So it was time for a girl’s road trip last Saturday as Sian and Lucy headed off to RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival for the day. Despite a rather drizzly start, (those tradestands selling umbrellas were making a killing!) it was, as always, such a fun and inspiring day out. Among the plethora of stands and exhibitors, there was certainly an atmosphere of positivity that this annual festival could finally take place and for us show goers a sense of relief that some form of normality might be on the horizon.
But as we begin to lift our heads and shift our focus beyond our world of Covid, there was a clear message to be taken from the day - one of environmental concern, and some pretty hard hitting symbolism to boot.
After a year in which many people have felt the physical and mental benefits of gardening, many show designers took the opportunity to remind us about the impact our actions are having on nature and all that surrounds us. The “Extinction” garden by Felicity O’Rourke, certainly served its purpose of making us stop and think about our actions on the world to date, highlighting our exploitation and destruction of natural resources. The garden features a crashed commercial plane in a wheat field, through the wreckage of which visitors can see ancient species of plant such as ferns, which have existed since long before humans walked the Earth. Whilst some may question as to whether this was a ‘garden’ as we would know it, all questioning was curtailed as the poignancy of the message began to sink in. Thought provoking was an understatement.
However, to counterbalance with a statement of proactive positivity, the fashion footprint garden, designed by Baz Grainger, highlighted measures being taken to reduce the impact of clothing, such as recycling textiles, and showcasing plants used for natural dyes as well as those efficient at filtering pollutants from the atmosphere. With boundary fences woven with fabric from recycled fibres and a water feature inspired by dye vats used in Asia, it was a fascinating exhibition with some inspired contemporary colour schemes worthy of noting down.
Designer, Jamie Butterworth, created a rolling expanse of beauty with his design for the RHS “Garden for a Green Future”, intended to draw attention to the impact that the changing climate is having on UK gardens, demonstrating ways in which we can adapt to and embrace the changing climate. It featured plants that will be able to cope with summer heat and long, wet winters. Using a mix of drought-tolerant perennials, planted on undulating mounds, meadow mixtures, native trees and “rivers” of water that fill in winter but are dry in summer, it was a refreshingly positive approach to our changing climate and illustrated achievable ideas to incorporate in our own gardens.
It was not until later in our day that we stumbled across the show garden everyone had been talking about, designed by this year’s RHS horticultural hero, Tom Stuart-Smith. Designed to showcase plants suited to the hot and dry conditions that have become increasingly commonplace, the garden featured a climate-resilient ‘meadow’ interspersed with Mediterranean shrubs. It could be said that the term ‘meadow’ is to be used loosely here as it was certainly the most stunningly beautiful ‘meadow’ we had ever seen with waves and layers of colours running into the distance. To think a display of this calibre could be created from drought tolerant plants alone is truly inspiring and it was certainly the moment to get the notebooks and cameras out and take as much in as we possibly could. Who cares if this meant we were just a little late home, it was worth every extra minute to absorb every detail of this garden and all that the Festival and exhibitors had to offer this year. We’re already planning our return trip - shades of Thelma and Louise perhaps?!