….. and others do not. I am one of the others.” The Frustrated Gardener, July 2015
Visiting Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in 35 degrees of heat is not an experience I can recommend or would care to repeat. The trains out of London Waterloo were hotter than a bean tin on a camp fire, the marquees were as humid and airless as the Amazon and after the first day many of the gardens were already looking decidedly frazzled. Throughout the day the double avenues of lime trees parallel to the Long Water provided shelter for weary, sweaty, dust covered show-goers, overheating despite loose layers of linen and wide-brimmed summer hats. A walk across one of the pontoons offered just the remotest chance that one might be sprayed by water from the magnificent fountains. It was hot, damn hot.
Even making allowances for my own considerable discomfort, this year’s show gardens were the most disappointing I can recall. Quite how some of them even got off the drawing board I do not know. Funnily enough the gardens that shone were those that paid homage to hotter climes. The Turkish Ministry of Culture & Tourism’s ‘Garden of Paradise’ thoroughly deserved gold and Best World Garden. Designed by Nilufer Danis this garden’s delicious confection of scented roses and lilies was sweeter than anything Fry’s used to make. I loved it.
It was great to see the transformation of John Warland’s World Vision Garden from flooded rice paddy to ripening grain field. The design’s second incarnation was larger and lusher than the first, criss-crossed by narrow grass paths.
Equally suited to the searing heat and high humidity was the African Vision: Malawi Garden which was awarded a gold medal. The garden told the story of a nation striving to promote the practice of sustainable planting in order to build resilient communities and combat famine. A field of maize could be viewed inside a mirrored box, giving the impression that the field slid towards infinity.
I was utterly transported by True Fair’s Sri Lanka Tranquility Garden designed by the level 2 students at Bicton College. This garden didn’t gain any medals, but was perfectly suited to the tropical heat and shone brilliantly in the hard summer light (unlike my photography).
The re-configured show ground was muddled and confusing, underlining the show’s lamentable (hopefully not inevitable) transition from world class flower show to provincial country fair. There is a fine balance to be struck between commerciality and horticulture at Hampton Court and in my view the balance has tipped too far towards the former. The result of promoting trade stands to key locations was that many show gardens lacked an appropriate background. Those that floated in island sites really struggled to convince, with the notable exception of Hadlow College’s ‘Green Seam’, which was awarded best show garden.
As you might have deduced by now, I was not enamoured. Salvation came in the shape of Helen of Oz, more accustomed to the furnace-like conditions than I and fabulous company. Laurent Perrier and Belvoir cordials, each refreshing in their own way, were lifesavers. I’d take all of them to my desert island. The only aspect of the show that met my expectations was the floral marquee which was as glorious as ever, packed with remarkable plants and their talented growers. They each demonstrated their tenacity simply by enduring the stifling humidity all day long. Quite how many of the parched, wilting plants purchased yesterday will have made it safely to their new home I don’t know. I’m pleased to report that mine did, but they were overdue a good soak by the time they reached Highgate.
Having questioned whether Hampton Court Flower Show would be design heaven or style circus, I have to answer that it was neither. An average abberation perhaps. I sincerely hope that 2015, the show’s 25th year, was a case of trying just a little too hard and that we’ll see an improvement in the show gardens and layout next year. A bit of proper English weather wouldn’t go amiss either.
Hampton Court Palace Flower Show runs until Sunday July 5th.