Ever since I moved back to England from Dubai in 2010, it's become a bit of a tradition for me and my mother to spend a day at the Hampton Court Flower Show.
Now, let me confess straight away that neither of us are particularly keen or good gardeners (although I did do a bit of weeding and spread about some compost last summer!), but we do both love design and really appreciate being in a beautiful garden.
And the gardens at the Hampton Court Flower Show are incredibly creative and impeccably executed. It is a delightful way of spending an afternoon and I highly recommend it if you haven't been already.
Of course there is a lot more to Hampton Court than the gardens. There are the Floral Marquee, the Festival of Roses, Plant Village, the Scarecrow competition as well as talks, demonstrations, lots of shopping and of course loads of entertainment and food - not forgetting the Pimm's 'n' lemonade and ice cream stands everywhere! One of the main attractions this year was an impressive Butterfly Dome (with a rather long queue to see them unfortunately :)).
We focused our energies on the Show Gardens and the Conceptual Gardens this year and just took the rest in as we meandered through the show. One of my favourite areas is the Conceptual Gardens because I think that, just like in the world of interiors, it must be rare for a garden designer to get an opportunity to be really creative around a concept and to actually see it built. The designers must feel really satisfied to actually see their concept realised, planted and brought to life.
So what exactly are Conceptual Gardens? Well, they are a collection of gardens that are usually quite sculptural and make a statement around a theme or message, sometimes quite thought-provoking or challenging. This year was the tenth anniversary of Conceptual Gardens at the Hampton Court Flower Show and it certainly did not disappoint! Here are my top five:
Designed by Andy Hyde and John Humphreys, this is a garden that poses a serious question - 'Is this the end or could the worm hole lead to a new beginning?'. The pyramid represents the Universe, and the wormholes are potential portals to other or parallel universes...
The pyramid is surrounded by a pool of black water, a ring of anthracite and glass shiny stones that look a bit like lava. Flowers in fiery reds and oranges are mixed in with the 'lava' and the whole thing looks rather fierce! It seems the planting hints at the final solar flares of a dying star...pretty creative if you ask me!
OUR LIVES IN TIME'S HANDS
This was one of my top two favourite Conceptual Gardens! It was of a giant wave made up of over 500 pieces of steam bent wood, crashing towards the shore. You could walk under the wave, where you were treated to sounds of the sea and could read messages of hope and inspiration written in chalk on the inside.
The garden represented the passing of a moment and was inspired by Shakespeare's Sonnet 60, and celebrated the 400th anniversary of his death. Are you curious about the Sonnet? Read it below :)
The garden was designed by Mark Whyte and Abigail Ferguson, who also added new messages to the wave each day, collected from contributions on their Twitter page - sweet thought and rather clever marketing too...And their garden was awarded a Silver Gilt Medal at the show to boot!
I love the way the wave was constructed with the ends somehow suspended in the air...
THE RED THREAD
'There is an ancient Chinese myth called the Red Thread of Fate. It is believed that when we are born the gods have tied every one of our ankles with a red thread and attached it to all the people whose lives we're destined to touch, regardless of time, place or circumstance. This thread may stretch or tangle, but it'll never break.'
This is how Robert Barker, the designer of this garden explains his inspiration. At first, the garden seemed like a mass of red threads tied to wooden posts, but then of course when you read the concept, it all starts to make sense.
Two tall oak posts represent two characters destined to meet. They are connected to six other posts with red rope, which symbolise destiny's complex role in bringing them together.
And to make us part of the story, we were invited to attach a piece of red thread to one of the posts, so now my life is intertwined with everyone else's who tied their piece of red thread. It made me think of the film 'Sliding Doors' - do you remember this film with Gwyneth Paltrow?
The story must have appealed to the judges too because this garden won a Gold Medal!
NEAR FUTURE GARDEN
My fourth Conceptual Gardens is all about the environment and our effect on nature. The first things I noticed were the impressive wooden sculptures, which represent sun, wind and water, towering above our heads.
Then I noticed intriguing footprints of different sizes on the gravel path and a black vortex of 'oil' in the middle, which represents man's heavy carbon use. The garden of course is a call to mankind to harness the natural energy resources - and it was very nicely said.
Designed by Arit Anderson, it also picked up a Gold Medal.
'Why?' is the question we are left to ask, at the complexity of the universe and the human brain. This is what the designer, Tony Smith, is portraying here with this impressive dome of black rods (representing Chaos Theory) over a platform of grass.
The 'Y' is cut out from the plinth and at the bottom is a little ball of golden rods which represents the human brain. Ok so it's a bit out there but also quite clever and I really do like that structure and how it looks like it's just floating. The judges also awarded this garden a Gold Medal.
Those were my top 5 Conceptual Gardens at this year's Hampton Court Flower Show. But there were a couple of other displays that caught my eye and which are worth a mention here.
The first was one of the City Gardens and was called 'Youth Workz Garden'. It was designed by a lovely man called Tony Wagstaff with whom we had a long chat and who explained that this small garden was planted by young people from the Southend-on-Sea Youth Offending Service. It is designed by young people and for young people to enjoy.
The garden was quite 'wild' with lots of planting and flowers on either side of a path leading to a little seating area at the back. It also featured a small mural and a piece of sculpture, all made by the young people who worked on the garden and brought it to life. An inspired idea I thought and I was pleased to see that the garden was awarded a Bronze Medal for their effort and hard work.
And finally, I loved the stand by sculptor John O'Connor. I remember seeing the work by this talented artist once before but his display stopped us in our tracks once again this time.
I like the way he plays with scale and makes the most extraordinary bronze sculptures of people that are either massively over-sized or really small. They are also very graceful and elegantly proportioned.
Well that about does it. My mother and I had a lovely afternoon experiencing these amazing garden creations, chatting to their designers and generally soaking in the lovely atmosphere of the Hampton Court Flower Show.
We rounded off the afternoon sitting by The Long Water under these:
And enjoyed one of these (if you haven't tried one yet, make sure you do when you see their trucks at any summer event - you won't regret it!):
'till next time...
Photo Credits: All by Nicole Antar, some from my Instagram Account.