Ferruginous and Crinkly – RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

If it’s July it must be Hampton Court.

Paul Hervey-Brookes's garden for DogsTrust. Paradise for dogs and their humans.

Paul Hervey-Brookes’s garden for DogsTrust. Paradise for dogs and their humans.

RHS Hampton Court Show is a big site, with a wide variety of more or less gardeny stuff: show gardens large and small, floristry, food, crafts, accessories, machinery, tools, garden buildings, and nurseries galore. I hadn’t been for a few years so I was keen to have a look this year, and was suitably grateful for a press pass.

Making waves. New turf needs careful watering, especially if it in mid air.

Making waves. New turf needs careful watering, especially if it is in mid air. This is John Warland’s garden for World Vision, a charity which invites you to sponsor vulnerable children and help to give their lives more ups than downs.


The red threads invite us to reflect on the complexities of our destiny. This was a little too close to reflecting the state of my brain after a long motorway journey.

The Red Thread invited us to reflect on the complexities of our destiny. This was a little too close to reflecting the state of my brain after a long motorway journey. Clever design though, by Robert Barker


On Monday the site was still looking a little raw at the edges – you could see that build-up had been tough in the unusually rainy (even for a British summer) conditions. Luckily for us visitors the weather was dull but warm – and the ground was dry enough for us not to need wellies. A lady I spoke to on her stand full of elaborately embroidered parasols was in optimistic mood.

Greenhouse Effect.

Greenhouse Effect by Sheena Seeks. A serious message.

On the other hand after what felt like fourteen hours on the motorway I was feeling fractious and had more than my usual difficulty with the conceptual gardens. Themes of illness, depression, isolation and general disaster seemed  preponderant in these and indeed in some of the show gardens, and when I saw Tony Smith’s Rolawn garden entitled “Why?” my inner curmudgeon said “Why indeed?”




The UNHCR garden, however, was genuinely moving – especially when the lush sanctuary in the middle was filled with healthy, safe, little British kids in their high viz vests while the outside evoked their less fortunate contemporaries with small abandoned life jackets among the rubble and dead trees.


UNHCR Border Control Garden by Tom Massey and John Ward. Sadly it’s a garden for our time.

I was cheered up by bumping into some Twitter friends and spending a happy 10 minutes in the butterfly dome taking blurry photographs of randy blue morphos as they chased each other among the school groups. I have a feeling large butterflies at face level may have triggered a few phobias that day, but for most of us there were moments of sheer joyous wonder inside that plastic bubble.

A more joyous kind of brightness in the butterfly dome

A more joyous kind of brightness in the butterfly dome

Generally the show is sensory overload, there is too much to see and you can see too much of it at once. To avoid confusion and exhaustion at events like this I recommend focusing on just a few things which are important for you (and no, I don’t just mean the Pimm’s tent, although that is a valid concern).

Container gardening is of great interest to me, and a source of frustration as containers on show gardens almost always seem to be either an afterthought or a very minor accessory. Sometimes they are downright irrelevant. There is rarely any striking or imaginative container planting on show gardens. This puzzles me as container gardening in real life seems more and more popular – as so many modern gardens are small, with a high proportion of paving and decking, and planting in pots gives you the opportunity to garden even if your outdoor space is small and rented. A question for the RHS shows people: perhaps there’s room for a new show category here?


Katie’s Garden (for Katie’s Lymphoedema Fund) by Noemi Mercurelli and Carolyn Dunster. A space designed with cut flowers in mind but which could also work well for a keen container gardener.

Griffin Glasshouses

Griffin Glasshouses

I have found that the places to look for container planting ideas are in vegetable growing and/or educational or community-led displays, and on the trade stands. Greenhouse manufacturers (Hartley Botanic, Alitex, Griffin and Gabriel Ash etc) are reliable for good planting and great styling, especially Gabriel Ash. But other trade stands often use container planting to good effect (after all, it is PORTABLE!), and I don’t just mean the suppliers of containers – although it is logical to look at them too.

Gabriel Ash

Gabriel Ash

Appeal Home Shading

Appeal Home Shading


Pot stands were available...

Pot stands were available…

RHS shows always have some pot displays from manufacturers and importers, though I think nostalgically of the insanely elaborate planted displays that we used to do at Chelsea for Whichford. There were a few container-related accessories around too. My mental shopping list includes Spanish Rings, a galvanised bath tub, and a folding wood or metal pot stand, but press day is not a good shopping day as many exhibitors take the chance for a look around the show themselves once they have set up, so there was no retail therapy for me, though I was happy to take leaflets and catalogues for later pot-plotting.

Spanish rings

Spanish rings

Plenty of pots

Plenty of pots

These are funky, but personally I prefer not to be dictated to by my containers...

These are funky, but personally I prefer not to be dictated to by my containers…

As always, my favourite part was the Floral Marquee – I love to see the well-grown treasures of all the nurseries displayed for our delectation. The plants are often arranged to look like they are growing in the ground – though of course the vast majority are still in their pots, but this is also a happy hunting ground for container planting ideas. I apologise if any of these are mis-credited, I  did my best but some nurseries did not (yet?) have very obvious signage. I wish more nurseries would follow the example of Hardy’s Plants and have their name on every label so that credit can easily be given where it is due.

Harperley Hall

Harperley Hall


D’Arcy and Everest


D’Arcy and Everest


As I explored the show ground the words ferruginous and crinkly came to mind over and over again. Ferruginous is a word usually applied to rusty colours in plants and animals and pops up in many botanical names, but literal rust has remained a strong theme in show gardens. There were many rusty bowls filled with water.

Feel-Good Front Garden by Sarah Morgan

Feel-Good Front Garden by Sarah Morgan

A Summer Retreat (with rusty bowl) by Amanda Waring and Laura Arison for CCLA

A Summer Retreat (with rusty bowl) by Amanda Waring and Laura Arison for CCLA

The Peacemaker garden was mostly rust. I’m afraid it was impossible to photograph this one without including a dustbin or a pushchair, even on press day.

Peacemaker by Katerina Rafaj

Peacemaker by Katerina Rafaj

Rusty roots in clever stonework on the Zoflora Outstanding Natural Beauty garden by Helen Elks-Smith

Rusty roots in clever stonework on the Zoflora Outstanding Natural Beauty garden by Helen Elks-Smith

In plants rusty colours lurk somewhere in the no man’s land between red, orange, and pink, occasionally straying into brown. They are beloved of floral artists because they link and soften their clearer, brighter cousins, while retaining their warmth. They have to be used with caution in the garden to avoid a muddy effect, but can be very beautiful, intriguing and sophisticated. Andrew Fisher-Tomlin and Dan Bowyer’s Garden for Crohn’s Disease was masterfully and unusually planted, with just the right touches of ferruginous warmth.

Beautifully planted garden for Bowel Disease UK

Beautifully planted garden for Bowel Disease UK


Begonia ‘Curly Fireflush’. Dibleys


Lots of russet colours on the T3 Plants National Collection of Abutilon exhibit


Canna ‘Eric Neubert’. Hart Cannas


Hydrangea arborescens ‘Invincibelle’. Madrona Nurseries


Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Rubylace’. Madrona Nurseries


Such good labelling on the Hardy’s Plants stand!


Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Red Thunder’. Madrona Nurseries



This group of colours complements greens and blues for those of you who, in Christopher Lloyd’s phrase, “worship at the colour wheel”.  Hence the success of rusty bowls, gutters, hoops, chains and general bric a brac in gardens – rust goes well with foliage. In accessories and hard landscaping rustiness gives contrast in texture as well as colour.


Plant Belles do lovely rusty things. I especially like those little gates in the foreground.


I’m not sure about those boots. They don’t look very comfy.


Lomatia ferruginea - clue's in the name! On the Burncoose stand.

Lomatia ferruginea – clue’s in the name! On the Burncoose stand.

Talking of texture – I began to notice a lot of crinkly plants as I walked about. I don’t know if this is a trend or if I was just making strange links in my head (this happens a lot). Here are some of the wavy and curly plants I noticed – there are even some which have a touch of rust about them too…


Disturbingly named Hosta ‘Electrocution’. Brookfield Plants


Hydrangea ‘Curly Sparkle Blue’. Cook’s


Hedera helix ‘Parsley Crested’. Fibrex Nurseries


Aldo Airplants


Solanum sisymbriifolium. Plantbase.


Begonia serratipetala. Dibleys


Crassula ‘Blue Curls’


Allium vineale ‘Dready’. Warmenhoven.


More curls from Warmenhoven


This’ll put curls on your sporran. From the National Dahlia Collection exhibit


After walking round the show for six hours I was curling at the edges like an elderly sandwich. Even though I hadn’t seen everything I sadly refused the offer of a ticket to stay for the gala evening because I knew I had a few hours on the motorway ahead of me and had to be in Burford at 8am the next morning for eight hours of real gardening. Hampton Court Flower Show is definitely worth the trip, so if you haven’t been before I recommend it – but pace yourself!

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  1. I also loved the rusty colours yesterday and at Chelsea this year. I wrote a blog post on then back at Chelsea time. I loved the use of verbascum at Hampton Court- especially ‘Clementine’, which is currently the star of my front garden too, alongside Echinops and Perovskia. And I really enjoyed seeing the FeelGood Front Gardens. I entered the competition with my locally inspired garden ‘A Herbal Retreat’ so it was lovely to see other entries from around the country. I’m just in the process of writing a post about them…


    • Yes, the rusty colours have been popular for a while, and you can see why. I thought the FeelGood Front Gardens were some of the best show gardens but I couldn’t get a proper look at them because there was a big herd of celebrities in the way!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the mention Harriet, glad you liked our garden! 🙂


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