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Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace (copyright Ian Curley)

Of all the RHS flowers shows Hampton Court Palace is the one I’ve wanted to visit the most. Held in the grounds of the historic royal palace, once home to Henry VIII, it is the world’s largest flower show and known for its relaxed, friendly feeling. So far I hadn’t got round to going, that is until yesterday. It was all rather unexpected though. A friend had been given some tickets but wasn’t bothered about going so he asked us if we’d like them. Free tickets to Hampton Court, I couldn’t quite believe it. So here’s a bit of a round-up of our day.

The weather – Left home in Monmouthshire on Wednesday at 7.30am, rain, rain and more rain. Arrived at Hampton Court to dull skies and drizzle and stepped out of the car into what felt like a sauna, the humidity was so high. By lunchtime the sky was blue and the sun was shining but the humidity kept on rising.

Hazards of the day – Firstly, the mud. It was squelchy and slippery in places and I narrowly missed an embarrassing slip. Fortunately, I didn’t have to spend the day with a muddy backside. Secondly, there were a couple of ladies stood behind us at one stand who were a little overexcited at the prospect of meeting Monty Don, I hope he survived the experience.

Hampton Court Palace

Trifolium ochroleucon (copyright Ian Curley)

Most Popular Plant of the Show – It had to be Trifolium ochroleucon or giant clover as it became known on the day. It was everywhere, used in the show gardens, on the nursery stands and in trolleys and bags all over the showground.

Mark Diacono

Mark Diacono about to make cocktails (copyright Ian Curley)

Purchases of the Day – With so much to choose from and an empty car boot I think I was very restrained, or maybe reality has finally set in that my garden cannot take any more plants. I did bring home a Tanacetum ‘Flore pleno’ or the double flowered feverfew. I’ve been looking for this plant for several years now but hadn’t come across it until here. There were some Franchi seeds of an Italian broccoli and several packets of seeds from a great stall in the ‘Growing For Taste’ marquee. I’ve never come across the organic seed company Beans and Herbs before but they had a great selection. And finally, I succumbed to the charms of Mark Diacono at his ‘edible forest garden’ stand. Mark has become known, in recent years, as an exponent of growing more unusual edible plants at his nursery Otter Farm. To show us the taste sensations of some of the plants he grows, he was making and serving cocktails from his stand. We timed our visit perfectly to experience a thyme syrup and lemon verbena cocktail which used some unusual plants to add the sweetness and flavour and then as we were leaving we were passing his stand again, just as his second session was starting. It was a coincidence, unless it was Wellyman’s cunning plan. So we stuck around for his strawberry cocktail, well it would have been rude not to. The cocktails were gorgeous and I fell for the idea of giving something a little unusual a go and came a way with a yacon plant and an Aztec sweet herb (Lippia dulcis). I’ll post in more detail about these plants another day. All I can say is, it’s just as well he’d sold out of the Szechuan pepper trees.

The Casablanca Steps

The Casablanca Steps (copyright Ian Curley)

Summery Moment – We haven’t had much of a summer so far, so when these moments happen it’s all the more memorable. I just loved the 1920s/1930s band Casablanca Steps, dressed like they had just stepped out of a Jeeves and Wooster book, they played in the bandstand, whilst we ate lunch in the sunshine. Perfect.

Hampton Court Flower Show

The ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ Show Garden (copyright Ian Curley)

Favourite Show Garden – Bridge Over Troubled Water. I just loved the planting on this show garden. The use of grasses and plants mingling in between, made me think of a hedgerow but with a cultivated, contemporary look. This is where I spotted my favourite plant of the show, Dianthus carthusianorum.

Hampton Court Flower Show

The ‘Light at the End of the Tunnel’ Conceptual Garden (copyright Ian Curley)

Favourite Conceptual Garden – Light at the End of the Tunnel. This garden was designed by Matthew Childs who was injured in the July 7th bombing of Edgware Road Station in London in 2005. Inspired by his experiences on that day and subsequently, I thought it felt like a garden with real substance. You entered the garden through a hole in a large stone wall where a path took you through a dark, claustrophobic feeling tunnel but as you walked down the path the tunnel gradually became more open to the sky until you were once again in daylight. It was a simple but clever way of expressing the impact his experience had on him. The planting was beautiful with shade loving plants alongside the path in the tunnel and soft forms and flowers as you left.

Hampton Court Flower Show

The colour of the show – orange (Copyright Ian Curley)

Colour of the Show – This had to be orange. Achillea ‘Walter Funke’, Heleniums, Pilosella otherwise known as ‘fox and cubs’, Eremurus ‘Cleopatra’  were all a stunning shot of colour which came to life as the sun came out.

Favourite Plant – This was the Dianthus carthusianorum used in the Bridge Over Troubled Water garden. The brilliant shot of pink from the flowers worked so well planted with grasses. With flowers similar to sweet williams but with fewer flowers on a stem, they looked quite ethereal, similar to verbena bonariensis although much shorter in height. This is definitely a plant that will go on my wish list.

Hampton Court Flower Show

The herbaceous borders at Hampton Court Palace (copyright Ian Curley)

Surprise of the Day – The stunning herbaceous borders of the palace itself. We’d only visited Hampton Court once before, about 13 years ago in January, to look around the palace. We had no idea that the gardens themselves would be so beautiful.

We left tired, with sore feet but having had a great day. Can’t wait to explain my yacon plant to the guys on the allotment.