Showtime: Press Day at Hampton Court

I consider myself to be a very lucky girl indeed having visited Hampton Court Flower Show yesterday. It was not only my first visit to this particular venue, but I'd also managed to acquire a coveted (by me anyway) press pass to the show. Victoria kindly agreed to show me the ropes and we duly presented ourselves at the gates at 8am. So what's different about being at a major flower show on press day?

Well, for starters you have to wear your pass at all times, plus a hi-vis vest if you're there before 9.30 am as the show is still in Build mode. On a day like yesterday, this soon makes you quite hot and bothered and it's a relief to be able to take it off at last.

When you've found your first set of show gardens to have a look at (the Shakespeare ones in our case), a young woman leading a gang of assorted people brandishing clipboards comes up to you and says: Sorry, we're about to judge this garden which is a polite way of saying Clear off we're busy! You then realise James is one of the judges*, who waves at you apologetically and mouths: See you later. Thrilled I loiter with intent nearby to hear assorted mutterings followed by Are we agreed on silver then? A show of hands ensues with more assorted mutterings accompanied by frantic scribblings on clipboards. And then they move on pretty sharpish to the next one to start all over again. I'm really no wiser on either the medal actually awarded or how the judging process works after that, so luckily here's James' timely insight into what actually happens...

Next we seek out the Press Tent via the above view to sign-in and find out what's what. The Constant Gardener is there and it's lovely catching up with her because she's been around so little since we met up at Malvern: she's now told us all the reasons why here. Press packs, PR releases and show programme to hand, Victoria and I take a few moments over a cup of coffee to see if there's anything we'd particularly like to see amongst the various 'photo opportunities' listed. There's a few: more about a couple of them later, though I have to say it's such a whirlwind day if you're trying to see everything at the show that most of these sadly remain on the 'To do' list.

Unlike Chelsea, you can buy plants at Hampton Court. However, Victoria knows from previous experience this can be difficult to achieve as most exhibitors tend to clear off once judging has started. So having run past several most tempting exhibits along the way, we finally hit the Floral Marquee. Here there's a scene of quiet concentration as most of the exhibits are still being kitted out. Miracles are being performed with tweezers and brushes in some places to ensure that everything is in tip top condition ready for judging, whilst others still seem to be at the early build stage. Victoria manages to buy some Heuchera in between Chris Beardshaw's filming on the Heucheraholics stand and we chat with Sean and Jooles about the layout of this year's marquee and possible colour themes for their exhibit next year.

I'd set my heart on some Dierama when I was at Cottesbrooke Plant Finders Fair but they were rather expensive, so I'm delighted to find an exhibit accompanied by 2 fine looking specimens on their sales area:
Me: How much are your Dierama?
Exhibitor (Looking rather startled at the possibility of making a sale on press day): I think they're £15, I'll just check... Ahhh, they're £6
Me (rather relieved): Could I have both of those please?
Exhibitor: Ooh no, I can't sell you those, we haven't been judged yet
Me: Oh. So your sales area's included in the judging criteria then?
Exhibitor: Well, we always make sure our stand has is full of the best quality plants as well as our exhibit... (seeing my crestfallen face)... come with me and we'll see what we've got round the back, no promises mind...
So I followed her round the back of the tent and... well, you'll have to wait and see if I did get my Dierama...
Then it was time to do our garden tarting bit. I'd been invited to the champagne breakfast at the Gardens Illustrated Pavilion, which was wonderful and Victoria was keen to go to the opening of the Plant Heritage one. The latter merits a post to itself because I could have stayed there all day as do the Conceptual Gardens which we went to see next. Posts on these to follow on Thursday and Friday respectively.

Now it was the turn of the show gardens, where we spent ages at the Tyrell's one because they'd put together a vegetable orchestra of student musicians from the Royal Academy to entertain us. It was lunchtime by now, so it was good to have some crisps to hand to stave off our hunger pangs for a while. The maker of the instruments turned out be purveyor of handsomely made recorders to the music world and was fascinating to talk to. We both agreed that this would be fertile ground for Three Men Went to Mow to tackle**.

Then we exchanged pirate jokes next door with the inhabitants of the Legoland garden:
Me: Where do pirates do their shopping?... Arrrrrgos
Them: Why do pirates bury their treasure a foot down?... Because booty is only shin deep

We tried to ignore this garden, but failed dismally. It's purpose is to raise awareness about bladder problems: luckily by the time we saw it, some of the public loos had finally been opened.

After lunch we did a whirlwind tour of the small gardens. These have much more room to breathe than at Chelsea. I was struck by the Bangladeshi Allotment and the pictured Fire Pit garden: the planting of the latter is designed to be particularly tempting for butterflies. We saw loads more, which Victoria has described in detail already, so I'll point you in the direction of her delightful post rather make this post even longer. You might also like to look at her thoughtful (and interesting) piece on gardens as art in today's Independent too...

A couple of final things: you're probably thinking it must have been easier taking photos with far fewer people around than on a public day. The funny thing was, I'm perfectly content to get a photo with about 3 people in it at Chelsea, but I got really frustrated when just one person was getting in the way yesterday. And yes, you can see by the above photo that I did get my Dierama. Here they're on their way home with me after a tiring but most wonderful day, waiting for the platform for my train to come up on the screen at Paddington station :)
* you'll see from the photo he's now officially a sustainable judge, which amused me greatly because he blogged about banning the word sustainable last year
** and the three of them agreed that indeed it would, so watch this space...


  1. Well I expect that won't be the last time you visit Hampton Court RHS show then. I am looking forward to my visit with my daughter but I expect it will be crowded as the only day Rachel was free was Friday.

  2. OMG, a press badge AND an orange vest? Stop taunting me from so far away! ;-0 Looks like you had a ton of fun and I love the pink faucet, despite everything!

  3. Great post, VP! And thank you so much for the link to my article, which I completely forgot to put in my post! I really enjoyed going to press day with you - I stayed far longer than I normally do and got so much more out of it. Love, Vxx

  4. congratulations-for the badge, the vest, & the dierama. great post!

  5. Joanne - have a great day on Friday. It may be crowded but at least there's lots of space at Hampton Court :)

    Monica - that tap would look great with your shoes ;)

    Tim et al. thank you and will do!

    Victoria - you were so good at introducing me to everyone. It was a great day, I had a whale of a time :D That woman at Plant Heritage was correct in her prediction: guess which plant I bought home from Wildside yesterday...

    Petoskystone - more on Dierama to come!


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