Blindness, mental health and flooding are just three examples of what inspired the 26 gardens and installations on display at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show last week.
The largest annual flower show in the world took place in the grounds of the historic palace where King Henry VIII lived in the sixteenth century.
Many of the gardens were collaborative projects between landscape designers and charities or organisations, resulting in gardens reflecting specific social or environmental concerns.
Blind Veterans UK sponsored the It’s All About Community garden, one of the larger gardens on show at Hampton Court, which celebrated everyone involved with the charity, from the veterans to the volunteers and staff.
The garden included sensory elements, such as wood carvings and woven willow arches, for those with vision impairments to experience different textures, as well as a wild patch for guide dogs.
A particularly moving garden was designed by Frederic Whyte, who partnered with the Centre for Mental Health to symbolise the stages in a mental health journey.
Frederic drew on his own experience of depression to create the garden, On the Edge, which started with a narrow path and tall hedge to evoke claustrophobic feelings.
A staircase then led to a shaded, disorientating space, before descending to an open, peaceful area at ground-level, with flowers and a water pool.
Dr Graham Durcan, 55, associate director of the Centre for Mental Health, said: “Clearly gardening for Frederic was therapeutic. Anything creative is really good for the spirit and really good for your wellbeing.”
He continued: “We have had a lot of interest, it is just a beautiful garden, it is about supporting mental health issues, it is encouraging to see someone go through that but make something beautiful at the end.”
Another thought-provoking installation was Miracle/Elements of Life, featuring a pomegranate tree planted in a soil bed atop a bubbling water tank, with the roots looking as if they were suspended in the water.
Designer Bill Wilder, 47, said the concept is to draw attention to soil nutrients and the natural elements in the earth.
He said: “We want to take you under the ground so you see what is going on under your feet and plants. Get the soil composition right and it will help what is above it.
“The bubbles represent osmosis, they make it more visual, particularly for children, the future gardeners.”
Visitor Zena Curry said it reminded her of the upside-down baobab trees in South Africa.
She said: “I like it because it’s reminding us how we’ve got to look after the environment. It’s making us think rather than just being pretty.”
Exemplifying the diversity of Hampton Court Flower Show, a natural dam was also on display, demonstrating how planting trees below the flood line can slow the flow of water in flood-prone areas.
A team of six young people, who are part of the Streetscape social enterprise, worked on the Holding Back the Floor project by digging a 4ft pond, planting the nine trees and filling the pond with 52,000 litres of water.
It was based on the success of planting thousands of alder trees in Pickering in Yorkshire, which has a history of flooding, and the idea is that as many trees could be planted around Hampton Court, which is next to the River Thames and has flooded in the past.
Streetscape, based in Lambeth, helps 18-25-year-old Londoners who have struggled in the education system by providing landscape gardening experience and bolstering their employability.
Jack Bennett, a Streetscape apprentice, explained alder trees were planted because they can survive for weeks partially submerged in water.
He added: “These trees are good for the ecosystem, plantlife and wildlife because they create their own bacteria.”
Hampton Court Flower Show is known for drawing thousands of horticulture enthusiasts and Anna, 74, from Wimbledon, admitted she had attended every year for the past 27 years.
She said: “They’ve changed a lot and they have improved in some respects, they’re more formal than they used to be. It was like Chelsea Flower show when it started but it is better than Chelsea because it’s a bigger space.”
Tammy Houston, from Texas, was visiting with friends during her first overseas trip since undergoing a liver transplant.
She said: “I love the different themes of the gardens, it’s very British and there are loads of people. I find it very inspiring.”
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