Well, it’s been a long time, but July’s RHS Hampton Court Garden Festival was an absolute treat for the senses. The scent of roses everywhere, the happy sounds of live music, the hubbub which follows the Gardeners’ World team around the showground, an open-air theatre with expert presentations… it was almost too much to take in. Our congratulations and thanks go to the RHS, the designers, the contractors, the growers, the show teams, the caterers, the exhibitors, and everybody else who created such a wonderful event. You gave visitors the most wonderful, varied and enjoyable day!
In no particular order, here are our favourite things from our day at the show.
The RHS No-Dig Allotment demonstration garden
Putting no-dig gardening high on the agenda, this allotment-style garden, created in association with no-dig pioneers Charles Dowding and Stephanie Hafferty, was a real crowd-puller. Featuring incredible veg, knowledgeable no-dig advocates (including the designers!) to quiz, and helpful demonstrations of the tools and techniques which can be useful in making the switch to no-dig, this was a friendly, collaborative and interactive garden. And in the interests of transparency, we also liked it because we supported its creation, with some of our tools! You may have spotted them either being decorative or in use: our trug, Express Hoe, Weed Slice, Razor Hoe, RHS-endorsed rake, and lots more were all in evidence. We may be slightly biased, but we thought it was fantastic!
Plant Heritage aspidistra display
Presented as a Victorian parlour, this quirky display showcased the National Collection of the archetypal houseplant of the period, the aspidistra. With today’s passion for indoor gardening and love of statement houseplants, this is a plant that’s once again enjoying its moment in the spotlight. Don’t they say that fashions always come around again? The aspidistra is also known as the ‘cast iron plant’ as it’s almost impossible to kill, so it’s a good choice even for those plant-lovers who say they don’t have green fingers.
This display was one of several by Plant Heritage in the Floral Marquee. These displays showcased different aspects of the organisation’s work to preserve many rare cultivars created through hundreds of years of work by passionate gardeners and horticulturalists. Incidentally, we thought our Porto pots looked rather smart in Plant Heritage’s ‘Threatened Plant of the Year Competition’ display, too!
The Punk Rockery garden
One of a new category of gardens for 2021, the ‘Get Started’ gardens showcased tiny plots designed for new gardeners. ‘Punk Rockery’ designed by Amanda Grimes caught our eye. Taking inspiration from the 'dry garden' work of Beth Chatto and experimental work at the University of Sheffield growing plants into brick dust, this garden showed that even given less-than-optimal conditions, an appealing and useful space can be created. In a nutshell – anyone can garden. Using builders’ rubble, brick dust and imaginative upcycling, this garden was a welcoming and colourful space for people and wildlife alike, packed with low-maintenance, high-impact planting.
Surreal Succulents stand, Floral Marquee
If you’re a fan of succulents, this was the place to be! The team at Surreal Succulents always put on a display of jaw-dropping perfection. They have helped us out with plants for our stand at Chelsea Flower Show more than once – you can see some of the plants above our cutting tool display in our Guide to Cutting Tools. The exotic, almost other-worldly shapes of the succulents never cease to fascinate us, and we can just get lost in those endless hypnotic Fibonacci spirals. We love that some of these beautiful plants are surprisingly hardy, too – and we may have come away happily clutching a dainty Perle von Nürnberg echeveria en route to its new home.
Tom Stuart-Smith’s 'Iconic Horticultural Hero' garden
Named the show’s Iconic Horticultural Hero, Tom Stuart-Smith produced a garden which was simply stunning. Designed to be climate-resilient, this garden featured perennial flowers, Mediterranean shrubs and ornamental grasses, combining to make an oasis of calm and tranquillity in the busy showground. Watching the breeze move through the dancing foliage was mesmerising, and seeing people’s reactions was just as fascinating as they moved along the winding paths through the garden. You could practically see the alpha waves as visitors relaxed and let the colours, textures and sounds of the garden wash over them. With its immaculate herbaceous plants grown by Sunnyside Rural Trust, a thriving charity and social enterprise offering training and work experience for vulnerable people, this was a garden which did everybody good. See a video clip of Tom Stuart-Smith's garden on our Facebook page.
The RHS Allotment
This area was almost a day out in itself! Over a dozen allotment plots, many created by community gardening groups, with lots of knowledgeable and friendly grow-your-own enthusiasts on hand to share their passion for growing. Drawing on inspirations as diverse as a contemporary physic garden and the work of HP Lovecraft, the plots nevertheless had themes in common: the delight in growing your own food; the benefits to nature of giving wildlife a place too; and of course the comfort that being outdoors has brought over the last 18 months. Hugely varied, we found the plots endlessly absorbing. Combining the ornamental and the edible, the cultivated and the wild, the exotic and the familiar, this was the essence of the allotment experience, and importantly, it captured perhaps the most important element - the joy of sharing our love of growing.
Our congratulations and thanks to everyone involved in creating this wonderful event.