Hampton Court Flower Show

the Good, the Bad and the Unrealistic!

This is the final post specifically about the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2021; and I must say that the show organisers have pulled a show together in the most difficult of circumstances. So congratulations to all, the World and Nature have thrown biblical events about like confetti over the last 18 months; so to have actually created an event that could be enjoyed by thousands is a massive achievement.

Meadow planting was definitely in fashion

The show had a very different feel to previous years; a little more laissez-faire with a relaxed chilled atmosphere, and I think it was better for it. It seemed the show gardens focussed less on being impressive; instead the emphasis was on how thought provoking they were.

However garden shows are a paradox of conflicting methodologies and horticultural messaging which does need addressing. On the one hand the Show promotes gardening with nature but the other hand displays plants and flowers that have been manipulated to be perfect, which is manifestly unnatural.

The RHS garden shows have this conflict of purpose and because of this the non-gardening public receive mixed messages about what gardening is – or how to ‘do it’! Hence why we have taken a sideways glance at the Show and come up with what we think you should take from a show garden. Be it good, bad or utterly unrealistic!

Trust the Italians to have the most stylish display

Top 5 Takeaways:

  • It’s OK to not be neat
  • Flower borders are meant for us to enjoy BUT their primary function is to feed the insects
  • Anything can be used in a garden as long as a) you like it and b) its recycled
  • Gardens are becoming more fun and less focussed on being perfect
  • Multicoloured petals and the more artificial looking flowers are definitely out of fashion (hurrah!)

What was not so good….

  • Birch Trees – why do designers love birch trees so much!
  • Self-binding gravel paths – urgh!
  • Pollen free Lilies and flowers – if it is has no purpose as a food source, is it even a flower?
  • Rills – why put ankle breaking trenches right where people will walk!
  • Don’t mix plants that can’t, shouldn’t and won’t grow together in a display and then call it a Garden!
The Bounce Back Garden :RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

So lets start with the downside of the show. Take this ‘garden’ for example now although very lovely to look at, start thinking about the elements you could introduce in your garden. Remember the RHS gives these gardens shiny gongs and awards, the BBC and Gardening Celebs tell you how beautiful and wonderful they are. Countless column inches are written about the planting, and these gardens have built many a designers career – and there is nothing wrong with this at all – except for one thing.

If you are a non-expert or novice gardener you are going to believe this GARDEN is fabulous. It is fabulous, BUT IT’s NOT A GARDEN!

I cannot understand why the RHS continue to follow this path, as it sets unrealistic expectations. All the show gardens have lists of the plants used, all the visitor has to do is scan the QR code and up will pop a list of plants. The inference being, that these if all are planted together in a domestic garden it will resemble the Show Garden. But it won’t and it never can.

All the plants used have been professionally groomed to flower for the week of the show. They have to look their best, because it is after all a show. In reality, none of these borders would look anything like as spectacular; partly as the planting density in a show garden is far to intense than for a real garden.

Now I understand the dilemma, on one hand we love the spectacle, and that is fine; but then explain the reality. When the codes are scanned, why not show the non-expert gardener how to recreate a similar look at home. Explain why some of the plants in the Show garden really wouldn’t work – but this a great alternative plant for example! Now that would be useful and helpful.

Debris:

We all lead very busy lives these days, and unless you are a dedicated and enthusiastic gardener; most of us want a well behaved garden that looks good – but that looks after itself as much as possible! That phrase, Low maintenance is banded about and it’s very sensible. I want to be able to sit in my garden and enjoy it rather than notice all the jobs that need doing. Once again, Show gardens aren’t meant to replicate ordinary gardens, but the plants and materials used in them do inspire people to copy and emulate these designs.

Sadly many of the plants and materials used will only add to the list of household chores – but again, the general public is misinformed as the messaging from the experts only extols the beauty but not the practicality.

The Communication Garden : RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

Now I loved the Jenga seating, wall shingles, and the colour palette, but, how often will you be having to rake and pick debris out of the rills. This looks beautiful because it is so perfect, what you need to do is imagine this on a wet windy November day. If the garden will still look OK and nice in the worst of the weather, then it will be a lower maintenance garden.

So what were the best bits…?

I think overall the most important takeaway from this years show is that gardens can be anything you want them to be BUT to qualify as a garden it has to not only look good it must DO good to.

Gardens are no longer described as ‘outdoor rooms’ instead they are spaces humans can sit and enjoy Nature. So if the plants you use in the garden are sterile, hybridised, intricately constructed flowers in a multitude of colours BUT that provide little or no food for foraging insects, then it maybe should not be classed as a garden.

Think instead your outside space is a miniature nature reserve where you can access our native wildlife easily. I recently saw a quote from Mohamed Ali who said that it is not the deer that is crossing the road trying to get into the wood; it is the road that is crossing the wood, preventing the deer from entering.

So if we all take this approach, our gardens will begin to put back what we have taken away.

and the Unrealalistic…?

Well there was one runaway winner at the Hampton Court Flower Show 2021…. have a good flight?!!!

Extinction Garden by Felicity O’Rourke RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

By the way – if you want practical sensible and affordable advice that really helps you make your garden better…..

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