Inside An Immersive Garden At The RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival

By Guest Writer

3 weeks ago

Discover the sounds of nature


An immersive garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival is a treat for the senses, says Margaret Hussey.

Inside The Sounds Of Adventure Garden At The RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival

Aerial view of garden and building with green roof

‘Sometimes I think we overlook the sounds in nature,’ says adventurer Ray Mears. We are sitting in the middle of the Sounds of Adventure garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, which, as well as showing beautiful plants and trees, also takes you on a journey.

It is the brainchild of travel company Exodus, in collaboration with garden designers We Love Plants. The garden features flora from across the globe, and has been designed to reflect Exodus’ commitment to responsible travel and conservation, from a zero-concrete approach to rainwater harvesting techniques.

The experience is enhanced by speakers playing Exodus’ Sounds of Adventure playlist, a collection of raw recorded sounds from 12 destinations – from a dawn chorus in Vermont, USA to Masai tribes in Kenya to the sleepy harbour of Pepperskär Hamen in Finland.

‘Sounds of nature are subtle and can get drowned out,’ says Ray. ‘Like everything today, things are always competing for attention. But sound works two ways – the sounds we make and the sounds we hear. To hear nature, you have to be quiet. Sometimes you can tell different trees just by the sound they make. Maybe this garden will make some people think more deeply about what they hear when they go out. I love it. It’s an oasis. I like that it feels wild, it’s not manicured.’

Do we need to reconnect with nature more? ‘Definitely,’ says Ray. ‘Intrinsically I think we are all hard-wired to be connected to it. And for some people it’s about opportunity.’

Ray likes the connection of the garden with travel, too. ‘Travel is really important – it connects us to other cultures and makes us humble, which is a good thing. It broadens the mind and spirit. Lack of understanding creates hostility and fear.’

Exodus staff in the Sounds of Adventure garden

Designer Nic Howard of We Love Plants submitted the design last August and has been planning it ever since. The heart of the garden is designed as if to hover above the ground. The building, and the garden itself, has been constructed without any concrete, with ground screws providing support for the building, meaning no trace will be left behind.

‘There is no concrete in the garden at all,’ says Nic. ‘It is a really sustainable construction method and can be lifted off and go somewhere else after.

‘We’ve really tried to evoke an experience that you might have on a walking or self-guided holiday. It’s that challenge of evoking that emotional response you get to nature. It’s really immersive and feels restful and inviting with the ever dominant force of water running underneath.’

The watercourse supports the garden’s biodiversity and plays a crucial part in its water management system. Water-efficient irrigation systems, such as rainwater harvesting techniques and permeable paving materials, are used throughout to reduce water waste.

There is also a nod to what is happening in nature today, with a grill in the centre representing cracked soil from drought. and charred oak cubes representing a forest fire.

Nic took some inspiration from a walking holiday in Andalucia, Spain. ‘You are on your two feet and you walk for seven or eight hours and your landscape changes. I was trying to get that journey. You are very much at one with nature and its sounds – the water, the wind through the trees, birdsong, all those things for mental wellness.’

The judges were obviously impressed, as on 1 July the garden won both Best Construction and a silver-gilt medal.

Garden with black timber structure in the centre

Nic wants his garden to be relatable and show what you can achieve in a small space. ‘It’s really to try to encourage people to grow plants. It’s a labour of love.’

After the festival, the garden will be repurposed in Surrey and can be visited as part of the National Garden Scheme, which ties in with travel company Exodus’s value.  Sam Seward, managing director of Exodus, says: ‘We very much wanted a designer who was on board with our values around zero waste. Everything gets reused. We’re hugely nature first: the business became a B Corp only a few months ago.’

Sam is delighted with how this green version of the Sounds of Adventure has been brought to life, and that it gives people a chance to reflect.

‘The benefits of being active while you travel and not being sedentary is something that’s much better understood,’ says Sam. ‘Plus there are the rich benefits of cultural exchanges.’

Exodus Adventure Travels: The Sounds of Adventure Garden is open to visitors at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival from Tuesday 2 July until Sunday 7 July 2024. The garden was designed by Nic Howard from We Love Plants and built by Gardenlink. rhs.org.uk