This was full of clever solutions for making a garden which might have to be packed up and moved to a new space: a mini-pond in a pot; steel raised beds that can be dismantled and moved elsewhere, a tree planted in a container. The densely planted ferns and Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) supplied cover for insects and small mammals whilst bees and hoverflies would be drawn to the nectar in the foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea).
Hedges make wonderful habitats for wildlife. The Traditional Townhouse Garden designed by Lucy Taylor Garden Design was surrounded by copper beech hedging, with the burgundy colour scheme repeated in the bark of Tibetan cherry trees planted into huge pale green containers, underplanted with Lady’s mantle. Oversized chairs of green metal picked up the colour of the containers. A shallow circular pond accessible for amphibians was set within a sedum filled square. A ‘black’ and white planting scheme framed a large bronze apple: the bright white of Gaura lindheimeri ‘Snowbird’ contrasting with the dark petals of Viola cornuta ‘Molly Sanderson’ and Cosmos atrosanguineus.
I believe I am right in saying that ever since the first RHS Hampton Court 30 years ago, rose growers have exhibited in their own marquee, rather than the enormously long Floral Marquee. This makes for a wonderfully concentrated experience of exquisite flowers and fragrance.
There are another two ways in which Hampton Court contrasts with Chelsea: dogs on leads are permitted and you can buy plants at the show as well as all manner of horticultural accoutrements. Many visitors arrive armed with plastic crate trolleys to accommodate their purchases. I bought a beautiful purple flowered Streptocarpus from Dibbeys of North Wales for a friend’s birthday. It was lovely to chat with Lincolnshire Pond plants who were awarded a gold medal for their display (as they had been in May at Chelsea). In an effort to minimise blanket weed in my pond, I bought oxygenator water shamrock (Marsilea quadrifolia) which I was interested to learn is an underwater fern. I also stocked up on allium bulbs to plant in the autumn from WS Warmenhoven: more Purple Sensation to bulk up those already in the garden. Their display of numerous cultivars arranged against a black background was stunning. Having reviewed my photos, I’m now wishing I had also bought Allium sphaerocephalon which also popped up in several of the show gardens.
This brief account of the day inevitably cannot do justice to a fantastic show which I so enjoyed returning to after an absence of several years. I’ll leave you with a few more images from the day.
Kew Gardens, 22 July 2023