Hampton Court Palace Flower Show – a high point in the UK summer calendar – has been rated a huge success by the organizers. Regular visitors will have noticed a whole new look this year. There was a major change of layout as the four floral marquees were revamped to create one large space for more nurseries to display their products. This also gave visitors the chance to take home an even wider range of plants and flowers.
In 2009 the heart of the showground was filled by the major new Gardening Energy feature, designed by the Royal Horticultural Society’s Gold Medal winning designer, Sarah Eberle. Visitors were also able to enjoy two new categories of gardens. One was The Gardens of the Six Wives of Henry VIII. Hampton Court Palace was the favorite residence of Henry VIII, and to celebrate the 500th anniversary of his accession to the throne, the RHS gave the show a Tudor theme. The Tudor Rose Festival was themed to reflect Henry VIII’s Tudor court with a dramatic red and white Tudor Rose symbol taking pride of place. The marquee offered, as always, an abundance of heavily scented varieties of blooms although visitors expecting to find anything like the Tudor Rose would have been disappointed as no such flower exists botanically… Henry was famous for his wives and each got their own garden this year: Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Catherine Parr all had very different personalities, each of which was translated into a small garden by up-and-coming designers.
The second category was Sustainability Gardens, aimed at inspiring visitors looking for ways to be more green. The focus of other attractions was on grow your own gardening in a changing climate, healthy living and making the most of life outdoors. There was a chance to bring the taste of the good life into your home with the extensive Growing Tastes feature. This took you from plot to plate with 14 ‘grow your own’ exhibits displaying giant garlic bulbs, herbs from around the world and a variety of English as well as exotic fruit and vegetables. The central feature was a family allotment, designed to appeal to the nation’s appetite for growing one’s own vegetables and fruit in keeping with the current economic squeeze.
In the Cookery Theatre chefs gave a range of demonstrations using seasonal produce, as well as emphasizing natural, organic, locally-sourced and British dishes. “Last year’s show was the event for grow your own, and this year we’re building on that success with even more foody features and good life attractions” explained Mandy Almond, RHS Show Manager for Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.
This year the South Pacific came to Hampton Court with a presentation of the Legends of Fiji. Villagers from the Fijian islands brought over the sights and sounds of a tropical island paradise, with displays of tribal dancing and singing, and traditional Fijian crafts. Gold Medal-winning designer Claire Whitehouse recreated a lush Fijian garden with colorful and exotic plants such as palms, hibiscus, bougainvillea and orchids. Interspersed with this planting were carved orchid roots, traditionally used to depict the ancient stories of the country such as ‘the Legend of Degei the Snake God’ and ‘the Legend of the Sacred Turtles of Kadavu’. In addition to all of this, the Long Water, which runs through the centre of the show, displayed a number of traditional Fijian rafts.
Thailand was represented with a pavilion and display of exotic plants. The section’s offer of a free Thai massage and traditional lemon tea proved to be a top attraction with tired and thirsty visitors queuing up for a welcome break from the heaving mass of people jostling for position at the various displays.
The RHS motivated pre-schools and primary schools in the South East to get creative and enter the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show Scarecrow Competition for the chance to win £200 worth of garden centre vouchers to be spent on plants and tools for a school garden. In keeping with the general theme, the schools were challenged to use plant and recycled materials to create a Tudor scarecrow. Schools rose to the challenge and came up with imaginative figures of Henry VIII, one of his wives, an ordinary Tudor person and other models with a Tudor slant.
There was a touch of controversy at the start of the show with a robust debate in a news talks tent about show-garden judging. One journalist taking part in the discussion had provocatively described the RHS as gentlemanly, amateurish with a judging system that was cosy and in need of reform. His views drew the wrath of his fellow-panelists one of whom accused him of being disingenuous and ill-informed.
It’s hoped the lively exchange of ideas will spur the organizers to aim for even greater heights of creativity next year. At the end of the show visitors headed for home triumphantly pushing trolleys laden with plants and flowers bought at bargain prices from exhibitors. Although this year’s event is over ambitious plans are already under way to create an even bigger and better event in July 2010 to attract visitors not just from the UK but from across the world.