RHS Hampton Court Show 2009

While it may not be considered as prestigious as Chelsea, the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is the biggest of the flower shows and certainly is well worth a visit for anyone remotely interested in gardening and plants.

It's that time of year again, with the Royal Horticultural Society's annual Hampton Court Palace Flower Show taking place this year from 07 - 12 July.

This was my second visit to the Hampton Court flower show (I visited for the first time last year) and I also visited the Chelsea flower show this year, which afforded me a direct comparison between the two major shows for the same season.

The Hampton Court flower show is much bigger than Chelsea, three times bigger in fact, being hosted on a 33 acre site at Hampton Court Palace, one of Henry VIII's favourite palaces.

Drawing on the historical relevance of the site, this year's show celebrated 500 years since Henry's accession to the throne on 21 April 1509, with the theme for the show being King Henry VIII and his six ill fated wives.

On Show

So, what was the show actually like?

Scarecrow Competition

As in previous years, a scarecrow competition was held for school children, with all of the entrants (the scarecrows, not the children) displayed in a line near the small show gardens. The theme this year was following the show's main theme of Henry VIII and his wives, which inspired some pretty inventive entries.

Show Gardens

I can't say that I was wowed by the big show gardens at Hampton Court this year as I was last year. Chelsea always has the edge, but I felt both shows were definitely weaker this year. Maybe the credit crunch has hit the shows, or maybe I'm just expecting too much. Next year will tell I guess.

There were six show gardens representing each of Henry VIII's wives. Again, a bit of a mixed bag, with one or two excellent gardens, but on average; uninspiring.

I did however really like all of the small gardens. Perhaps this is because they're all a bit more achievable for your average gardener, or wouldn't look out of place in a real garden instead of some of the more poncy pretentious stuff that you often see in the larger gardens.


There are the usual array of stalls selling everything from a pair of garden gloves to garden sheds the size of Wembly Stadium. If you so desired, you could spend all day shopping and not get to see any of the plants or gardens, but that would be a waste wouldn't it?

Flower Displays

This year the show hosted three (instead of last year's two) flower marquees. As you'd expect these were very impressive, although Chelsea as always, did have the edge on them. Nevertheless, with our unreliable British weather they offer a convenient place to shelter if the heavens open.

I've always admired bonsai trees, and as always at the big shows, the displays are amazing. I thought the Juniper trees in bonsai form were particularly effective.

The level of perfection that some of the flower displays achieved is unreal. The Chrysanthemums for example didn't look real, if anything, they were too perfect, not a true reflection of nature at all, but more a testament to man's perpetual efforts to try and tame it.

In Summary

Generally speaking, I prefer the Hampton Court flower show to Chelsea, even though the quality of displays aren't quite on par with Chelsea.

Hampton Court's much bigger, with more to see and you certainly won't feel claustrophobic compared to Chelsea.

If I had to take just one thing from this year's Hampton Court show that stood out, I would have to say vegetables! A recurring theme of planting vegetables and edible garden produce amongst conventional plants seems to be this year's thing, probably driven by the credit crunch, but showing that you can have your cake and eat it!

What will next year's fad be?

For more information see:
RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2009


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