Five highlights from RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2023

Flower shows keep on giving, even if you didn’t actually get there yourself. Here are five highlights from this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival.

The Resilient Garden by Tom Massey at Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2023

Flower festivals are a bit like a fine wine, you get good years and excellent years and some shows that have exceptional details, features and highlights. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the show. It’s very hard to choose five highlights from this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, but here goes.

Carol Klein – Iconic Horticultural Hero

You wouldn’t expect anything less than perfection from Carol Klein, so when she was named as this year’s RHS Iconic Horticultural Hero, the garden that she designed and planted was simply exceptional. What a triumph.

Carol Klein at Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2023
Carol Klein. This year’s Iconic Horticultural Hero. Image: Jean Vernon

From the adjoining glasshouse where Carol gave propagation lessons, a brilliant way to fill a garden on a budget, to the zoned garden showcasing different ways of growing in varied conditions, the garden was horticulturally correct and a winner in every way. I was drawn into the garden immediately, not just because it was brimming with pollinators at every turn, but because every layer was planted with a rich tapestry of wonder. Feature plants seasoned every area liberally, partnered with others that contrasted and supported in every level to create a truly three-dimensional delight. The plant selection was huge and divine, placing some real beauties into the limelight, showing them off in all their glory and tantalising the public with their exotic looks and lesser-known identity. 

RHS Hampton Court Show 2023 show garden
Queen Anne’s Lace and Salvia in Carol Klein’s garden. Image: Jean Vernon

School Bug Barrels

School Bug Barrels at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2023
The School Bug Barrels were created by children as young as four. Image: Jean Vernon

It’s great to see youngsters learning about bugs and sharing their love and knowledge at such a prestigious garden festival. The School Bug Barrels were created by children as young as four, using recycled oil barrels. Each one has a message or a theme that has been created as the children learn about mini-beasts and biodiversity. The variety, creativity and intricacy of these projects are breath-taking, it’s so refreshing to see their fascination reflected in their creations and gives me hope that nature has a fresh army of allies climbing the ranks.

School Bug Barrels at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2023
Each School Bug Barrel has an image or a theme. Image: Jean Vernon

Sensory Pocket Planting

I love the fact that these pockets of planting are just that, a small, densely planted area of plants. It reflects the fact that you don’t need a huge garden to make a big impact. And these delightful planting pockets are specifically designed to showcase how plants can stimulate our senses and enhance our experience of any outdoor space, large or small.

Sensory Pocket Planting at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2023
Sensory Pocket gardening. Image: Jean Vernon

The visual appeal of a plant, or a combination of plants or a garden design is the first assault on our senses and the one that typically dominates how a garden plan is put together. How it looks is usually the first consideration. But soft, wispy grasses like Pennisteum advena ‘Rubrum’ or even furry plants like the lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina) add the sense of touch to a space all adding to the healing powers of Vitamin G. 

Sensory Pocket Planting at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2023
Sensory Pocket gardening. Image: Jean Vernon

There are ten sensory pockets outside the Floral Marquee at this year’s Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, each one with a fascinating representation of gardening with the senses. 

Floral Marquee

Exhibit at The Floral Marquee, Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2023
Exhibit in The Floral Marquee. Image: Jean Vernon

The floral marquee at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival is a mecca for plant lovers. Tucked away over the long water, it is an incredible opportunity to learn from the people that grow and love plants. Some of the nurseries have attended every show over the last 30 years. With eighty plus exhibitors you are guaranteed to find plants you have never heard of, let alone ever seen before and you can get up close and literally smell them, and even take them home. But what is sometimes overlooked is the time and effort taken to ensure that every plant on display is at its best. And when that’s daffodils and tulips, well past their normal flowering time, you start to understand that there’s so much more to staging each and every exhibit. Some of the displays are garden borders, others individual plants showcasing the genus. Don’t miss the Plant Heritage section, showcasing some of our incredible garden plants, 

Exhibit at The Floral Marquee, Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2023
Exhibit in the The Floral Marquee. Image: Jean Vernon

RHS Resilient Garden

The Resilient Garden by Tom Massey at Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2023
The Resilient Garden. Image: Jean Vernon

Climate change is affecting us in so many ways and especially in our gardens. The RHS Resilient Garden has been designed to highlight how our gardens can be more adaptable in a warming climate and more resilient in extreme heat or flooding. The garden is packed full of ideas and advice for everyone to make small but powerful changes in their plots, large or small. It’s a healthy space for wildlife from the tiniest microbes, to the minibeasts that frequent our plots and the larger creatures that eat them. It’s about restoring the natural balance and equipping our gardens with the right tools to thrive and prosper in a way that provides us with fresh food resources and leaves lesser footprints on the planet.

The Resilient Garden by Tom Massey at Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2023
Image: Jean Vernon

I love the concept of the food forest where every layer is productive and practical on every level.  If you missed seeing the garden, Tom Massey’s book, the Resilient Garden reflects all of this and much more.

The Resilient Garden by Tom Massey at Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2023
The Resilient Garden. Image: Jean Vernon
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