Gardener's Delight

Venue: Hampton Court Palace, Surrey and Tatton Park, Cheshire
Date: 11 Jul 2013

We teamed up with the RHS to offer two separate Reader Club trips to Hampton Court Palace Flower Show and Tatton Park Flower Show. Carrie Martindale and Rachel Bailey report on why both events are worth a visit.

HAMPTON COURT PALACE FLOWER SHOW: 11TH JULY 

Have you ever read the novel Perfume by Patrick Süskind? If you have, you’ll know that the story’s protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, has an unbelievable sense of smell. His nostrils are on continual overtime as a simple walk down a Parisian street becomes an olfactory pilgrimage of aromas, odours and fragrances. Well, had he ventured there, Jean-Baptiste would have been bowled over by the beautiful scent of the Roses marquee at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Show, as I was, even with my hay fever-muted senses. It was wonderful.

And marvellous scents aren’t the only thing that attack your perceptions at the show; your sight also takes a battering as a sea of colours spreads as far as the proverbial eye can see. Your taste buds too, as you are offered delightful titbit after delicious sip in the Growing Tastes marquee. With the added blessing of a warm summer’s day and the stunning backdrop of Hampton Court Palace, you might as well be in the Garden of Eden.

“What a fabulous venue! I can’t wait to take my group next year. We will go by coach, which will enable me to buy all of the plants that I wanted to buy this year, but couldn’t because of the train journey home.” - Pam Galloway, Bury Leisure, Hertfordshire

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

So what’s the fuss all about? For horticultural enthusiasts, every kind of special interest is catered for – from garden sculptures that range from the sublime to the ridiculous, to garden irrigation systems. It really is that broad.

Talking of broad, the vast spread of specimens on display in the enormous Floral Marquee ranged from Bonsai to Buxus. Backed by the cheerful sound coming from the bandstand, you could spend hours wandering from stand to stand.

This most excellent canopy, the air

If you do have people in your party who aren’t as interested in their soil quality as others might be, then the show has plenty of what you might term ‘lifestyle’ stalls and displays. You really could shop till you drop in the stall-strewn walkways and marquees, and although most are related to gardens or gardening, not all are. I would like you all to note that I was unusually restrained and only bought myself a very practical hat. Not so for one GTO, who I hear purchased themselves a greenhouse.

Purchasing at the show is actually easier than it might at first look, as there are a variety of options available to get your purchases home, ranging from home delivery to a plant crèche. 

“The beauty of the flowers is overpowering; you can’t believe that there are so many different varieties and so many different colours. The whole thing is quite mind-blowing.” - John Coatman, Croydon Crusaders

The show also has a strong ethical focus and naturally quite a lot of interest for wildlife enthusiasts. After a very short queue Rob and I ventured into the Butterfly Dome, a paradise full of colourful creatures and a canopy trail of tropical plants (the heat inside the dome was just as tropical). A joint collaboration between the RHS and the Eden Project, staff were on hand in the dome to offer advice and to answer any questions you might have. I even learnt why my Little Shop of Horrors-inspired Venus Flytrap had perished. Better luck next time Audrey.

Food, glorious food

As the show is so vast, your group will inevitably split up during the day. However, there are plenty of places to meet up for a bite to eat and a glass of (pretty pricey) Pimm’s, or you might just settle for a nice cuppa. The showground actually boasts a wide range of eateries and food stalls, from simple burger joints to a Champagne and Seafood Restaurant. Rob and I pipped for a health food stall in one of the open-air areas, tucking into falafel, pittas and humus – all costing less than a couple of glasses of the afore-mentioned drink.

You could probably fill up for free in the Growing Tastes marquee though. I’d only been in there for five minutes, and I’d already supped on some sausage, nibbled on a piece of vintage cheddar and slurped up some damson port – and so had plenty of our GTOs. Being an avid grower and allotment holder myself, I loved this tent. It was full of the most amazing edible plants including enormous bulbs of elephant garlic and a ‘grow your own curry’ stall, which stocked exotic spices, like turmeric and lemongrass to grow at home.

There’s so much to see at the show that I’m afraid the Celebrity Speakers and Catwalk In Bloom Theatre hardly got a look in, and I only got to see the conceptual gardens on my way out. A rockery made out of abandoned fridges made for an interesting sight, although I’m not so sure I’d want that in my own back garden. What a place though. We all left feeling elated, if weary, and stuffed full of ideas (and probably food too)!

“I actually loved the vegetable orchestra, with people playing butternut squash and courgettes and carrots – that was so entertaining.” - Diana Hardie, Monocle, London

TATTON PARK FLOWER SHOW: 27TH JULY

My preconceptions about the RHS Flower Shows, having never visited one before, consisted of visions of flower beds, flower displays, flower stalls, flower merchandise - you get the picture. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that you don’t need to be an expert gardener to enjoy the RHS Flower Shows, and future visitors will find a full day’s outing accommodating for a variety of interests.

Community spirit amongst the blooms

Our day began with an introductory talk over tea and coffee from RHS representatives Dana Kalakauska and Matt Wigginton, who talked about the 19 shows that take place throughout the year, the RHS’s aims as a charity, and what we would be experiencing throughout the day.

Tatton Park paces significant emphasis on community spirit, proved through both the number of schools involved in the garden displays, and the fact that this year was the first time allotments have been introduced as part of the outdoor exhibitions. It differs from other RHS flower shows in size – Hampton Court Palace’s event is five times larger, and Chelsea Flower Show is much busier – and has been described as a hidden gem that’s great for groups.

“I liked the allotment gardens best because they were so original and had plants which were grown from seeds from the 1940s. I’d bring my group to one of these in the future; it’s a lovely day out with a bit of everything for everyone”. - Shell Hashemi, Hampton Wives and Has-beens

Rainbow displays in the Floral Marquee

A riot of colour welcomed us as we entered the show, and a multitude of eye-catching displays, stalls with enticing goods, a collection of competition entries and even a helter-skelter were just some of the tempting areas we wanted to visit. The show was split up into four sections: Grow, Inspire, Escape and Feast, and it was relatively easy to navigate all areas (although there were so many stalls and displays to visit, we were often led off route).

A trip to the RHS Floral Marquee is imperative, not only for garden lovers but also for anyone who appreciates a fantastic multi-coloured display. As the biggest exhibition of the show and home to many of the plants for sale, visitors can enjoy a rainbow spectacle of lilies, bouquets of fragrant roses, a stand full of carnivorous plants and much more.

‘I wish this was my garden’

Other must-sees included the RHS National Young Designer of the Year gardens, and the large and small gardens which can only be described as inspiring. From sweeping steel sculptures and a wooden cone-shaped hideout to relaxing sanctuaries with water features and bee hives, the collection of creative examples succeeded in making every observer sigh and think: ‘I wish this was my garden’.

Personal highlights for me included the Floral Design Studio, a collection of displayed entries from the RHS National Flower Bed competition, and the RHS Summer Fruit & Vegetable Competition Pavilion. Some of the exhibits in the Floral Design Studio were breath-taking: manipulated palm leaves to look like bows, a fairy-tale style garden of moss and petals, and an award-winning timeline of flowers through the decades.

“It’s been an excellent day out – it’s so huge, it’s hard to say what the best part is. There’s a good mix of things to do, even for people who aren’t interested in horticulture”. - Terence Peachey, Horticultural Friends

Tatton Park Flower Show succeeds in inspiring visitors to take ideas from the show back to their own homes, and highlights how with the products and plants on offer, you don’t need to be made of money to make a difference to your own garden. The exhibits themselves were impressive, and with a multitude of benefits for groups, I’d definitely advise visiting one of the shows if you have the chance.

What does the RHS offer groups?

Billing itself as ‘Britain’s finest day out for groups’, the RHS has a lot to live up to, but with a choice of RHS gardens and shows across the country, and a host of group benefits and discounts, we think they do a very good job. Parties of ten or more are entitled to discounted entry to RHS events and gardens, free entry for the GTO and coach driver, and free coach parking.

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