Unlike the venerable Chelsea show that has been running since 1862, the Hampton Court Show is a real newbie, dating back only to 1993 but it was a great success from the start. It now attracts around 130,000 visitors - still slightly less than Chelsea whose numbers are limited by the 11 acre site and still plays second fiddle to it's elder sibling. In many ways I now enjoy it more, the visitors are mainly British and nearly all avid gardeners, it is far less crowded and has a different character, focusing more on environmental issues, growing your own food and vegetables and cookery as well as the usual smattering of wild and whacky gardens along with the horticulturally serious offerings.
This year the show will divided into three zones, with gardens and plants reflecting themes of Grow, Escape and Inspire:-
In Grow enthusiastic gardeners salivated over numerous nursery displays and plant stalls and took advantage of the RHS advisors on-hand offering horticultural tips to take back to their own garden and a schools Scarecrow competition commemorated World War 1.
Escape encouraged visitors to get into the community spirit or escape into the countryside - there was a Growing Taste marquee with one foods and produce and a cookery theater where celebrities and experts including the Great British Bakeoff's Mary Berry demonstrated their homegrown recipes, a selection of Show gardens, trade stands, a Country Living Magazine Pavilion with 120 artists selling their wares, a new Community area where you could get ideas for you own front garden and inspiration for making the most of small spaces and a celebration of 50 years of RHS Britain in Bloom.
Inspire attempted to prompt visitors to re-think their preconceptions of contemporary garden design, with horticultural creations pushing boundaries and championing innovation. The Conceptual Gardens were designed around the theme of seven deadly sins - one garden for each sin. I can't say I was tempted to take much from them for my own garden but they were brilliantly original - no doubt ruffling many traditionalists feathers. There were numerous other show gardens of differing inspiration, some great trade stands and a new turf sculpture competition with entries from the likes of Question Time presenter Matthew Biggs and RA trained sculptor John Humphreys that showcased creative and contemporary alternatives to the traditional lawn.