Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2016: Show Gardens – Part I

Reading time 13 minutes


I am not a negative individual by nature, but I had misgivings about this year’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Some of the design drawings on the RHS website looked positively ghastly and I am still scarred (or should that be scorched?), by the furnace-like temperatures Helen of Oz and I had to endure last year. Happily it turns out that this year’s garden designers are much better designers than they are draftsmen. The show gardens, so numerous that I gave up checking to make sure I had seen them all, are diverse, interesting and, unlike Chelsea, packed with ideas one might readily try at home.



My only criticism of the show is that the standard of construction and plantsmanship is, with a few notable exceptions, a shadow of what one sees at Chelsea. Make no mistake, Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is as good as it’s ever been, better perhaps, but it is moving firmly down a populist route, leaving its sister show to deal with matters of high horticulture. This is fine, because Hampton Court is bigger, brighter and bolder than ever with a lot of space to fill. In addition the public want to shop, in a Brexit free zone, and boy, did they shop today. There was nary a trolley without a corkscrew stake, a sunset orange zantedeschia, a gimmicky hydrangea or a coral-red delphinium in it. Some nurseries definitely had a good day; how many of plants purchased will still be alive this time next year is another matter. With Chatsworth coming on board next year, I wonder how the RHS will differentiate yet another show – the subject of a future post perhaps.


Achillea, Hampton Court 2016


Meanwhile the Hampton Court show organisers have clearly decided that more is more, creating no fewer than five show garden categories and inviting 43 designs to compete. Relatively speaking the standard is high, as is the amount of innovation. Unfortunately one or two gardens, and I will not name names, are not quite up to scratch, which is surprising given the RHS’ rigorous selection process. There are plenty of water features, although the number of shallow metal bowls filled with inky or swirling water, or a combination of the two, gives the impression that someone, somewhere has been offering a good deal. There is a lot of yellow, mainly of the sulphur variety, paired with blues and purples (pleasing) and with burgundy (not so pleasing). Sunshine shades, starting with pale yellow and moving through orange to poppy red, certainly seem to be in vogue, as do all the blues. In the Floral Pavilion, which has taken steroids since 2015, there are more salvias and ferns than I have ever seen, but fewer grasses and foxgloves.




I have two favourite gardens. The first is the Bowel Disease UK Garden for Crohn’s Disease which, despite its unattractive title, is a garden after my own heart. Designed by Andrew Fisher Tomlinson and Dan Bowyer it has more joie de vivre than any of its neighbours, as well as a fabulous plant list. It richly deserves a gold medal and Best Summer Garden award. More on this design in a future post.


John Warland, World Vision Garden, Hampton Court 2016


The second garden to tickle my fancy is John Warland’s reprise of his design for World Vision, first staged at Chelsea. At Hampton Court the RHS has granted the charity a much larger and more prominent spot, allowing the designer to let his undulating turf strips fly across a blousy meadow of ox-eye daisies. This is both a stimulating and show stopping garden. After two strong years, I can’t wait to see what the World Vision has in store for 2017.


Japanese Summer Garden, Hampton Court 2016


The summer gardens are the most consistently high in standard, so much so that I went back to see them three times during the day, each time witnessing them bathed in a different light. Simple yet beautiful is the Japanese Summer Garden designed by Saori Imoto. This elegant, paired-back garden demonstrates the principle of ‘less is more’ with great deftness. The lavender blue hydrangeas remind me of Cornwall, pulling hard at my sense of belonging.


Kate's Garden, Hampton Court 2016


At the opposite end of the fussiness spectrum comes Kate’s Garden, designed by Carolyn Dunster and Noemi Mercurelli. In this compact little plot the flowers are almost falling over themselves with enthusiasm, as are the lovely people giving out plant lists and information. The garden has been made to raise awareness of lymphoedema, a painful side effect of breast cancer surgery. It shows how to grow cut flowers in a small space, and champions seasonal, locally-grown blooms. Dried seedheads on display show the cyclical nature of life. In this garden the obligatory round, metal water feature, this time filled with floating dahlia flowers, represents the flow of the lymphatic drainage system. Not something one normally considers in the garden, but worthy of consideration nonetheless.


A Summer Retreat, Hampton Court 2016


A Summer Retreat is the ultimate crowd pleaser, sending huddles of ladies of a certain age weak at the knees. Those that don’t require the attentions of the St John Ambulance can enjoy a garden inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement. Designers Amanda Waring and Laura Arison have created a garden awash with delphiniums, nepeta and roses in front of raised summerhouse. Naturally the central water feature is a) round , b) full of inky black water and c) bowl-shaped. Perhaps the RHS are awarding extra marks for these attributes in 2016? Meanwhile, I suspect many a husband will be pestered for a petite black and yellow summerhouse over a bedtime sherry tonight.


The Near Future Garden, Hampton Court 2016

The Near Future Garden, Hampton Court 2016


On the windswept plain that is the blank canvas for the Conceptual Gardens a couple of designs stand out. My favourite, the Near Future Garden designed by Arit Anderson, depicts a scenario where rising temperatures radically alter the plants we can grow in an English garden. At the centre is a swirling black vortex symbolising our oil resources draining away as we use up all our fossil fuel resources. Sobering stuff. Arit has employed some very tempting plants, including Salvia lanceolata (rusty sage), Bulbine frutescens “Hallmark” (burn jelly plant) and Bituminaria bituminosa (pitch trefoil), so called because the leaves smell of bitumen. Three dramatic wooden sculptures representing sun, wind and water implored visitors to harness these natural energy sources to power the world sooner rather than later.


The Red Thread, Hampton Court 2016


Nearby, The Red Thread is a garden inspired by an ancient Chinese myth which says that when we are born the gods tie our ankles to all the people whose lives we are destined to touch, using a red thread. This thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break. I liked this garden very much and felt a similar structure of wooden pillars and red rope (other colours are available) might make an interesting boundary, plant support or climbing frame in a family garden.


UNHCR Border Control, Hampton Court 2016


Sadly the vision presented by UNHCR Border Control is all too familiar to us Brits, which makes it especially poignant and politically relevant. This is not a pretty garden by any stretch of the imagination, but a thought-provoking, perhaps chilling one. Visitors enter through a forbidding turnstile to be greeted by the message “Nobody Left Outside” imprinted on the floor of the central building. Thankfully the water feature here is a moat: circular, yes, but not bowl-shaped or brooding. Thank heavens! I feel the garden achieves very effectively what it sets out to do, highlighting the plight of refugees and the risks many take to find shelter somewhere welcoming.


Dog's Trust Garden, Hampton Court 2016


The big show gardens are, well, big. They struggle significantly to rival anything we see at Chelsea because they lack a decent backdrop and are not grouped together. Honestly, I didn’t like many of them, except the Dog’s Trust Garden designed by Paul Hervey-Brookes taking a gold. It’s the first garden I’ve come across that’s designed specifically for dogs and their owners, which poses the questions why, when so many of us have dogs as pets? John’s design includes tunnels and sniffer tracks playfully woven into the colourful herbaceous borders. A cosy pavilion retreat rests at one end of the garden enabling “dogs to survey the landscape with their human guests” – a nice way of looking at things.


The Bowel Disease UK Garden for Crohn's Disease, Hampton Court 2016


With 43 gardens to cover, a few less if you exclude the ones I didn’t get to, I think it’s time to take a break and come back with more over the next day or so. If you are visiting Hampton Court Flower Show during the next week you are in for a treat. It’s perhaps the best ever. Be sure to wear comfy shoes and sun block (I didn’t) and have your route home planned as you’re going to be buying a lot of plants. Happy Days!


The Bowel Disease UK Garden for Crohn's Disease, Hampton Court 2016







Categories: Flower Shows, Flowers, Foliage, Garden Design, Landscape Design, London, Perennials, Photography, Plants, Small Gardens

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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18 comments On "Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2016: Show Gardens – Part I"

  1. Thanks for showing and your thoughts much appreciated. Here in Kiwiland we have stachys Bella Grigio coming available, do you know it and maybe there at the show.

    1. I don’t know it, no. I am sure that now you have mentioned it, I will start seeing it everywhere! The images on Google suggest it’s a rather lovely foliage plant, but assume it has the same mauve flowers as the normal Stachys byzantina?

  2. Would love to be there and have a wander round. Dan, can you tell me the name of the purple leaf plant with the red flower in the Bowel garden? Dashed if I can think of it!

  3. Great piece and very thought provoking. Though you may want to edit the designer for The Dogs Trust Garden. Its Paul Hervey-Brookes, not John.

  4. I enjoyed reading this very much, thanks Dan. The quality & visual impact of the World Vision garden is undeniable, although it seems odd that it’s been recatergorised for HC. Maybe hubbies have been known to pester for garden adornments too?

    1. Oh yes. Him Indoors is hankering after a nice white bench for his birthday. Which reminds me, I need to get something organised, sharpish. In the case of my own garden, when we open it’s always the men that want our outdoor kitchen, principally, I believe, because it has the mother of all barbecues fitted into it!

  5. Thanks Dan. Not as familiar with Hampton Court as Chelsea (albeit remotely) but well worth viewing and some great ideas. As you say it seems ‘packed with ideas one might readily try at home’ so I just might be forced to try a few 🙂

    1. Perhaps not the vortex of oil though, or the barbed wire fence?! A few years ago there was a giant stack of fridges with alpines sprouting out of them. I’ve seen a few people try that in their front gardens, only they didn’t look the type to go to Hampton Court 😉

  6. Dearest Dan… I had a little sob at midday when I was staring at a computer screen reflecting on what I was doing the same time last year…. Sharing LP bubbles and seafood platters with a lovely friend in nice warm (well HOT) weather indulging in my passion…not boring spreadsheets, miserable weather and a cup of tea! What a fabulous post… I loved the big flower hall last year so it would have been super to see the steroid effect! What is it with tacky water features…with accompanying adornments of ‘animals’ in some circumstances!!! Particularly like the concept of a doggie garden. Have not seen such ‘consideration’ before but as many of us have pets, not the pesky kangaroos and rabbits in my home paddock that are causing havoc at present, most thought provoking to incorporate animal friendly aspects in a garden.

    thank your again, Dan, for your wonderful descriptions and eloquent prose. These posts make my day and are a joy to read. I can truly picture myself there, including the G and T elderflower tipples!!

    1. I do, indeed, wish you were here Helen! I had a very basic lunch sitting on the grass listening to a jazz band. It was very charming but not as sophisticated as last year. The sun came out as the show opened and stayed out, so my face got royally burned and I was very hot and bothered by the end of the day.

      You’d have loved the floral marquee as it was enormous, quite cool and much easier to move around than Chelsea. It took me nearly 3 hours to get around it once! Like Canton Fair but with plants 😉

    1. I greatly admire your resolve in resisting the tyranny of the camera. Your are a better man that I! Thank you for taking the trouble to use my post as a surrogate for your own, which I know would have been excellent. Glad you enjoyed the lens free experience!

  7. You had better weather than I did on Monday – it was all gloomy grey skies by the afternoon and I was freezing in the chilly wind as I dressed for the heat of last year’s show. Lovely photos, I’ve enjoyed seeing the gardens through your eyes and reading what you thought of them. I wasn’t impressed with the show gardens either, preferring the smaller plots.

    1. I’m sorry Monday wasn’t nicer for you Caro. To be honest the bright sunshine isn’t too great for photography, but I would not swap you the sun for chilly wind! Not sure when I’ll get to part II of my post, but I had a great day.

  8. Canton fair with flowers!! Yeah more is more…..we love ott….

    But….Well the catering would have to improve very significantly!! Three layer white bread sandwiches with manufactured cheese…or white bread hot dogs…..noooooo!

    I think I will settle for Pimms or bubbles and Chelsea for 2017! 👏👏👏👏👏

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