Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Hampton Court Preview

A mellow evening at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show
I had the pleasure of spending yesterday evening at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show Preview and Gala as the guest of the garden designer Louise Venter. When I arrived she had just heard the news that the garden 'Heathers in Harmony', on which she had collaborated, had won a Gold Medal, plus Best Small Garden and Most Creative garden, so it was an exciting moment.

'Heathers in Harmony'
Louise Venter & Will Quarmby
The garden had been designed by Will Quarmby, undertaking a commission by the British Heather Growers Association, with the aim of promoting the use of heathers in the garden, as a start in rehabilitating the perception of the versatile plants. It was a charming, sunken garden on three levels, each accented by a standard Parrotia persica, with borders planted (by Louise) with a mixture of heathers, perennials and shrubs, showing that heathers can indeed be used in mixed plantings to good effect (though of course in real life you'd have to ensure that they were not swamped by taller plants). The innovation came in the spectacular green wall composed of over 14000 heather plants in plugs installed in a Vertigarden system with an integrated irrigation. The effect of a mosaic of different shades of green was extremely pleasing and as they are all winter-flowering cultivars the colour effect in winter could be amazing too. Above all, it worked as a garden: one could imagine it being installed on a small urban site and being enjoyed as an outdoor living space. The lowest level has just enough space for a table, and seated at it one felt comfortably enclosed, with everything around in balance: our picnic supper there demonstrated its appropriateness.

That was a real garden, but for many the conceptual gardens are a big draw at Hampton Court. These are whimsical fancies, created to stimulate the imagination. Some induce thoughts along the lines of wtf, but others are more significant: it depends whether one can suspend one's expectations of  reality and practicality enough to get anything from them.

Conceptual gardens: in the foreground is 'Landscape Obscured' by Dan Lobb, in which one peers through 'periscopes' to see mushroms growing in a cavity below ground.

The CoppaFeel! Garden, by RHS Young Designer of the Year Hugo Bugg, is promoting breast cancer awareness, with breast-shaped cushions left around to be felt-up, passing on the message Touch, Look, Feel.

A mirrored ball in the 'Excuse me while I kiss the sky' garden made by Anoushka Feiler for Bestique, reflecting the upside-down plants suspended above it. Around it is a great sweep of Agapanthus reflected in angled mirrors.

This garden by Flemons Warland Design for World Vision was a Gold Medal winner in the Large Garden category and was rather lovely, with cedars in the background providing strong reflections on the dark water. Pale planting between the uprights was also very good.


  1. Great review John! I'm afraid that I was blown away by the "whimsical" gardens, particularly World Vision ... as a piece of symbolism! Charlotte

  2. Congrats to Louise on the Heather garden - it was lovely. I overheard a couple of 'I don't like Heathers but...' comments while looking at it myself, so I think rehabilitation is possible! Unfortunately by the time I got round that far the weather had broken and many of my small garden pics were useless.


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