Highlights of Hampton Court

As I said in Worthy Causes at Hampton Court, my favourite three gardens were not show gardens.


The ‘RHS Grow Your Own’ was my out-and-out favourite garden.  Whilst it was largely about food production, there was delectable companion planting.


I suspect this rather stunning living wall might need daily watering in summer…

Salvia patens and Lobelia on a living wall next to the herb garden.

This garden had more ‘take home’ ideas than any other in the show.


I have a thing for Moroccan blue, and so loved this bean support.  Though in a real garden, you have to rotate crops, so this would have to move around.


We have a dolls’ house that has been used to house mice in the garage.  I have wondered if it could be a nesting box…

Cosmos and Eryngium surround a dolls’ house.

Out of all the gardens I looked around today, this felt like the most real garden, with workaday spaces.


I think it appealed to me because it reminded me of our garden, Stevie’s and mine, where flowers and food combine.

Dark-leaved dahlias, Eryngium, Rudbeckia, Achillea, Salvia and Cosmos looking rather fabulous. All attract pollinators for crops like peas and beans.

This is my third time at Hampton Court. The first time was when my eldest daughter was nearly a year old, thirteen years ago. Stevie and I have since worked out that he too was there in that year. I wonder how many times our paths crossed?  But we weren’t ready to meet yet.

Achillea ‘Red Velvet’ and Eryngium.

And so I walked around this garden reflecting on the garden we have made together, and this made me feel blessed.

This was a garden with celebrities. Raymond Blanc, because he collaborated on it, Jekka McVicar, presumably checking out the herbs, and more randomly, Bill Bailey, leaning on the gate.

There were others around, but I conducted myself with poise. Until I found myself walking behind my absolute favourite garden writer, my guru and goddess combined, Carol Klein.  I remembered one of the writers I follow on Twitter saying she has never met a writer who objects to being stopped in public to be told their work is fabulous.  So I did.  I totally gushed.  Carol Klein is as lovely in person as she is on telly.

I spent a couple of hours in the Floral Marquee and Festival of Roses.  I’ll post my top finds tomorrow.  I was really really hot at this point, and had to spend some time coming to under the shade of a tree.

I spent some more time meandering around show gardens (this too will have to wait).  I decided I was all showed-out, and started to make my way to the exit.  And then this happened:


That’s Piet Oudolf, prairie planting designer, and the featured designer for this year’s RHS Hampton Court Flower Show.  He’s chatting with Nick Bailey, another favourite garden writer.  I’d forgotten about Piet Oudolf’s meadow!  So out came the camera again.

Achillea ‘Terracotta’ was one of the plants of this year’s show, but no one does it like Piet Oudolf.  Achillea is one of a select few plants that provides ‘horizontals’ to contrast with the ‘verticals’ of Veronica, Salvia and Loosestrife.

Achillea ‘Terracotta’ in Piet Oudolf’s RHS Hampton Court 2018 Meadow Planting

The colour, texture and flower-form combinations were lovely.  There were repeating patterns in the different areas of planting, with swathes and ribbons of perennials.

Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’ with purple…loosestrife?

It was refreshingly breezy by this point, which was a blessed relief.  Rather than being in an oven, we were now at least in a fan oven.


I think just about everything was bee-friendly.  Here are some Scabious (Pincushion Flower) wafting and waving.  The seedheads are just left to do their thing.

P7020246 (1)

Eryngium provided spiky sparks of electric blue.


Whilst its neighbours swished, the alliums stood quite still.  Though their heads did explode.


He makes it all look so effortless.


There were textures galore.


And a few surprises here and there.


I swayed with it for a while.  And then packed up my camera again.

And then I found ‘From Battlefield to Butterflies’.  This ‘garden’ has been made over the last three months, to commemorate the Hampton Court Gardeners who died in the Great War.  I took out my camera.


This is a completely immersive experience.  You enter into the trenches via an Officer’s living quarters.


All materials are original.  This space would have held a bed, but there wasn’t enough room to fit this and allow visitors to pass through, so you have to imagine it.


And then on to the trenches.   There is rusted barbed wire, twisted bits of metal and blasted trees.


But this is not a static depiction of war.  Rather it is the regeneration after war.  So the grass begins to grow again.


You start to rise up.  You see ‘over the top’.


There are wildflowers, and grasses setting seed.


The path winds up out of the trench.


The bomb craters start to resemble ponds.


The site is still littered with debris.


There is a ragged beauty.


And a reminder.


This was probably the most emotional garden I have been in.  I am glad I went when it was quiet.

And then it really was time to pack up my camera and leave.

My aim on this site is to share the sense of wonder I get from gardening and being outdoors.

If you would like to join the joy, click on the ‘Follow’ button at the end of this post. You will receive an email each time I post a little pop of wonder.

29 Comments Add yours

  1. bcparkison says:

    Oh my. These were my fav’s too.The blue Aframe is striking.

  2. The war garden reminded me a lot about growing up in Russian countryside: pos-war debris in the middle of a field, or in the woods. Sadly, it seems that the generations after mine missed out on that, which is a shame, as we all need to be reminded about how horrible wars are and that you can’t really hide or escape… But as you said, life goes on, and grass and flowers sprout around the old bombshells

    1. Ali says:

      I can always rely on you Tatiana for a thoughtful and thought-provoking comment. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Very thankful for your Oudolf photos. We made a special trip to Dunedin last week so that we could see a movie that showed his home garden as well as several in the USA. It was a delight to see your Oudolf photos from the show, espcially the Terracotta achillea and steel-blue eryngiums! -Liz, New Zealand

    1. Ali says:

      I’m really glad you enjoyed them, Liz. Thank you for your lovely comment.

  4. janesmudgeegarden says:

    Oh wow, what an experience: the Battlefield ‘garden’ a sobering and emotional experience and Piet Oudolf’s meadow, a joy to see. I have Piet Oudolf’s book ‘Dream Plants for the Natural Garden’ and I think that’s what set me off on the planting path I’ve followed. The other gardens are lovely too, so much to look at and many ideas to take home. Thanks for the tour, Ali.

  5. From Battlefield to Butterflies … oh my that is truly brilliant. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Thanks so much for posting these. Katie x

    1. Ali says:

      It was very moving. It’s going to be there for a couple of months, I think, but then will be removed, which is a shame.

      1. Yes, it’s really quite something.

  6. Anne Wheaton says:

    Fabulous inspirational gardens and beautiful photographs. So many favourites!

  7. pommepal says:

    What amazingly diverse gardens you have shared with us the battlefield garden such an emotional experience, especially the horse shoes left scattered on top of the dug out. So many horses sacrificed in the name of war. To balance that the pure joy of the meadow garden. I wish we had more of these sort of open gardens to visit in Australia

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, the horse shoes reminded me that it was a different type of warfare. I would imagine that you could get so attached to an animal in those circumstances, where words and human reasoning mean so little, and it would be utterly heartbreaking to see them suffer.

      1. pommepal says:

        A while back there was a movie called “war horse” I cried at the end of it

      2. Ali says:

        I’ve tried to get tickets twice, and failed, but third time lucky! We have to wait until next March, but we will finally see it at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury.

      3. pommepal says:

        I missed the stage show, but saw the movie

      4. Ali says:

        Which I also have yet to see!

  8. Jenny says:

    Such a terrific post. It gave me a real feel of being at the show. The battlefield garden must have been a sobering experience and an important reminder. We all remember the left over signs of war. We had several pill boxes in our area as well as pieces of shrapnel in my grandmas’s kitchen drawer. But then those beautiful Oudolf meadows.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, I remember the odd bomb shelter, and it was like they were shrouded in mystery. There was a sense of not wanting to talk about why they were there. There was such a divide between those who remembered the war and the next generation who knew nothing.

  9. Love seeing the show gardens from your perspective. Looking forward to your other coming posts and seeing it also on Gardners’ World.

  10. Eliza Waters says:

    Wow, so many great gardens. The memorial to the Great War must have been something to see – and shows how Nature heals us. I LOVED Piet’s meadow. It must have been something to see so many famous gardeners!

    1. Ali says:

      It was! I saw two of my gardening heroes (Monty Don and Chris Beardshaw) two years ago at Chelsea, which was very exciting. I was a bit more cool this time. But I really did love meeting Carol Klein. She is my absolute favourite.

  11. Penny Post says:

    Some lovely gardens there. Now I know why you picked out the blue fence in my garden. Surprised not to see red poppies growing in the memorial garden but I can well imagine it is the sort of place to be when it is quiet.

    1. Ali says:

      Yes, I thought about this. I wonder if maybe they thought poppies were already loaded with meaning?? They could quite easily have had poppies at this time of year. They displayed some ceramic poppies at the end instead.

  12. susurrus says:

    My memories of Carol Klein involve her helping us round up sheep that we had found in the field of new varieties – Michael was there and will remember it. It was one third horror, one third panic, and one third laughter.

    Both are lovely people as you say.

  13. Lovely, I was unable to go to the war garden as the line was too long and then they were filming. The show was a little overwhelming for content and I just followed my nose instead of planning so I missed out on the whole section you spoke about first disappointingly. Next year, I will make a contingency plan to see more – now I live vicariously though your post.

    1. Ali says:

      I deliberately didn’t plan my visit ahead, because I too wanted to be spontaneous. May that is best? My show will be different from yours, and you never quite know what you’re going to turn up!!

      1. I should have at least looked at a map – I stumbled around in a heatwave daze 🙂

      2. Ali says:

        I know! Heat makes me utterly stupid!!

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