not the chelsea flower show
The Royal Horticultural Society bills its Chelsea Flower Show as the world's most famous garden show. Certainly since Fleming's Nurseries so successfully took up its annual unofficial role as Australian representative at Chelsea in 2004, the Show has become a news staple in late May for local media.
Not as well known but little more than a month later - at a royal venue that might already be on a tourist itinerary - the RHS hosts what it calls the world's largest flower show: the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.
The Palace and its vast grounds of bedding annuals and perennial borders alone are worth a look for keen Australian gardeners visiting the Mother Country. But in the early English summer, the Show adds irresistible incentive to venture up the Thames from London, a bit beyond Wimbledon. A horticultural orgy waits.
In scenes reminiscent of an agricultural show coming to town, the British garden industry converges to show off its latest and best. Bird-baths and BBQs, greenhouses and gloves, stakes and statues, as well as all those beautifully grown, soft romantic plants.
The endless nursery stalls, exhibition gardens and floral displays of Hampton Court Palace don't feature the spring tulips, daffodils and blossoms of Chelsea. This deep into the season, flowering perennials like daisies, lilies, yarrows, coneflowers and geraniums are the stars.
This year exhibitors were challenged to design gardens themed on six of Shakespeare's comedies. Our own Masterchef obsession was reflected in large areas devoted to "Home Grown" and "Growing Tastes"; full of ideas promoting the cultivation of edibles together with ornamentals. Carbon mileage was also an issue with special endorsement of plants grown and transported only within the British Isles.
Although the odd tropical and succulent exhibit among the 90 exhibitors under the giant Floral Marquee might have looked exotic to locals, it couldn't be said they exceeded Australian standards on the whole. But the traditional British cool-climate strength with fuchsias, chrysanthemums, dahlias and sweet peas in walls of colour is unrivalled. Gold medals distributed everywhere.
Three stand-outs took less conventional subjects. Disa orchids from Dave Parkinson Plants had a touch of magic - dancing in vivid colours before a black backdrop. A stepped assembly of portable little alpine gardens in hypertufa troughs by Rotherview Nursery was original and elegant. And though not a popular choice, the top prize under the tent rightly went to Hampshire Carnivorous Plants for a sculptural arrangement of these fantastic creatures - including an Australian & NZ sundew (Drosera binata).
It's dangerous and too easy for an Australian in London to slide back into old colonial fantasies about the many temptations on offer. Don't all those luxurious peonies and hostas lure you into considering a relationship in the heat back home? Best to keep the memories, learn from the experience and leave most of these beauties behind as a wonderful holiday romance. Just as well to have the cold thought of Customs frustrating the constant impulse to buy.
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Plant of the Day
Round Leaf Mint Bush
Plant type: evergreen shrub
H: 4m W: 3m
Sunlight: warm low sun to dappled light
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