The small show gardens are a great way to see how plots of land diverge when each is dressed in carefully chosen colours, features and accessories to create a designer’s idea of gardening heaven.
I’ve only recently arrived back in the UK and this year’s show is all over but for the shouting. Undeterred, I’m determined to get into the spirit by giving a shout out to the Final5 Retreat Garden from last year. If you’re concerned that these pictures are old hat now, as styles have moved on to quarries and such-like in 2017, I won’t be hurt if you give this a miss and search The Reader for Hampton Court Flower Show instead. But if you’re still with me, here goes!
The Final5 Retreat Garden was a water-wise garden, with drought-tolerant plants springing directly out of the gravel at the front. The warm apricot Verbascum ‘Clementine’ and Achillea ‘Terracotta’ (looking more golden than the name might suggest) contrasted beautifully with the cool colours of Perovskia ‘Lacey Blue’ (a dwarf Russian sage) and Linaria purpurea (purple toadflax).
At first glance, I’d thought the white flowers at the back were hydrangeas, but they were chrysanthemums. This would be a great garden for those who treat us by sharing a virtual posy each week for Rambling in the Garden’s popular meme, In A Vase On Monday. Other flowers included echinacea, artemisia, geum, erigeron, salvias and there was plenty of filler in the form of nandina, ferns, herbs and grasses.
A multi-stemmed tree, Betula nigra, provided a vertical accent to break up the shutter-style backdrop. On my travels, I often see multi-stemmed trees with attractive bark, such as crepe myrtles, and find their sinuous trunks fascinating. They’re there, but not there – if you can imagine the back wall without the tree, then replace it with a larger, solid trunk to support the same amount of leafy shade, you’ll see what I mean.
I also liked the way tall grass, Calamagrostis x acutifolia ‘Karl Foerster’, softened the ligustrum hedge, adding a ethereal, curtain effect. It provided a hint of enclosure without being stifling in a small space. And why would anyone want to screen off that shed?
If I have to explain why the shed is an object of desire, you either have a bigger, cuter shed or… nope, scratch that – I can’t think of any reason why a gardener who lacked a shed wouldn’t be tempted by one as sweet (and with such a small footprint) as this one.
Most of all I responded to the way these colours complemented and echoed each other, together weaving a whole. Trace the rhythms of the colours: compare the roof of the shed with the canvas awning and the water feature plinth; the patio flooring with the gravel; the back fence, steel pergola and shed with the paler water bowl; the metal table, chairs with the fire pit. They’re not exact, but they are nicer for it. I find the effect soothing and relaxing – perhaps in the way people who love choral music find pleasure in the interwoven strands of voices.
If you tried this out, you’ll have spotted that the colour of the shed changes from steel blue to almost turquoise (and the sky ranges from grey to bright blue). I tried to take pictures in the full sun when I first saw the garden, failed, then dashed back later in the day when the clouds softened the light. If I was more skilled at photo editing I could perhaps make them all the same, but it’s interesting to see how colour is affected by light and shade.
The plinth may look like stone or tiles but it was made from oak. There didn’t seem to be an obvious way for the water to drain or recycle from the circular bowl below, which puzzled me, as I’m not particularly technical. Let’s call this the magical part of the garden. I’m not sure how the awning would work either – perhaps a good old fashioned hook and pole?
Those of you who are wondering how well some of those plants in the gravel would stand up with a child or a decent sized dog (or both) bouncing around can feel reassured that the garden was designed by Martin Royer as an urban retreat for a city couple. Not the kind of couple who might stumble in the back way, in darkness, after enjoying a night on the town just that bit too much, evidently.
I always have to remind myself that show gardens are for show: the practicalities of living can be built in later. But wouldn’t it be fun one year if all the small city gardens had to be able to cater for whatever wheelie bins, bags and boxes the London Borough of Richmond demands?
This was another silver-gilt winner like the WOW garden I blogged about last year (one of my most frequently read posts). What is it that draws me to those I wonder? Perhaps a flaw or two seems more natural than perfection?
If you managed to get to this year’s show, you’ll know that many of the gardens are too lovely to be just one week’s wonder. So I’ll leave you with another blast from the past (a year becomes a decade when you’re blogging, don’t you think?): a link to Alternative Eden’s whistle-stop tour of the show gardens from RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2016. Nothing can replace being able to visit yourself, but trust me, this is the next best thing. Let’s hope their review of this year’s show will be as good!
If you’ve reviewed this year’s Hampton Court Flower Show, please feel free to leave a link to your post in the comments below.