Hampton Court Palace Flower Show: the gardens

by Rhiannon James

The Naked Garden, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011

There’s a dizzying array of gardens to see at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show this year, with show gardens, small gardens, conceptual gardens, English poet’s gardens and the smaller inspiring spaces to pick from – and that’s before you get to the marquees and the shopping. So, to help you make the most of your visit, we’ve put together a quick guide to some of the gardens with inspiring ideas for small city spaces.

Edible ideas

The interest in edible gardening shows no sign of abating with a feast of food-growing ideas for small spaces at the show this year. The Potential Feast Garden (PAL332) is a contemporary space, which is planted to look as good as it tastes. Designer Raine Clarke-Wills says, “We all usually focus on the produce but actually, the texture, the flowers and the form of many of these edible plants are really beautiful and they look very natural planted alongside perennials and shrubs. So we’re trying to say, you don’t need an allotment to have produce, if you’ve got a small garden, just put everything together.” The garden is also packed with ideas for squeezing extra planting into a small space. Purple podded peas are used to create an edible screen for the seating area whilst nasturtiums and ‘Tumbling Tom’ tomatoes cascade down from the tops of the walls towards living pictures of herbs and salad leaves.

The Potential Feast Garden, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011

Also focusing on a mix of beauty and utility is Alex Bell’s naturalistic community garden (The Deptford Project: An Urban Harvest, PAL327), in which fruit trees, vegetables and flowers such as Agapanthus, Echinacea and Hemerocallis mix in lush profusion and even the seating is almost overtaken by plants. “We wanted to create a food-growing space that was modern and forward-thinking so we wanted to try something a little different to the usual allotment-style raised beds,” says Alex. A community project from start to finish, schools and volunteers from the Greenwich area helped to grow plants for the garden and to create the painted CD-box sculptures and, after the show, the garden will move to Deptford, where it will be used for a variety of local food-growing projects.

And if you’re ready for a treat after all this wholesomeness, The Sweet Taste of Summer (LW 245) in the Inspiring Spaces section has fruits, herbs and edible flowers which can be used to make ice creams and puddings, planted in containers.

The Deptford Project: An Urban Harvest Garden, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011

Work the space

William Quarmby’s garden (Heathers In Harmony, PAL323) shows how to make the most of the kind of awkwardly long and thin garden that’s so common in the city and the suburbs, whilst also revealing a hipper side to heathers, not normally a popular choice for contemporary gardens. Using three different levels, there is space for dining, for a lawn and for larger beds on the upper tier. The planting has been carefully planned to provide year-round interest as once the summer and autumn-flowering plants have finished, the striking green wall, planted entirely with different varieties of heathers, is intended to come into its own, providing colour throughout the winter and spring, as well as food for wildlife. “We’ve got bumblebee lodges in the garden and the idea is that in the winter, all the flowers in the wall will provide them with extra nutrients,” says William.

Heathers In Harmony Garden, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011

Cool Containers

There are some distinctly different ideas for container-growing at the show this year. Anoushka Feiler shows the potential for creating drama using hanging planters with her upside-down garden (Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky, TH63) which has the main planting of ferns and hostas overhead while the ground is sky-like, with a floor of blue resin surrounded by waves of Agapanthus ‘Blue Heaven’. Possibly a tricky effect to recreate outside, it’s certainly a way to make an impact in an indoor space.

Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky Garden, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011

While this garden turns the world upside down, The Naked Garden (GW16) uses containers to turn planting inside out. Edibles such as lettuces and tomatoes along with standard roses and a range of aquatic plants are displayed in transparent containers, growing in water, so all the fascinating details of their rarely-seen root systems are on show. Meanwhile, in the Inspiring Spaces section, Gabriela Hitchcock has created a clever vertical planting idea in her Inner Scents Garden (LW254), where she has layered window box planters in a double helix shape to cram an abundance of scented plants, such as jasmine and scented stocks into a tiny plot.

Inner Scents, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011

Technically gifted

Outdoor screens have been popping up all over London this summer but Antonia Young has taken the idea one step further, creating a private cinema outside (Cinema Paradiso, PAL330). A semi-circular seating area, surrounded by the calming scents of lavender and thyme, faces the large waterproof screen, providing a good spot to relax and watch the show.  “There’s something about watching a film outdoors that creates a feeling of escapism so this garden is all about coming home after a long, hard day and getting away from it all,” says Antonia. “I imagine within a couple of years, a screen like this would be a reasonably affordable option for people – it’s completely waterproof and can sit outside all year round.”

Cinema Paradiso Garden, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011

Another garden inspired by modern technology is Bruce Waldock’s Virtual Reality Garden (GW12) which has a futuristic communications pod as its centrepiece. The Japanese-style garden, which is itself symbolic of a wider natural landscape of sea and hills, is not everything that it seems. What appears to be traditional loose gravel is in fact a solid surface created using a resin bond. “It’s completely porous and it’s also a very low-maintenance option, to clean it you just hoover it and it’s done,” says Bruce.

Virtual Reality Garden, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011


Charlotte Murrell’s garden (Wild In The City, PAL326) is a wildlife-friendly space but with a contemporary feel. “I wanted to show that people can create wildlife gardens in a small urban space, and it doesn’t have to be really scrappy and messy, it can be quite stylish,” she says. Despite the small size of the garden, a whole range of different wildlife habitats and beneficial plants are packed in, without compromising on the look and feel of the space. The log wall serves a dual purpose as an attractive boundary and a habitat for insects, whilst the naturalistic planting includes trees which provide fruit for birds and a variety of flowering plants which benefit a range of different insects such as butterflies and bees.

Wild In The City Garden, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011

Natural beauty

Using materials such as metal and stone in a way that celebrates their natural forms and textures is a feature of many different gardens across the show. In the Small Gardens section, Adrian Weldon-Hollingworth’s rock garden (Cultivating A Palaeontologist, PAL331) uses huge ‘cap stones’ from Dorset, which are naturally embedded with pieces of flint and fossils. Planting including Gunnera manicata, Albizia julibrissin and Carex elata ‘Aurea’ allows the stone to shine whilst adding some striking sculptural shapes to the garden.

Cultivating A Palaeontologist Garden, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011

Meanwhile, in the Show Gardens section, the I Am, Because Of Who We Are Garden (GW4) uses untreated mild steel structures to echo the beautifully coloured bark of the Betula albosinensis ‘Fascination’ trees.

I Am, Because Of Who We Are Garden, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011

And for something a little bit different . . .

Keep your eyes peeled for Dan Lobb’s Landscape Obscured Garden (TH64). It’s easy to miss because from a distance, it looks like another stretch of showground grass, but hidden underneath is an entire landscape created from mushrooms, liverworts and moss, which can be seen through periscopes or by peering under a corner of the slightly tilted turf. “It’s like a forest under there, and when you look down the periscopes, the scale increases so you can imagine yourself walking around in this other world,” says Dan. Six different types of mushroom – Shiitake, Oyster, Pom Pom, Shimeji, Nameko, and Eryngii – have been used to create the garden and they will grow rapidly throughout the week, creating a constantly evolving landscape, until Sunday when they will be harvested, cooked and eaten at the show.

Landscape Obscured Garden, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011

If you get a chance, it’s also worth having a look at Melissa Jolly’s playful Picturesque Garden (TH71). Inside a white cube-shaped space, Melissa has created framed compositions of plants inspired by famous paintings by artists such as Piet Mondrian and Henri Rousseau, as well as a Damien Hirst-style glass tank featuring three suspended air plants.

Composition 3: ‘Jungle Scene’ in the Picturesque Garden, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011



One Response to “Hampton Court Palace Flower Show: the gardens”

  1. Jeremy

    Well done to Caroline Comber and Petra Horackova for winning the Tudor Rose Award for Best Show Garden at Hampton Court 2011.
    Credit to the Naked Garden for their excellent use of large garden planters.

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