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What to see and do at the Hampton Court Garden Festival – and how to bring the magic home

Begonias at Hampton Court 
Begonias at Hampton Court  Credit: Paul Grover

As an antidote to the bling and formality of RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May, Hampton Court has always excelled. 

The evocative country fair atmosphere is relaxed and charming, enticing you into a fantasy world of gardening, food and music. The weather is warm, the plants have reached their natural summer peak. This is the show where even the good and the great of the RHS take off their shoes, roll up their trousers and take a moment to feel the grass beneath their feet. 

The event – which starts tomorrow with a preview evening – is now in its 29th year and, over time, it has evolved. Rather than remaining a plain old flower show, it has been rebranded as Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival and is now regarded as the world’s biggest flower show. While always open to experimentation and whimsy, it now addresses the big issues of environment and health, tempts the taste buds with vegetable delights and is unquestionably the country’s premier event for gardeners on a shopping spree. 

In a world that is challenging and uncertain, it manages to combine the aesthetic of an old-style summer idyll with hope, comfort and solutions for the future, in a compelling blend of escapism and optimism.

Beth Chatto Dry Garden Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley

Magnificent marquees

The Floral Marquee

A cornucopia of spectacular plants, from air plants, begonias and cannas, all the way to zantedeschia. Of particular note is Downderry Nursery, a lavender specialist and RHS Master Grower, which is exhibiting a range of unusual species and cultivars. 

Plant Heritage

Technically a section of the Floral Marquee, these National Collections deserve a mention in their own right. Includes the Eden Project with a display of red hot pokers, Caerhays Castle, who are bringing around 60 species of podocarpus, and an exhibition of Ginkgo biloba that highlights the evolution of a 200-million-year-old species. 

Festival of Roses

The first thing that strikes you when entering the rose marquee is not the beautiful, soft colours, or the uncommon perfection of the flowers, but the scent. The displays are masterly and the overall effect heady and all-enveloping; here, the blowsy, glorious English rose is king. 

Country Living Marquee

A treasure-trove of lifestyle delights and everything that is required to make your life comfortable and elegant – and eye-wateringly Instagram-ready! 

Dig In Plants

This tasty little tent in the Dig In food zone brings together the giants of grow-your-own in one dedicated space. Check out the citrus trees from Plants4Presents, explore some superior garlic with The Garlic Farm and help conserve some endangered veg with Franchi Seeds of Italy.

Amelia Bouquet and Jenner Venus in the Living Windows garden Credit:  Christopher Pledger

Bring the kids!

Since each adult can bring two children aged 16 and under, free of charge and with no need for a ticket, this show is an economical day out for all the family. 

  •  Get into the festival spirit; glitter face paint will make the whole day sparkle or rustle up some horticultural headgear at a flower crown workshop. 
  •  Explore the outdoors with The Forest School, making dens and building homes for mini-beasts.
  •  Find out what’s under the water and learn all about pond dipping with expert Jules Howard, in the Wildlife and Community area.
  •  Little ones will love finding favourite fruit on the Very Hungry Caterpillar trail, celebrating 50 years since the iconic children’s story was published. 
  •  Check out the happening habitats created by local schools for the It’s a Wild World competition, featuring bug hotels and bee hives, bird boxes and hedgehog houses. The winner will be crowned using a penny-drop to measure popularity, so don’t forget to vote for your favourite and help raise funds for the RHS Campaign for School Gardening at the same time. 
Activities for children Credit:  Paul Grover

The show gardens

RHS Hampton Court is always a crucible of exciting new things – products, people and designs. Caitlin McLaughlin, former RHS Young Designer of the Year (right), brings us her debut exhibit the Urban Pollinator Garden, full of take-home ideas for visitors inspired to encourage wildlife into their gardens. At just 23, Will Williams explores the potential of small spaces with The Viking Cruises Lagom Garden. Numerous designs highlight green issues, including show garden Year of Green Action by Helen J Rosevear and Jane Stoneham, and On the Brink by Julian Carter and Lucy Vail in the Global Impact Gardens. Meanwhile, The Dream of the Indianos, sponsored by the Spanish Tourist Office, promises a summer holiday that overturns the national stereotypes.

Awesome activities

The Festival Stage

Top-notch talks and demonstrations from gardening experts interspersed with live music acts: Glastonbury, eat your heart out. Check out Floral Fabulousness from Simon Lycett (Tuesday, noon and 3pm) and Drought-Resistant Gardening from David Ward (Thursday, 11am).

Floating stage

Live music from a range of artists including the New Orleans tones of the Brass Funkeys, harmonic guitar from The Freebirds and acoustic pop from Charlotte Campbell.

Edible Eden

A kitchen garden packed with beautiful and tasty produce, from Pennard Plants, Lubera and Burpee, and hosted by Mark Diacono. There will be urban eating and growing, and soft fruit and herbs.  

Dig in

This growing, cooking and eating extravaganza combines a restaurant, garden and plant marquee. From cooking with garlic to crafting buttercream flowers, making garden cocktails and discovering herbs you’ve never heard of before.

The BBC Springwatch garden designed by Jo Thompson for the Hampton Court Garden Festival 2019 Credit: Christopher Pledger

What the experts say

‘The Floral Marquee is enormous: a cathedral of all that is good in horticulture. Personally, this is the show where I seem to do the most shopping’ 

James Alexander-Sinclair, garden designer

‘Hampton Court is really special – it is the perfect coming together of the edible and ornamental. For all of Chelsea’s grand magnificence, Hampton Court is more approachable and achievable. In many ways it’s the people’s show, with so much for everyone. I love the interactivity and there’s more time to chat.’ 

Mark Diacono, writer and grower

Mark Diacono Credit: Jason Ingram

‘After the glorious pomp and ceremony of Chelsea, the world’s biggest flower show comes to town and it is a real family occasion. RHS Hampton Court is a true gardeners’ show and it is the friendliness and camaraderie that makes it special in my eyes.’ 

Chris Collins, former Blue Peter gardener

‘Sometimes people think that “rewilding” your garden means sacrificing design for disorder, but this is not necessarily true. Encouraging wildlife to share our outdoor spaces not only increases biodiversity, but also improves the health and well-being of both people and nature. Even small spaces left alone, can make a positive net gain for nature and can be beautiful in an entirely different way – you just need a different perspective.’ 

Jo Thompson, garden designer

‘The scale of the show at Hampton Court, the openness, means it’s just more relaxed. There is the space and time to talk to our customers. Sustainability is making those conversations easier and more meaningful; knowing what your plants are growing in is important and show visitors are becoming much more receptive.’

Dr Jane Barker, co-founder of compost experts Dalefoot

‘Hampton Court is such a great day out and I’m thrilled to be exhibiting. It’s so important to talk about the significance of bees and other pollinators within our gardens and the wider landscape. I’m hoping to demonstrate how people can relax after a long day at work, connect with nature, and encourage pollinators, without the complexity of maintaining beehives’ 

Caitlin McLaughlin, garden designer

Caitlin McLaughlin Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley

How to get the Hampton vibe at home 

  •  Create wildlife-friendly planting schemes and places for insects and small animals to live and breed. 
  •  Order up key plants: strawberry ‘Double Pleasures’ has attractive pink flowers (lubera.co.uk), Dahlia ‘Mendoza’ provides a dazzling display near the Ditton Gate and cheerful, block-planted sunflowers feature in Edible Eden.
  •  Embrace gardening in the wider community, help make gardens and edible spaces that involve children and older people, encourage communication and reduce social isolation.
  •  Blend together plants that offer texture, movement and flavour or scent. Mix edible and ornamental planting together – such as waving grasses and woody herbs, or plants for pollinators next to fruit and veg. 
  •  Woodland gardening is very “now” – include flowering shrubs, grasses and create a gently curated wilderness of your own.
  •  Make yourself a nice jug of Pimm’s, pack a hamper, hang out the bunting and celebrate British summer at its best!

Best places to spot a celeb

Filming is going on all week, so you are more than likely to come across some famous faces, including Joe Swift and Jo Whiley, who are hosting the BBC coverage. Check out the Festival Stage for household names such as Adam Frost, Chris Packham and Kelly Brook or get your foodie-celeb fix at Dig In Live.

Sunday Telegraph Gardening Viking cruises Lagom garden by Will Williams Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley

This year's trends

Food

Growing and foraging plants to eat, and experimenting with new flavours has never been more popular. With herbs and edibles included in many diverse exhibits, it seems like 2019 is all about knowing your food and using it in new ways.

Environment

Sustainability and a focus on climate change is a major agenda for many exhibitors. A number of show gardens embrace this, including the Beth Chatto Drought Tolerant Garden, the Thames Water Flourishing Future Garden by Tony Woods, and the BBC Springwatch garden designed by Jo Thompson.

Booze

Gin and cocktails with plants and botanicals infused in alcohol, or blended with spirits, remain popular. There is a rise in really good-quality non-alcoholic beverages, too. 

Joy

Hampton Court demonstrates many ways of escaping outside and making a beautiful, wholesome, creative environment at home. Health and well-being are key in exhibits including The RHS Sanctuary by 

Ula Maria and The Forest Will See You Now by Michelle Brandon, all designed to uplift, restore faith and reassure us we have some minor control over our destiny.

Designer Valentina Wyatt wheels flowers for her Hartley Botanic garden at the Hampton Court  Credit: Christopher Pledger

DOS AND DON’TS

DO...

 Have a glass of Pimm’s by the Long Water: there is simply no more fitting time and place to sip fruity drinks than at a British flower show in July.

 Take full advantage of samples and tasters. Whether you are learning and discovering or browsing and shopping, the show is full of opportunities to test and nibble exciting new products and snacks. 

 Buy at least one plant – it is easy to be overwhelmed, but take a deep breath and go for it – otherwise you’ll get home with a long wish-list, a mild sense of regret and nothing with which to remember a lovely day out.  

 Collect the cards and brochures of suppliers of larger items, and products you want to think about at leisure. Check with the stallholder, but you can usually order online after the show. 

 Take morning coffee or afternoon tea in the Roses Tearoom next to the Festival of Roses, and feast your eyes on the artfully crafted rose garden, designed by Jo Thompson, that welcomes visitors into the marquee.  

DON’T...

 Expect to see everything in one go – there’s always next year!

 Lug things around – travel light and leave purchases at a crèche. Alternatively, you can buy a trolley at one of several shopping stands, including Sun Leisure on the south side and Traders Club on the north.

 Forget to eat plenty of ice cream and take time to smell the roses. 

 Most of all, don’t be shy – of all the RHS shows, Hampton Court is possibly the most interactive and the one where you are most likely to bump into a friendly expert. So have your questions ready.

Sunday Telegraph Gardening Urban Pollinated garden by Caitlin McLaughlin Credit: Heathcliff O'Malley

Let them entertain you

Here is a selection of the best acts during the week.

  • Tuesday July 2 Let Kerry Bowness from the Foraging Course Company take you on a stroll of edible discovery. First come first served. 12.30pm, 3pm, 4pm and 5pm, The Wellbeing Tent. 
  • Wednesday July 3 TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham talks about British wildlife. 2pm and 5pm, The Festival Stage.
  • Thursday July 4 Anna Greenland demonstrates how to include botanicals for self-care in 
  • her Herbs for Wellbeing workshop. 2pm, The Workshop Tent.
  • Friday July 5 Mark Diacono, food writer and exotic edibles expert, shows how to make garden cocktails with your own fruit, herbs and spices. 11.30am, Dig In Live.
  • Saturday July 6 Fran Bailey, founder of Forest and the Fresh Flower Company, demonstrates how to Plant a Succulent Terrarium. 5pm, The Workshop Tent.
  • Sunday July 7 Three Men Went to Mow hit Hampton Court: mayhem from TV presenter Joe Swift (above), designer James Alexander Sinclair and landscape architect Cleve West. 11am and 2pm, The Festival Stage.

Some events repeat, see rhs.org.uk for details.

Nora Simles builds a living wall in the Meristem Design garden Credit: Christopher Pledger

Good to know

Getting there

Nearest stations are Hampton Court and Kingston. If driving, take J12 of the M25 and park at one of the two car parks. A permit costs £16. 

Getting in

There are three entrances. The Thames Gate is best if you are coming by train and the Ditton Gate can be accessed via Hampton Court Palace’s Privy Garden. By coach, the Long Water Gate is most convenient. 

Lavatories

These are located near the entrances and throughout. Each site includes disabled facilities and baby changing is at the blocks near the entrances and at the end of the Floral Marquee. 

Food and drink

There are a number of cafés and restaurants. Medical assistance can be found by the Long Water and Thames Gates and by the Country Living Pavilion.

Money

Cashpoints by Long Water, Thames Gates and Great Taste Market.

ESSENTIAL INFO

RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2019 is held at Hampton Court Palace, Surrey 

KT8 9AU from July 1-7. 

Opening times: 

Mon, preview: 5pm-10.30pm 

Tues-Weds, members’ days: 10am-7.30pm

Thurs-Sat: 10am-7.30pm

Sun: 10am-5.30pm

Book in advance

Tickets are still available, both for the festival and for the preview evening on Monday July 1

Dine in style by pre-booking experiences such as the Wild Garden Banquet with Merlin Labron-

Johnson.