Held for the first time back in 1990, the RHS Hampton Court Palace show has grown to be the biggest annual flower show in the world. The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) itself, which is over 210 years old, is the biggest gardening charity in the world, famous around the globe for its annual programme of flower shows across the UK. Held on a 34-acre site, against the stunning background of the 16th-century Royal Palace, the Hampton Court show is perhaps the most impressive pick of the bunch.
Alongside the normal mix of floral marquees, plant pavilions and shopping areas, visitors will be treated to several new categories in the specially curated garden shows. These include Water Gardens, Themed Gardens, Floral Meadows & Market Gardens, and City Gardens – an incredibly useful (as well as aesthetically enticing) category for all the lovely London locals out there, which demonstrates the power of imagination to transform the meagre outdoor spaces ‘enjoyed’ by urbanites.
Amongst the eclectic variety of gardens created by world-class designers, the ‘Conceptual’ category stands out, exploring a plethora of complex topics – political, historical and social. A particular highlight is the highly topical UNCR Border Control garden, which features a sheltered, meadow oasis surrounded by a menacing razor-wire fence and seeks to promote the plight of refugees and displaced peoples around the world.
Elsewhere, designers tackle the issue of climate change in deeply poignant, masterfully creative ways. Designer Sheena Seeks, in a garden named ‘Greenhouse Effect’, displays five adjacent greenhouses filled with a variety of contents – progressing from nothing, through to life, and ultimately death and dust – to represent the threat of desertification. Another garden named ‘Near Future’ includes an imposing vortex of black oil, depicting the destructive carbon heart of our energy industry. Cancer Research are also hosting the first virtual reality tribute garden filled with more than 100,000 flowers, one for each individual who has named the charity in their will.
If all this political landscaping gets a little heavy, there are plenty of lighter activities to indulge in, including a busy programme of talks and demonstrations from celebrities and horticultural experts alike, on growing, cooking and general gardening. Saturday also sees the first-ever family day, with a series of kid’s activities including appearances by favourite children’s entertainers, a collection of space-themed scarecrows, and a kid’s cookery school.
The show is also home to a beguiling butterfly dome set up in the palace’s grounds, in which visitors can walk through thousands of exotic butterflies from Indonesia and South America. Outside sits a lush, flower-filled meadow, designed to attract domestic butterflies as well as endangered bee populations, and encourage pollination. So, how’s that for a thoroughly English summer’s day? Don’t worry – there are plenty of covered restaurants and bars should the weather prove thoroughly English too.