I am making my way home after a hot and sticky RHS Hampton Court Flower Show.
I made an early start this morning, and the Thames path was remarkably serene. I used to cycle between here and Hammersmith when I lived in London, and it still surprises me how peaceful it always feels by the river.
I was ready for a coffee when I arrived, but was temporarily distracted by the first show gardens.
Some of the most beautiful planting was in ‘A Place to Think’, designed by James Callicott and Tony Wagstaff. The garden is a collaboration with the Southend Youth Offending Service, and young people in YOS helped to plant this garden as part of their community reparation. And what planting it is.
The garden offered a sense of privacy, and space to reflect. I especially loved the two water-filled zinc troughs, with their dark depths, in contrast with the airy planting. Like many of the gardens it was alive with bees, butterflies and the odd damselfly. This garden gave respect to a group that is often reviled as hopeless, and I found this uplifting.
I also liked this garden because apart from the worthy cause and a redemptive, restorative message I was always going to support, it stands alone as a beautiful space, where design and planting support one another.
The bench with the book reminded me of all the opportunities and support that I have had in my life, which have given me resilience and hope when I have needed it. That is not true for many young offenders. For reasons that will become clear later, I am particularly mindful that studies have shown that upwards of 75% of offenders have severe undiagnosed speech and language difficulties. Imagine struggling with understanding spoken language, expressing yourself clearly. Both are foundations for literacy.
When I am not gardening, I’m a Speech and Language Therapist, specialising in complex needs. This includes physical and sensory disability.
So I also made a beeline for the RNIB’s Community Garden, designed by Steve Dimmock and Paula Holland.
As you would expect, this made use of tactile, auditory, olfactory and movement qualities of plants. There was soft furry Stachys, soft, swishing grasses and fragrant Lavender.
If I had to make one comment, it would be that visually, the planting was fairly complex. Most visually impaired people have some sight, and benefit from clear blocks of colour, with a clear contrast between light and shade. The planting did include bold blocks of gold Achillea, and there were areas of distinct colour themes, but I wonder if this could have been stronger?
I am nitpicking. It was a wonderful garden. And there was a lovely kennel for assistance dogs.
Next was ‘The Limbcare Garden’ designed by Edward Paul. This reflected the physical and emotional journey of amputees. Edward explained that the plants were chosen for their upward-facing blooms. This is not a garden for pity, but for hope.
The beauty of the planting spoke loudest, and this was another garden alive with butterflies and bees.
There were quiet, private spaces, my favourite being this pool, scented with an archway of Jasmine.
A less subtle garden was The Children with Cancer ‘Mr Happy and Mr Worry Hill’, designed by Emma Reed.
The garden had obvious impact, and was suited to childlike exuberance.
Mr Happy’s garden was planted with warm tones, with Echinacea and Rudbeckia. The simple shape of the flowers referenced Roger Hargreaves’ drawings.
Mr Worry’s garden had ‘tears’ of running water, and was planted with blue Salvia.
This conceptual garden provides a starting point for talking to children about mixed emotions, though I felt it could have been immersive without the big screens in the spliced centre. This was the most gimmicky garden, but perhaps with good reason.
So which was my favourite garden?
Well actually, not a show garden at all. There were three gardens that were ‘show features’ rather than ‘show gardens’. That is, they took longer to create and so could not be entered as show gardens.
They were clearly at an advantage in that they had more time in the construction phase and for the planting to settle.
But I will save these three for my next post, because I don’t want to overwhelm you.
Which is your favourite of these four gardens?