Showtime: Plant Heritage at Hampton Court

If I could have spent the whole day in one place at Hampton Court show on Monday, I would have chosen the Plant Heritage marquee. This organisation wasn't really on my radar until Victoria mentioned a couple of years ago she usually volunteers at their cloakroom at Chelsea and then more recently I've found myself in places where some of the national collections are held (Digitalis, Miscanthus and Lavandula since you're asking).

One of the joys of Hampton Court is the sheer variety of displays and tents to look round because the show has such a vast space to fill. Naturally, Victoria wanted to visit the Plant Heritage marquee being such a keen supporter of their work. This year there are displays from 18 national collection holders and it turned out to be absolutely fascinating stuff. On arrival I was immediately accosted by an enthusiastic lady who was very keen to know where I'd obtained my Dierama. It turned out she had 15 cultivars herself (Oh no my dear, it's not a Collection) and was scenting the possibility of adding a 16th. We quickly established I had a rather nice couple of specimens of normal D. pulcherrimum, so she could rest easy, but she predicted having just bought some I'd soon be starting a collection of my own*. Thankfully she also reassured me they're relatively easy to grow as my confidence had been rather dented an hour earlier by Helen Yemm's Good luck over at the Gardens Illustrated pavilion.

James Wong investigates the versatility of Cannas with Christine and Kenneth Hart
We arrived for the opening and so were treated to James Wong's enthusiastic speech followed by Alan Titchmarsh's stately presidential approval. Drinks and nibbles were also available, but these did little to dent the main attraction: the displays from the plant collections**. Our first port of call was Hart Cannas where Victoria was instantly attracted to a very fine specimen (see her I got one of those post for more details). The Harts turned out to be wonderfully enthusiastic about their plants and sported matching polo shorts with the logo Canna help you? Who would have guessed that Canna tubers are edible? Not I, but there was the recipe for all to see on their stand, adapted from a Delia one for artichoke soup. Christine Hart also took pity on me and offered to look after my Dierama whilst we looked round the rest of the show***, what a star she is.

Joanna Jones of Plant Heritage with the organisation's president, a certain Alan Titchmarsh

I was completely fascinated by the Milkweed display (Asclepias and Gomphocarpus). These plants have a variety of uses for native Indians including treating warts, as a source of latex and nectar, or as a poison to tip arrows. USA readers will also recognise it as the sole food source for Monarch butterflies.

Whilst I was learning all about these plants, Victoria was discovering the work of Bristol Zoo who were showing plants from their collection of Hedychiums and details about the research they're undertaking re which cultivars are best for growing in the UK. There's plenty about zoo gardening which hadn't struck us before: how long it is before the lions are due to re-enter their enclosure; which plants are toxic to which animals (thus affecting where particular animals can be housed); how much animal feed can be grown on site or sourced locally (less food miles = food that is better nutritionally); and how to present food as close as possible to how it would be found in the wild (e.g. Gorillas are happier stripping blackcurrants off a plant rather than being presented with a bowl of fruit). Following her chat Victoria's come up with a great idea for a new TV gardening programme: Dangerous Gardening - inspired by the notion that the zoo's gardeners might be attacked by lions at any moment. Anyone know of any other forms of extreme gardening? I'm sure there's someone who includes abseiling down cliffs as part of their gardening activities...

That's just 3 of the displays that were available on the day, each with such great stories to tell. I must go now and find out about the other 15...

* Little did we know how soon that would be, as only 2 days later I found myself buying a couple of D. pulcherrimum 'Guinevere' at Wildside and I would have cheerfully hoovered up any other cultivars had they been available

** Though it would have been rather churlish to turn down a nice glass of Buck's Fizz, so I didn't :)

*** Note to self: do not buy plants with 3 foot long wavy flower stalks at 9am ever again when the plant creche hasn't opened yet and you've still got another 7-8 hours of wandering around to do


  1. Yes! Since you bought a South African Dierama, you might like to know - that Ernst van Jaarsveld, a horticulturist at Kirstenbosch, specialises in succulents that grow on cliff-faces. Which entails abseiling ;-)

  2. I lost my Dierama last winter in the snow and although I kept some seeds I can't remember what I did with them, I am nursing some small monacot's in the desperate hope they are the Dierama because I forgot to put labels on again.

    Souinds like you had a lovely time. I will be going tomorrow but it will be crowded and very hot.

  3. Here in New Zealand these Dierama can become a bit invasive and seed everywhere! I have taken to cutting the seed heads off before ripe to prevent a complete takeover :) My Mum calls these "Angels Fishing Rods"

  4. WHat a fun time you had. I especially enjoyed your asterisk notes, esp. that last one. And, yeah, I recoginze that Mr Titmarch!

  5. It looks a great show. I do so enjoy your trips.

  6. The Plant Heritage marquee is always my favourite place to visit at Hampton. As an habitual collector of all sorts of stuff, I feel right at home among fellow hoarders.

  7. Great insight into Hampton Court. I wasn't able to go this year so enjoyed living it through your blog very much.

    Kind regards

    Elspeth Briscoe Designs

  8. Oh you might be on your way to a National Collection of Dieramas, it is a slippery slope.

  9. EE - looks like we have ourselves at least 2 episodes for that TV programme!

    Joanne - I hope you had a good day there yesterday. At least all the stands will be open for you - a lot of them weren't on Monday. And I really missed overhearing what everyone else thought of the gardens, so there's good things about being there in the crowds

    renetsil - welcome! That's the common name for them over here too :)

    Monica - at least Christine Hart took pity on me so I only carried them arround for a couple of hours. They did get in everyone's way though!

    Hermes - thank you :)

    Martyn - I did keep an out for you but you either weren't there or our paths didn't cross that day

    Elspeth - hello! That's very kind of you and glad you could at least visit HC vicariously :)

    Deborah - a very slippery slope as my husband says he likes them too!


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