Monday, 9 July 2012

Hampton Court Flower Show 2012

Much to think about following Sunday’s visit to Hampton Court. As always, the grounds were packed full of wonderful plants in beautiful condition, and happy plant shoppers trundling their purchases on folding box trollies, and although the going was a bit soggier than usual, this didn’t seem to put people off. Also represented were the usual array of garden furniture, lighting, tool and accessory companies – you can spend hours pottering and a fortune if you’re not careful, but it was really the gardens I had come to see. I’d purposefully avoided coverage of the show on the television this week as I was keen to approach the gardens without any preconceptions, and didn’t even make use of a map.

And so, having wandered through a beautifully planted woodland copse – including a seating area where people were congregating to chat and relax by a dipping pond surrounded by moisture loving plants like astilbes and rodgersias and ligularia – I abruptly found myself in a city street, complete with yellow lines, concrete walls and washing hanging out to dry. Through another gap in the wall, and I’d entered a wonderful allotment space complete with greenhouse, compost bins and pleached fruit trees; then, bounded by iron railings to the road, an orchard area underplanted with a wild meadow, and then a wildlife garden with log piles and bird boxes, including a communal seating area with a brick fired oven. All around was evidence of the concept behind these gardens – from the graffiti on the walls to the derelict yard and abandoned wreck of a car. This was the Urban Oasis, a joint project between the RHS and the charity Groundwork, designed by Chris Beardshaw to show the impact which community gardening can have on some of the most unpromising of areas. And talking to one of the Groundwork volunteers I found out that it isn’t just a nice theory, but that this kind of urban greening is really having a positive impact in the communities like the one where she works in Brighton, transforming peoples’ lives and giving them a real sense of ownership over their neighbourhood. Really inspiring to see the potential of horticulture to have such a positive and life-changing effect. Undoubtedly the highlight of the show for me.

Our Facebook page has pictures of some of the many other inspiring and interesting gardens, including some from the “Low cost, high impact” section. Here it must be pointed out that “low” is in relation to the normal cost of putting together a show garden – as can be appreciated when it’s understood that the smallest budget for one of these gardens was £7k for the gold medal winning garden from Nilufer Danis – hardly a recession-savvy figure for a tiny garden making a lavish use of recycled scaffolding boards for the hard landscaping element. That said it is a beautifully planted space in a palette of blue and yellow, with verbascums, alliums, Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue' and hemerocallis. Creating an instant mature garden from scratch – rather than building a collection of plants over time – doesn’t come cheap.

All the same I’d have been interested to have seen something wonderful created on a really tight budget, something that might require the creative skip-diving skills and no-nonsense approach of thrifty gardener Alys Fowler, for example. There’s always next year.