It is a year since I helped construct a stunning show garden, designed by Andy Sturgeon, at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in 2017. It is with a great sense of nostalgia and excitement that I returned. The flower shows - a quintessentially British event, which grow in popularity and number yearly. Hosted all around Britain, these shows are a must for any visitor in the country from May to August. Hampton Court Flower Show is probably the second biggest after the infamous Chelsea Flower Show. It was on an uncharacteristically steaming day that I attended the show, with the plants slightly droopy and some flowers already spent, the palace looked like it has been dropped in the middle of a drought prone, straw yellow, Australian landscape.
The shows are a feast of landscaping delights, from the artisan products available for your garden, to the exposition of designers and landscapers. On entering the show my eye was instantly drawn to the hilly wilderness of the Battlefields to Butterflies garden - a tribute to WW1. This ended up being my favourite feature of the show, for being both interactive and achieving a smooth transition from the fractured bare earth, with sand bags and barbed wire, to low undulations, covered with butterfly attracting wildflowers and shallow reflective pools.
These peaceful wildflower meadows stole all attention away from the neighbouring plantings by famous Piet Oudolf. This was not a good example of the masters trademark naturalistic planting. With large spaces between plants, it looked like either there was an insufficient budget, or the plants were smaller than required. Either way I would stick to Wisley or the Highline in New York for proper, impressive examples of his work.
It is always a challenge to get to the front of the crowd to view of the smaller show gardens and the heat didn't inspire me to take the time necessary to view the intricacies of each construction. Therefore the most memorable gardens were the ones that could capture me from a distance and provide an oasis from the dusty paths and baking sun. The Health and Wellbeing garden was the stand out in achieving this, with its restricted white and lime plantings and its gently curving corten water rills. On the other end of the spectrum was the completely garish Bizzie Lizzie garden, which stood out for all the wrong reasons. The Secured by Design garden was also memorable due to its very stern and committed police officer, informing viewers of the merits of planting and designing a garden for security reasons - a novel idea.
The flower shows across England are a draw card for millions of visitors and cross cut all walks of life. The huge budget and ongoing BBC coverage that support these shows serve an important function of concentrating focus on the landscaping industry. Highlighting the importance and possibilities of urban landscape design and showing people the role of garden designers. It also, unfortunately, creates a false impression of what is achievable in a garden, with plants flowering at the same time, no matter what time of spring/summer it is and giving off the impression that clients can have a garden where plants come fully grown and flowering, with no time or attention needed to adjust or grow or die back.
I would highly recommend any of these shows for anyone, even if you are not at all interested in gardening. Australia is a little behind the trend, although our single Melbourne Flower Show, grows in popularity yearly. It is a shame that in this country we do not give the same exposure, coverage or value to these events. Hopefully this will change in the future, as the importance of garden design and greening our cities becomes increasingly important, in urban planning and design. One day we may even have our own show in Canberra.