Hampton Court Flower Show 2018 – what to expect from Piet Oudolf

The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show is my favourite of all the RHS flower shows that I’ve visited.  I prefer it because of the amount of space it offers (compared to Chelsea) but the relative continued high standard of the planting and design (compared to my experience of Tatton Park).  For this reason I visited Hampton Court in 2013 and then again last year.

I will be at Hampton Court this week, twice.  Firstly, I’ll be visiting on press day, tomorrow.  Then I’ll be returning on Friday, as the general public.  Another scorching week of sunshine and very high temperatures (for England) is predicted, so I will be able to see how the gardens hold up during the course of a few days.

Getting to Hampton Court from London is so easy, it’s a perfect day out.  Trains leave from Waterloo Station every half an hour or so.  The journey is just over 30 minutes long, after which there is a short walk (or boat trip) to the other side of the river at Hampton Court.  My top tip though is to get there early and either return early (before 4pm) or at the very end of the day.  Otherwise, the packed trains came be a sardine-like experience, which is okay in the cool of the day but quite unpleasant in 30 degrees+.

I’m going to see if I can blog live from the show, so if a post appears tomorrow, you’ll know that I’ve managed to work with the technology and blog via an app!  Wish me luck.

RHS

I booked my general public tickets to Hampton Court this year specifically as I want to see the installation that Piet Oudolf is creating.

I’ve seen Piet’s naturalistic, prairie-inspired, grass-heavy work at various places, including Scampston Walled Garden (Yorkshire), Wisley’s long borders (Surrey) and Potters Field (near Tower Bridge, Central London).

The Scampston Walled Garden

A post shared by VHG (@visitinghousesandgardens) on

I myself am trying to restore my own large communal garden in London to include more grasses and drought-resistant plants, so Piet’s work is of personal interest to me.  For us all, however, his planting style offers a response to climate change and a potential solution to those of us who want to reduce our irrigation needs but at the same time who want to prolong the interest of a garden (a prairie garden can offer up to 10 months’ interest with a single planting).

Below is an design image of what to expect from Piet.  I’ve copied below the press release, so I’ll be interested to see what the planting looks like tomorrow, given the challenge that the current heatwave conditions in the UK present for garden designers.

Piet Oudolf illustration

RHS press release

“Famous for planting swathes of grasses that snake through bold drifts of herbaceous perennials, Piet’s walk-through garden will sit opposite Hampton Court Palace, providing a show-stopping array of mid-summer colour.

The design will feature dominant matrix planting of Stipa barbata, better known as feather grass. The perennial grass bears rolled, linear leaves and even produces small clusters of flowers from early summer, followed by silver seed awns.

As well as feather grass, Piet’s star plants will include Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’, which features dark-centred, copper-red flower heads, Allium ‘Millennium’ with its round heads of purple star-shaped flowers and Astilbe chinensis ‘Visions in Pink’, noted for its pale-pink flower plumes.

Other key elements of the planting include Echinacea pallida (pale-purple coneflower), Delphinium ‘Cliveden Beauty’ (spires of light-blue flowers), Centaurea ‘Purple Heart’ (purple-centred flower heads with long white florets), Nicotiana langsdorffii (panicles of nodding, light-green, long-tubed, bell-shaped flowers) and Eryngium alpinum (a sea holly with large purple flower heads, surrounded by vivid-blue shiny bracts, held on blue stems).

Small ideas to take home

While Piet has worked on high-profile designs around the world, he said his garden at Hampton Court would offer ideas that would inspire visitors to adopt a more naturalistic approach to planting in their own gardens. 

Piet said: “I’m sure that people will be able to pick out combinations of plants that they like. Or perhaps visitors will say that they have never planted grasses on such a scale, and that it looks good. There will be lots of small ideas to take home.”

Piet’s evolution

The renowned designer explained that his planting style had evolved from high-impact but short-lived flower-filled gardens in the 1980s to permanent planting that offers interest throughout all four seasons.

Piet believes that his planting style is in tune with the current trend towards sustainable gardening, using herbaceous perennials that attract bees, butterflies and beneficial pollinators – as well as plants that form seed heads in autumn and winter, making them both ornamental, and a vital food source for wild birds.

Piet said he would use high-density planting at Hampton Court to build a garden with dramatic impact: “I will be trying to create a feeling that the garden is mature, and has been established for a long time.

“It will be a spontaneous, wild-looking, meadow-style garden with dominant planting of grasses.”

Gemma Lake, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show manager, said: “Piet is iconic in the world of horticulture. He inspires designers, architects, horticulturists and plant lovers alike working all over the world on various projects. This is a real thrill for all our visitors and exhibitors and not to be missed.”

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