Court is in session at Hampton - the biggest flower show in the world

Peter Dowdall visits the biggest flower show in the world and gets up to speed on the latest in show gardens and conceptual gardens, taking time to absorb a bit of tranquillity in a Gold medal winning, Irish-designed garden that aims to channel Chile.

Court is in session at Hampton - the biggest flower show in the world

Peter Dowdall visits the biggest flower show in the world and gets up to speed on the latest in show gardens and conceptual gardens, taking time to absorb a bit of tranquillity in a Gold medal winning, Irish-designed garden that aims to channel Chile. (Pictures by Dan Linehan)

THE biggest flower show in the world finishes tomorrow. Hampton Court Palace Flower Show opened its doors on Tuesday and I visited early to see the gardens and displays at their very best.

This year’s show saw the introduction of a new feature highlighting Iconic Horticultural Heroes and who better to highlight it in year one, but Piet Oudulf himself.

The internationally acclaimed Dutch garden designer brought his naturalistic style to Hampton Court with what was described as a “whimsical walk-through feature”. I don’t know who thinks up these descriptions but he certainly created beautiful bold drifts of colour using herbaceous perennials in amongst a lawn area.

Like all the bigger shows, it’s impossible, for me at least, to decide which part of the show I enjoy the most.

The gardens on display go in groups from Show Gardens to World Gardens, Lifestyle Gardens, Gardens for a Changing World and Conceptual Gardens, which are the official stars of the show in this most magnificent of settings, the former home of Henry VIII and that of William and Mary at the rear. They certainly picked nice spots to build their palaces, didn’t they?

Then there are the floral marquees and yes, that is plural. There’s one each for the Floral Marquee, the Festival of Roses and the Floral Design Studio.

Education, conservation, commemoration and celebration are further themes that command a sizeable presence here and then there are the trade stands.

For these commercial exhibits, don’t think your average summer show with sellers trading out of the back of vans — rather the trade stands here are of such a standard as to be worthy show gardens at, dare I say, lesser shows.

Ireland has been exceptionally well represented this year in the World Gardens by Dublin designer, Alan Rudden’s, Santa Rita ‘Living la Vida 120’ which was constructed by Outside Options.

Actor Neil Morrissey and ‘Irish Examiner’ columnist Peter Dowdall at theshow.
Actor Neil Morrissey and ‘Irish Examiner’ columnist Peter Dowdall at theshow.

Basking in the glory of his recent success at Bord Bia’s Bloom Festival in Dublin, this is his first time exhibiting at a UK RHS flower show.

He will remember 2018 for years to come, as he scooped a gold medal for this garden in the grounds of the palace in Surrey.

Inspiration for the garden came when Alan visited Chile as a guest of Santa Rita. There he visited the beautiful Santa Rita Casa Real homestead and gardens, both of which are listed as national monuments in Chile, and experienced first-hand the synergy between the traditional Casa Real parkland and the vineyards surrounding it.

Rudden also visited a number of prestigious public parks on his trip and met with celebrated Chilean garden designers Margarita Alamos and María Olga Rivera, all of which helped further his understanding of the indigenous flora, soils and landscape of the country.

“The colours and terroir of the Santa Rita vineyards are a great inspirational backdrop for our Hampton Court garden,” he says.

“The concept behind the garden is to create a contemporary space with a Latin-American feel and Mediterranean influence.

“The garden is tranquil, secluded and most importantly it is a beautiful space. It is the perfect place to sit back, relax, pour a glass of wine and enjoy a moment with loved ones.”

Actor and comedian Bill Bailey in the RHS Grow Your Own garden.
Actor and comedian Bill Bailey in the RHS Grow Your Own garden.

Wall structure is very important within this space. High walls make the garden feel intimate while low walls are used to separate the areas, while creating different layers. The hard palette material is minimal, the bulk of which is grey and yellow oxide steel, brown granite gabions and polished concrete.

These elements are representative of what can be seen in gardens and parks in central Chile — contemporary modern forms using raw natural and industrial materials.

It’s a very structured space created in a very contemporary style which sounds like it should contradict the planting, as much of the plants used could now be described as historic more than modern, like the mature multi stemmed Arbutus, which are the standout plants in this garden. These Arbutus work well in the planting scheme which is designed to be relatively low maintenance and represents what is typical of central Chile, which is generally a temperate, Mediterranean style climate.

Plants that thrive in Chile but can withstand the UK climate were chosen for the garden along with the Arbutus which has become more synonymous with Killarney than Santiago.

“Our horticultural link goes back to the Santa Rita estate in the world-famous Cabernet Sauvignon wine producing region of Maipo,” says Terry Pennington, commercial director, Santa Rita Estates Europe, who sponsored Alan’s garden.

“Our beautiful Casa Real manor house and 40-hectare park is found there, and the house is surrounded by wonderful ornate gardens and parklands which are regularly opened up to the public, schools and local communities.”

And moving on, the floral marquee didn’t disappoint, playing host, as it does to displays of the highest standards of excellence and not just one or two of them. This is where plants are feted. This is where those gardeners amongst us who harbour secret, or open infatuations with particular genera, are allowed to show themselves off.

Celebrity chef, Raymond Blanc at the RHS Grow Your Owngarden.
Celebrity chef, Raymond Blanc at the RHS Grow Your Owngarden.

Begonias in all their showy, bold brashness are made to look as bright as possible, Japanese Maples, Carniverous Plants, Streptocarpus, Fuchsias, Pelargoniums, Tillandsias and other air plants and many, many more groups and species of plants, have their own magnificent presence and this is where their fans come to pay homage.

Alan Titchmarsh officially opened the Plant Heritage zone in the Floral Marquee at this year’s show and he spoke eloquently, as he tends to, about Plant Heritage — the conservation charity overseeing the National Plant Collections for the last 40 years. Also celebrating an anniversary were the presenters and crew of the BBC’s. much-loved, Countryfile programme who were on hand at the Countryfile Garden which was designed by Anne-Marie Powell, showcasing the diverse landscapes of the British countryside.

All that and I didn’t even mention the Alliums or Heucheras…

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