The RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival: What To Expect

By Guest Writer

2 weeks ago

The festival brings welcome experimental flair and wayward wildness


Planning a visit to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival? Here’s everything you need to know, says Wendyrosie Scott.

A Guide To The RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival

There is an upbeat celebratory festival feel to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, with a palpable furore in anticipation of what’s on offer. Yet an overarching laid-back atmosphere and anarchy (albeit, marshmallow-like) make the event the perfect mix many are seeking from gardening. (Not forgetting that the RHS platforms charitable organisations, too.) There are daily discussions and talks with ‘personalities’, indulgent lifestyle treats and tools from the high-quality trade stands, fabulous fodder and alcoholic beverages – including the House Plant Cafe where, even as you sit and sip, you can peruse plants and purchase the fine offerings from growers including Forest and the Plant Pet Club. Plus of course, music, where it seems that horticulture is the new rock and roll. 

This year’s gardens present a substantial array of diverse and quirky entries, with many placing environmental issues such as global warming at the forefront of their installations. Endeavouring to mitigate any negative impact through considered garden design means holding this at the core, like the veritable nettle it is – though without losing the enchantment that these gardens bring annually. Phew. Here are a few must-visit installations:

The Get Started Gardens

This area offers a fine opportunity to get stuck into the festival. As one fanatical about fragrance and able to identify even the most random of whiffs, the Making Sense Garden by Flora Scouarnec and Victoria Pease-Cox in fact brought me some sadness, knowing that not everyone can experience its joy. Thankfully, the sensory-themed design, built primarily for people with smell and taste disorders,  restored balance. It provides an immersive space to explore, sit, talk and, importantly, to enjoy a garden in which the other senses – namely sight, sound and touch – are enhanced. The installation ultimately hopes to raise awareness of the existence of anosmia and its impact. Divided into two levels, and generously covered with plants and trees of radical tactility, it sits amid a tranquil water acoustic. The planting scheme changes subtly from the upper to lower level, with the latter housing a seating area which is intentionally more restful, immersive and reflective. A harmonious plant palette of blue, white, green and magenta creates a sensuous and even spiritual experience.

The Mediterraneo Garden

Designed by Katerina Kantalis, this garden draws inspiration from the Mediterranean, offering escapism while addressing the necessity of climate adaptation in our gardens. Inspired by the warmth and vibrancy of Greek landscapes, it seeks to transplant their iconic features into a British garden, which it does with great authenticity. Having been fortunate enough to live in Greece for a while many moons ago, it immediately transported me, and clearly I was not alone in this immersion. Every element conjures the timeless charm of the region, creating a serene retreat, while integrating drought-tolerant plants to adapt to the UK’s climatic shifts. It considered sustainability, minimalist hard landscaping, permeable paving, self-binding gravel for drainage and a ‘lawn-free’ approach, all to help reduce water consumption.

The Allotments Area

This brought whimsy; brimming with plant power and immense fun and nonsense, the Mini ‘cut-out’ cars presentation, from the Community Brain and 121 Collective, celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Mini Cooper winning the Monte Carlo Rally for the first time in 1964. A symbol of the swinging sixties and a memorable feature of the iconic film The Italian Job is symbolised by three stylised versions of the motors used and represented in red, white, blue and yellow floral form.

The Kitchen Garden From THE PIG

Courtesy of THE PIG hotel, this is wonderfully inviting, while also bringing a very British sensibility. It’s inspired by the company’s walled kitchen gardens, and designer Ollie Hutson presents a colourful, delectable and seasonal assortment of edibles. Demonstrating how rewarding growing your food can be, it’s an installation with style and flair, good enough to eat and deliciously regarded as an art form. 

Kitchen garden at Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival

(c) RHS, Tim Sandall

The Garden Of Renewal

While the majestic and historic landscape that is Hampton Court temporarily houses the event, including its frou-frou floral finery (also a definite positive aspect of the show), it is the more humble Garden of Renewal entitled ‘nature’s embrace’ which wins first place in my view. Its seemingly simple design and stripped-back approach turns the basics from nature into furniture, and the effect is profound. An inviting path of stones wind to a harmonious haven which would fit well in a wild forest. 20 year-old Giada Francois, its designer, became a single mother and took refuge in gardening. Her presentation demonstrates how, without a financial sponsor, a Show Garden garden can be created by sheer determination. 

Garden with wooden chair and pebbles

(c) RHS, Neil Hepworth

The garden’s design draws from the timeless cycles which nurture Mother Nature and the process of birth, growth, decay, and renewal. Each element, from plant species to reclaimed materials, echoes the rhythms of life found in forests, meadows and wetlands. Natural ecosystems honour the interconnectedness of all living beings and inspire a deeper appreciation for the intricate web of life that sustains us all.  Meandering pathways, sensorial water and secluded seating areas enable contemplation or socialising. Post-festival, the garden will relocate to Whipps Cross University Hospital in London. 

The Way Of Saint James Garden

This garden by Turkish designer Nilufer Danis is sponsored by the Galician Tourist Board, whose official regional Camellia plant is, as my grandad (the greatest gardener) would say, ‘a proper Bobby Dazzler!’ The installation symbolises the globally famous pilgrims’ journey to Santiago de Compostela, including a seated sculpture of a contemplative pilgrim to capture the spiritual journey and ambience of the route. Mystical forests including herbaceous perennials – and of course, the Camellia Japonica plants – play their part in what is a cohesive scene of receptivity and ‘wild’ beauty within the garden, which surely reflects the Galician sensibility.  

Stone sculpture of a woman gazing out at a pond

(c) RHS, Neil Hepworth

All About Asteracea

In this area, which is part of the New Talent section, the For the Birds garden is an utter haven for those that flutter (as well as land animals such as we). The Asteraceae family has notable icon plants like sunflowers, marigolds and echinacea, which are known for their sensational seed heads and beloved by wildlife, especially birds. Designer Brian Youngblut consulted the British Ornithology Society, whose research reveals that the number of wild birds in the UK has fallen by 73% since 1970 due to industrialised agriculture, habitat loss and the climate crisis. The rustic aesthetic of this small space delights, and is as appealing to the eye as to the creatures for whom it’s primarily intended.

Others worthy of mention include Tim Jennings’ Four Seasons Sanctuary garden and the award-winning Denmans Garden by Gwendolyn van Paasschen and Jonathan Arnold, which pays tribute to the former home of the late John Brookes MBE, one of the UK’s most influential landscape designers and authors. The RHS Wisley’s Formal Gardening for Wildlife installation is a living sculpture combining nature and culture, resulting in an exquisite art form of ornamentals and succulents. Floriferous pops of colour and rich foliage welcome bees, butterflies and beetles, while planted night pollinator beds entice bats and moths. Moss Magic by budding eco-warrior Bea Tann is a world of wonder into the myriad properties of the marvel that is moss. Finally, the Explore Charleston garden by Sadie May Stowell sublimely evokes classic English gardens before transitioning into the free-flowing ethereal beauty of the low-country grasses and flora found in Charleston, Carolina, – which, once seen, remain in mind. 

The Final Word

As with all RHS Show events, taking into consideration the preliminary planning that goes into conception and collaboration, not to mention seeking sponsorship and sourcing people, plants, tools, accessories and artworks – even before anything is set in soil and installed at ground level – teams can, understandably, be exhausted come showtime, when the razzle-dazzle begins. Yet the performance continues from both designers and their presentations, bringing insight and delight to buoy creator and visitor. The RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival acts as an annual addiction for many and a ‘drug of choice’ which has helped cure and heal in, well, bucketloads.

VISIT

The festival runs from 2-7 July 2024.

Hampton Court Palace, Surrey KT8 9AU. rhs.org.uk