RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2014
by Abigail Willis
If Chelsea is regarded as the haute couture of gardening shows, then Hampton Court is perhaps its more off-the-peg cousin – and that’s no bad thing, because “the people’s flower show” is usually the more useful of the two when it comes to garden ideas that most of us can implement. This year’s edition is no exception, with plenty of inspiration for gardens on a budget and in restricted spaces.
Of course ‘budget’ will mean different things to different people but the four show gardens in the “Relaxing Spaces at Reasonable Prices” section make a good starting point for layout and planting ideas for urban gardens. Designed with the emphasis on relaxing and entertaining, these gardens respectively cost £7K, £10K, £13K and £15K with designers having to be imaginative with materials and designs to keep to the brief.
‘Green is the Colour’ takes its inspiration from the forests of East Canada to create an easily maintained great-outdoors-style garden with a sense of seclusion from neighbouring properties. Designers, Elinor Scarth and Etienne Haller, used evergreen trees such as Abies koreana and Cupressus arizonica glauca to create a green screen, with a pop of seasonal colour from a single Acer palmatum dissectum at the front, and lush easy-care under-storey planting featuring Alchemilla mollis and Dryopteris filix-mas
With a £10K budget, Wardrop Designs produced a more overtly urban space with the ‘Bacchus Garden’. Inspired by the Roman god of wine and Titian’s painting Ariadne and Bacchus, this is an elegant, grown-up garden in which to unwind at the end of the day, glass of wine in hand. The tapestry-like planting is woven with the wine-rich colours of Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’, Heuchera ‘Black Beauty’ and Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’, offset by the lime-green accents of vines strung on post and wire to define the perimeter, mediated by deep pink roses ‘Lady of Shalott’and ‘Summer Song’ and frothy grasses Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ and Stipa tenuissima. The smart, hard landscaping takes the form of sawn sandstone, also used for the mowing strips that edge the lawn, a highly practical detail.
Designer Stuart Towner has used his budget of £13K to transport us to a Greek island, with dry-stone walls and seating, and silvery Mediterranean planting in gravel in his ‘Halo’ garden.Featured plants include Verbascum ‘Polar Summer’, Eryngium bourgatii, Lavandula ‘Grosso’ and tender Myrtus communis. While this heat-seeking scheme might suit a southern coastal town location rather than a shady London garden, it still looked enticing in the sun and it’s always nice to dream.
Showing that upcycled glass, concrete and wood (old scaffolding planks and pallets) can look chic when given the appropriate designer treatment, Alexandra Froggatt’s £15K ‘Garden of Solitude’ is a soothing garden room where a busy professional couple can get away from it all. The seating area is partially screened off behind a pergola waterfall designed to drown out the sounds of the city. A vertical panel of Carex ‘Frosted Curls’ softens the backdrop, while the dreamy pastel planting scheme exudes tranquility, and features nectar-rich plants such as Campanula alliariifolia, Digitalis ‘Suttons Apricot’, Deschampsia cespitosa and Filpendula purpurea ‘Elegans’.
Elsewhere, under the “Escape” banner, ‘A Hampton Garden’, by Squires Garden Centres, celebrates 50 years of this local,family-run business and was designed by Ian Hammond, Plant Manager at Squires’ Twickenham branch. It’s a show piece but one intended to be a ‘real’ garden that would work anywhere in this part of London. Not every urban gardener will be lucky enough to work on this scale, but ‘A Hampton Garden’ nonetheless has some appealing ideas.Vertical planting of purple and lime green heucheras provides a punchy backdrop to the eating-out area and there is a ‘lounge deck’, which is cantilevered over the pebble-edged central pond. A log-pile insect hotel doubles up as a sculpture, while the planting deliberately showcases easy to obtain varieties. One of these is Geranium ‘Rozanne’, a great plant for a London garden, that according to Colin Squire is “a really useful plant, just the right side of invasive, and it fills out nicely, does well in any situation and flowers for a long time”.
Wildlife gardeners often focus on attracting birds, bees and amphibians into their gardens but ‘Hedgehog Street’ highlights another visitor that every gardener should welcome. The garden, created by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, shows how urban gardeners can do their bit to help this much-loved but endangered British mammal. The gold-medal winning garden depicts three neighbouring gardens, each differently styled but whose owners have got together to incorporate hedgehog-friendly features, the main one being a 13cm square ‘hog hole’ in the boundary fences at ground level, to enable hedgehogs to roam freely (they can range over a mile each night). Other features include a shallow pond with escape route, a covered feeding station and a hedgehog home, as well as a cherry tree (hogs love eating fallen fruit). Visitors who pledge to make a ‘hole for hogs’ can visit www.hedggehogstreet.org to add theirs to a national map currently being created.
‘A Space to Connect and Grow’ is a community-minded garden designed by Jeni Cairns and Sophie Antonelli for arts organisation Metal. The garden – which after the show will transform an underused urban space in Peterborough, into a living environment for artists and the wider community – features oil drums recycled into insect hotels and planters for edibles, while the eye-catching orange water feature enjoyed a former life as a conveyor belt.The sunny planting scheme is zoned into different areas for herbs and edibles, featuring chamomile, thyme and lavender as well as garlic, courgettes, chard and beetroot; birch trees add height and shade. A floral green roof shades the raised seating area with its convivial trestle table and oil drum stools – a space that will also double as a performance area in its future life.
Located on the far side of the Long Water, the Floral Marquee is a prime destination for undiluted plant inspiration. Pushed-for-space urban gardeners might want to check out the displays of Bonsai trees – the ultimate test of plant management and great focal points in any display. For those with only a window sill at their disposal, cacti make great subjects and come in a surprisingly large range of shapes and sizes, as the displays by Craig House Cacti and Southfield Nurseries reveal. Alpines too make good container displays – the one by D’Arcy & Everest is worth checking out – and one of the joys of Hampton Court is that if a plant takes your fancy, there is usually the opportunity to buy it there and then from the relevant nursery’s stock. Containerised grasses can add movement and sound to balcony gardens, as shown in the Oak Tree Nursery display, while for those after the elusive well-behaved small tree, acers are hard to beat. Agapanthus – widely used in many of this year’s show gardens – positively relish living in pots and Pennard Plants’ jaunty seaside-themed display showed them off to good advantage.
Displays of edible plants might seem low key in comparison to the banks of cascading fuschias and serried ranks of gladioli in the floral displays, but offer tastier rewards for greedy gardeners. London-based seed merchants Franchi Seeds steal the show in the Growing Tastes marquee with their captivating Italian Accordion Garden – which combines the charms of vintage accordions with top notch veg, specially grown for the show by Maureen Chapman in York, using Franchi Seeds. The vigour of varieties such as Tuscan Cavolo Nero kale, lettuce Rossa di Trento and Nero di Milano courgette, testify that Italian varieties – particularly those from Alpine regions – do well in our generally cool climate.
With much focus on relaxing and entertaining in the garden, the trade stands are not short of tempting ideas for lolling around in style from Armadilla pods (www.armadilla.co.uk) to Cocoon hanging havens (www.hang-in-out.com). On the other hand, for gardeners who like to keep themselves busy (and out of the rain), there are several up-market greenhouse manufacturers showcasing the very best in undercover growing. The Alitex exhibit in particular oozes kerb appeal to passers-by with its nostalgic brick and glass greenhouse and pretty planting scheme. With such riches on display it’s hard to go home from Hampton Court Flower Show empty handed, impossible to leave without inspiration.
©Abigail Willis July 2014