The Hampton Court Palace Flower Show celebrates its 25th birthday this year. They even made a flower cake to celebrate:
I went for the first time a couple of years ago. I’d been to the Chelsea Flower Show a few times and while that’s always inspirational for the gardener, it’s also horrendously crowed. A little akin to being on the Tube at rush hour. And I hit a couple of years on the trot when it was wet and cold so not much fun. The trip to the Hampton Court show a couple of years ago was a birthday treat from my friend Nina. The weather was kind, it was great to spend a leisurely day with my friend, and it was only a short bus ride from home!
With its 20-acre site, the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is the largest flower show in the world. Though not within the show, the palace’s famous maze is also the largest hedge maze in the world, built more than three hundred years ago in the time of William and Mary, and has half a mile of pathways. It takes most people about 20 minutes to find the middle. I gathered this information from BBC 2 coverage of the show last night; they didn’t say how long it takes most people to get out again and whether they rescue you if you get seriously lost!
People have said to me for years – even before I finally got there – that the Hampton Court show is much nicer than Chelsea. I would in many ways agree – but not all. Its larger site means that although it gets busy there are plenty of quieter places to hang out when you want to slow down or rest. I’m not sure I could spend a whole day at Chelsea, it’s too frenetic, but a whole day at Hampton is a happier prospect. It’s more relaxed; less serious. There’s masses to do and, unlike Chelsea, you can actually buy plants to take home. Apart from show gardens and the wonderful Floral Marquee, there’s a Cookery Theatre with guest cooks like James Wong, Alys Fowler and Gregg Wallace giving demonstrations. In the Celebrity Theatre there are talks by well-known TV personalities like Simon King and Christine Walkden. There are endless stalls selling anything garden related that you could possibly want or dream up, including a Honda robot lawnmower – if you have £2,000-£3,000 to spare.
There are loads of food and drink stalls too, from preserves, cheeses and other things to take home to Pimm’s, Champagne, G&Ts, or coffee to sustain you on the go and all kinds of things to eat there: fish & chips, pulled pork baps, healthy falafel & hummus pitta breads, gorgeous cakes. But, of course, the flowers are the thing. If you’re a gardener, then that’s why you’re there. It’s a delight to see so many wonderful flowers and different varieties at their perfect best. They may never look like that in your garden, but it’s so nice to see how they should look. Thus the Floral Marquee, with pretty much any flower you could think of, is a magnificent affair. Here are a few photos. First some beautiful peonies:
And many wonderful displays:
The show gardens are always fun to see:
They lack the cutting-edge magnificence and inspiration of the ones at Chelsea, I think, although this Circle of Life garden was interesting:
But even the more ordinary ones can still provide some good ideas for your garden. I liked these Alice in Wonderland themed topiaries:
The Hampton Court Flower Show is a great day out and – especially with it being local to me – I’m sure to go back again next year. Though it also made me feel I must go to Chelsea again because the show gardens there really are a wonder. Meanwhile, if you want to know more about it and other Royal Horticultural Society shows visit: www.rhs.org.uk