RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

Rozie Apps
Wednesday, 9th July 2014

The RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is a showcase for current trends in gardening. But where are the edibles and exploration of climate change and sustainability?

The team here at Permaculture enjoy a day out, and you can't beat exploring beautiful gardens filled with colourful flowers and plants. What better place to find all of this, than RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Myself and editor Maddy Harland spent the day investigating.

Every year the show has noticeable themes and this year it is obvious that purple is the in colour with nearly every single garden showing some shade of violet or mauve.

We enjoyed exploring the gardens through the different categories, and are especially pleased that winner of the Summer Garden went to 'A Space to Connect and Grow'. This beautiful garden is made from a wide range of recycled materials from; bicycle wheel spokes turned into bee and bug hotels; parts from a combine harvester turned into a water feature; and metal drums used as chairs, wall art and plant pots. The garden was designed as an urban space, with an outdoor eating area, a small platform as a performing area, a living roof and plenty of colourful flowers and grasses. This garden stood out for its creative use of resources and its natural and wild appearance. It really felt like a garden we could all create and enjoy. 

The Jordans Wildlife Garden is another wild garden we could envisage owning. It is packed with grasses and wildflowers, backed by an edible hedgerow. The hedgerow provides edible treats of blackberries, wild strawberries, rosehips and wild leeks, and the trees give cherry plums, cobnuts, Amelanchier Lamarckii (June berry) and crab apples. One edge is inspired by British farms with oat fields, the grasses are mixed with edible flowers of dandelions, daisies and cornflowers and the centre holds a reflecting pool surrounded by a nut terrace and straw benches. There are even sculptured bird and bug houses tucked into the hedgerow and beehives nestled in the meadow flowers. It feels beautifully relaxing and natural, whilst being sustainable and wildlife friendly. Plus Jordans offer tasty give aways. It is a garden that reminded me of my childhood, spending summer holidays running through fields, picking flowers and fruits to bring home to make berry crumbles and pies.

We found a great living wall planted with a range of deep greens and reds in 'A Hampton Garden' by Squires Garden Centres; an entire wall turned into a bee and bug haven by Chew Valley Trees and lots of hedgehog homes in 'Hedeghog Street'. 'The Forgotten Folly' is also a hidden gem, where nature has been left to reclaim the space. With dry stone walls, streams and waterfalls, the garden provides an oasis for British wildlife. The plants used show native flowers can be mixed with those we would usually plant in a cottage garden. It feels like a secret garden, one you would find tucked behind a weeping willow or bushy rhododendron. Plus, the children from Wrington Primary School were involved in the nurturing and growing of the garden whilst learning about conservation. A great example of inspiring and educating children in the importance of nature and her systems.

Our favourite garden of the day was 'The Flintknapper's Garden - A story of Thetford'. With the whole community of Thetford being involved, this garden tells a story of the flintknapper, who shapes stones for building or for tools - a skill that was used in the Stone Age. The stunning arch way is embeded in flint, with a couple of tiny bug houses, surrounded by a wild looking garden. Speaking with designer Luke Haydon, we learnt that every single plant chosen connects with Thetford, which meant his choice was limited. Yet here he has created a beautiful space that feels calm and homely. We loved seeing a garden that used native species and reflected the area it came from. It inspires and shows us all that we can create a similar garden at home.

It is great to see gardens involving their communities and local children. Gardens should be enjoyed by everyone and should bring people together.

As beautiful and inspirational as these gardens are, we were however, disappointed with several aspects. Firstly there was a huge lack of edibles. Although the RHS garden - celebrating their 50th anniversary of Britain in Bloom - had part of their garden as an allotment style vegetable patch, this was not integrated with the rest of the garden and showed perfect lines of vegetables, all ready for harvest at the same time. Not a great example of growing your own.

Growing your own food and integrating it into your garden design is easy but also important. In recent years more and more people have turned towards growing their own, whether they have entire vegetable patches or grow in pots, containers and on balconies. It is a solution to increasing food prices as a result of climate change effects on agriculture. The living wall in Squires garden could easily have been filled with salads and strawberries, and the urban gardens could have had their tubs and pots filled with carrots or potatoes rather than flowers. The allium family not only produces great vegetables but also beautiful flowers and the perennial varieties are perfect for integrating into the garden. 

It is also quite astonishing that no gardens explored our changing climate. This is affecting what we can grow in our gardens, whether it is food or flowers and changes how we irrigate and harvest water and protect soil.

I was also disapointed when visiting the 'Quiet Mark Treehouse and Garden' by John Lewis, to find the leaflet and staff did not know any details to the wood used - kebony. It was explained that kebony is a sustainable alternative to tropical hardwoods but that is it. Surely, as the main feature of the structure, this is a hugely important detail.

We urge the RHS to take this onboard. The future of gardening needs to incorporate edible plants and acknowledge our changing climate. The next generation is aware of these climatic changes and need for more sustainble ways of living and these kind of events really need to be setting the precedent.

All photos credited to Maddy Harland - editor of Permaculture.

Rozie Apps is assitant editor of Permaculture.

Further resources

Designing a wildlife garden and eating it too

In collaboration with the garden, Edd Kimber, from Great British Bake Off (BBC2) has created three delicious recipes from foraged fruits

Five ways to grow edibles vertically

Growing pumpkins and squash vertically

Urban growing and Permaculture in Pots: how to grow food in small urban spaces 

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