It is a year since I helped construct a stunning show garden at Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in 2017 and it is with a touch of nostalgia and excitement that I returned. A quintessentially British event, the flower shows, which are growing in popularity and number all around Britain, 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 and the palace looking like it has been dropped in the middle of a drought prone, straw yellow Australian landscape.
The shows bring 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 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.
The wildflower meadow stole all attention away from the neighbouring plantings by famous Piet Oudolfs, which was not a good example of his trademark naturalistic planting. With large spaces between plants, it looked like either there was 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 made it hard to take the time necessary to view the intricacies of each construction. The most memorable garden that captured me in this limited viewing capacity was the Health and Wellbeing garden, for its restricted white and lime plantings and it's 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 goes in to these shows serves the 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 creates a false impression that all plants flower at the same time, no matter what time of spring/summer it is and that clients can have a garden where plants come fully grown and flowering and need no time 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. It is a shame that Australia only has the Melbourne Flower Show, which is growing the possibility of these shows in Australia, but does not receive the same exposure, coverage or value placed on these events in Britain. 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.