It’s been two years since London has hosted a big flower show so the news that RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival will be going ahead this week comes as a welcome relief for Londoners missing their horticultural fix.
Ticket-holders will need to take a lateral flow test before the show and present a negative Covid result at the gate. But otherwise it looks like business as usual, with crowds spread over a socially-distanced 34 acres of south-west London.
There will be 17 gardens, including one from Tom Stuart-Smith and a new category aimed at lockdown garden converts, and, since it’s Hampton Court, where shopping matters as much as the perennial-gazing, you’ll be lucky to escape without at least one outdoor cushion.
So what should you look out for? From plunge pools to cut flowers, no-dig vegetables to gardening on builder’s rubble, here are some of the trends to spot at the show and some highlights not to miss.
Gardens that work, rest and play
Another garden show, another Scandinavian word to learn to pronounce. This year it’s Frilutsliv – pronounced free-loofts-liv – meaning open air living in Norwegian. It is the inspiration for young designer Will William’s show garden and is truly the garden that has it all, incorporating a dining area, working space, outdoor kitchen, fireplace and plunge pool backed by a shiny waterwall set in a matrix of opulent planting of moody purples with flashes of white. A very high-spec garden likely to inspire some lifestyle envy. Who needs a hot tub when you can have a bracing dip in between Zoom meetings and dinner for 6?
‘The plunge pool is like a miniature swimming pool really,’ says Will. ‘It’s unheated with 20cm shallow step for sitting on and then is 1.5m deep at its lower section – I’m quite short so I’d be up to my neck!’
Growing your own cut flowers has never been more popular, whether it’s a posy of sweetpeas or big vase of delphiniums. Glossy blooms flown in from far-off climes don’t cut it these days; more eco-conscious growers want flowers from the back garden. Carien van Boxtel’s RHS Cut Flower Garden shows just what a variety you can grow even a small space.
Get inspiration from the palette of apricot, soft orange, white, burgundy and shell pink and then head to the RHS Cut Flower Demo Tent next door for further ideas before a visit to The RHS Rose Tea Garden where celebrated London florist Nikki Tibbles has created a scented Edwardian-themed tea garden.
Every year RHS Hampton Court celebrates a ‘Horticultural Hero’ and this year it’s the designer Tom Stuart Smith. With hot, dry conditions becoming more commonplace, we need ideas for plants that can cope, says Tom, and his drought tolerant meadow with Mediterranean shrubs is elegant inspiration. Expect red hot poker plants punching through a cool grassy matrix of greens and white. Silver foliage of eleagnus ‘Quicksilver’ is key, while salvias, eryngium and verbascum also feature highly.
There are more resilient plants in Amanda Grimes’s Punk Rockery which is made from all the things you usually throw out when you make a garden – concrete, hardcore and broken paving. Amanda was inspired to show you can make a garden anywhere with plants that will thrive in builder’s rubble.
Never mind the Burdocks?
Many people discovered a love for gardening for the first time over lockdown. They’ll find plenty of ideas in Jane Scott Moncrieff’s Charlie’s Courtyard, an imaginary garden for her daughter as she moves to her first house in London. It shows how just with a few easy to find inexpensive plants, such as geranium Rozanne, astrantias and salvia Amistad and Caradonna, you can create flower beds full of life and colour. Her must-have plants include hydrangeas and euphorbia mellifera, invaluable for filling borders fast.
‘The mistake people make when they start a garden is that they go to a garden centre, see a plant they like the look of and and buy one of it,’ says Jane. ‘They do this every weekend and end up with a complete hotch potch.’ Much better to buy three, five or seven of each plant, so you have rhythm and repetition.’
From pools to woodland planting and a relatively subtle colour palette across the show, the theme this year seems to be restfulness and calm. It’s not
surprising, says first-time show garden designer Amelia Bouquet whose Communication Garden is for Mental Health UK. ‘After the year everyone’s had, even in my residential projects people are going for relaxing schemes, not so much showstopping plants.’ Her soothing garden has a white, green and pale pink colour scheme, and is designed to inspire conversation with private spaces to confide and listen.
One stealable idea for Londoners is the way she breaks up the stone paving with panels of mind-your-own business, lamium and other soft planting. Rather than having one large paved patio. ‘It’s a nice way to combine hard and soft,’ she says. ‘Quite effective in small spaces and very textural.’
There’s a low-eco footprint theme to the garden too - native hazel and wayfaring trees are joined by timber seating, a screen and shingled wall panels, all made from Sussex-grown sweet chestnut.
No dig, big harvest
Lockdown sparked an explosion in interest in growing fruit and vegetables at home and the RHS No Dig Demo garden showcases a method that is gaining followers fast. With ‘no-dig’ gardening, you mulch the surface of the soil with compost rather than dig it. Experts such as Charles Dowding and Stephanie Hafferty have found it delivers huge yields for much less work and it’s easy to create a no-dig bed in small city gardens that can produce food all year.
All you need is a hoe, says Stephanie, who will be on hand for questions, talks and demos of techniques such as intercropping and multisowing. Her top crops for no-dig gardeners? ‘Lettuce. If you pick it right, one lettuce can last for months.’
Solar powered lawnmowers
Do you want a crisp lawn but are bothered about the petrol emissions of your usual mower? Add a solar panel to your robotic lawn mower and your mowing will be carbon neutral, says Tom Platt of Platts Horticultural who is launching the panel at the show. Electric robotic mowers are already cost effective to run, he says, at only 72p a month. Expect to pay £800 for an entry level robot mower for the size of a typical London lawn. The solar panel will cost you another £1,000.
Plant Box make stackable vertical gardens so you easily create a living wall, great for balconies where you might want a bit of privacy between neighbours or for small patios to breathe life into a bare wall. Look out for their stand at HC356. From around £60.
But is it art?
It wouldn’t be Hampton Court without the conceptual gardens and this year’s Global Impact Gardens highlight our misuse of the natural environment. They include Extinction, half a crash-landed plane in a ‘field’ of barley with Homo Sapiens emblazoned on its side, a garden in a bottle (plastic waste) and The Fashion Footprint garden by Baz Grainger focussing on the negative impacts of the fashion industry. Buttons are gravel, gabions are filled with old clothes and vats of water represent the amount of water it takes to make one pair of jeans.
Fans of gardening nostalgia will love Hartley Botanic Greenhouses stand this year which celebrates 80 years of the company with greenhouses representing five different eras in its history. Each model is carefully styled to reflect its era so expect terracotta cottage-core pots and pelargoniums from the 1950s, while the 1970s greenhouse is filled with plastic hanging baskets and Busy Lizzies.
RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival takes place from July 6-11. See rhs.org.uk for details