Hello from London! After over 1 1/2 years of preparations, I can hardly believe that I am now working at Hampton Court Garden Festival, creating the RHS No Dig Allotment Demonstration Garden and preparing for the show itself. I arrived on site on Monday 21st, after a very long drive from Wales, not quite sure what to expect. I’ve been to many RHS shows but never to the build of one before. All of the show gardens, stalls, marquees and stages start with an area of grassy land.
Preparing to leave for the show
Getting ready for just over 3 weeks away on site has been so busy. My sons are at home taking care of the garden (it rained there yesterday which is happy news for my new plantings) but I had to make sure that everything was planted in the ground and, because I am making a brand new garden, this means making the beds before I can plant.
The fourth back garden bed was made on weedy lawn, and planted out, two days before I left! And I also made some of the compost beds in the orchard last week too. So, everything that could be planted is, and I am just going to have to hope for the best now.
Dai the neighbouring farmer is keeping an eye out for any wandering sheep, who do sometimes like to break into the orchard for a change in their daily menu. They have an interest in the fresh juicy leaves of my fruit bushes, and can cause rather a lot of damage, so I would prefer them to remain on their side of the stock fence.
As well as being a designer, I am responsible for most of the preparations for Charles, myself and the no dig garden team on site which involves so much admin. That has taken up a lot of time and of course I’m doing my other work also – hence no blog posts for a while. So many forms, oh my! It’s a really exciting project and I am sure it will all be worthwhile.
How it all started
Charles and I were approached by the RHS and asked to design this garden in November 2019, for the Hampton Court show in July 2020. Of course none of us could have foreseen what would happen in 2020. Of course the show was cancelled due to the pandemic and moved to September 2020, and then that one was cancelled too. So this is third time lucky!
This is one of the early sketches, featuring our combined ideas for the show garden.
It’s changed quite a bit since then, to allow for the practicalities of a show garden and also to ensure that social distancing can be maintained, however the key elements of what we wanted to include in a no dig allotment demonstration garden have remained.
The No Dig Allotment Garden is a little different from a regular kind of show garden, because it is interactive and will have speakers there every day, talking about and demonstrating how to grow your own food and more, using no dig methods. It will be visually appealing but also realistic – well, as much as a show garden can be. It is of course a piece of theatre, an installation.
I wrote this blog in March 2021 about the garden, before things went a bit pear shaped for a while!
Just after Easter weekend, our project manager Chris sadly decided that he could not continue with the project. Uncertainties caused by the covid pandemic meant that he would not be able to provide show quality plants. There then followed weeks of uncertainty, with a good dose of panic thrown in (!) as I worked with the RHS to ensure that the garden would still go ahead, looking at possible alternatives to the garden design and I had to take on even more of the project organisation.
It was clear that we needed a new project manager. I am a capable person, and certainly up for a challenge, but I am not skilled in construction or all of the vital skills needed to take a garden from plans to planting at a major show.
I have created pop up demonstration gardens before, but these were on a much smaller scale. Not exactly RHS show garden standard, but I did make them myself and grew almost all of the plants in my back garden too.
The RHS team found us a new project manager, but after a few weeks he realised he was too busy to include Hampton Court in his schedule. This was all rather stressful, especially as I had put hours of work, designs and preparations into this phase 2.
Thankfully they then approached Jon Wheatley who agreed to take on the project. Phew!
The new show garden team
A zoom meeting was schedules with Jon, the RHS, myself and Charles, in which we discussed how this could all work, and everyone agreed to go ahead. Jon arranged an in real life meeting with himself and Terry Porter, who is growing the plants near Weston Super Mare. (obviously social distanced and all of that!)
Terry’s plants are amazing, it was extraordinary to see how show garden plants are grown and cared for, in his extensive greenhouses. We saw some of the props too, including a greenhouse which has travelled to many different shows and featured in a large number of gardens.
Jon Wheatley is organising all of the construction, the construction crew, the principle budget, most of the props, the plants and all of the admin etc for his team. He adjusted our design to make it gorgeous and covid secure, with enough room for social distancing and has included some excellent extra features, and thoughtful additions such as a fridge and kettle in the shed. Without Jon and Terry there would be no garden to see.
My work includes the garden talks, the team of speakers, all of the admin for that (there are so many forms!), the passes, working with the brands who are supporting the garden, our budget, liaising with the RHS, accommodation for myself and Sara Venn (who is working on the garden every day of the show), keeping a visual record of the construction and breakdown, covid stuff for our team, and drinking a lot of tea! This work is not paid, so I am also doing my own work (I’m setting up my new business) in the hotel room too 🙂
On site, Tom and James from Stonebarn Landscaping (Jon’s company) are doing a brilliant job working on the garden – yesterday the hedge was being planted!
It’s just me from team no dig until Sara arrives on Sunday 4th July, and then Charles on Press Day 5th July, and the rest of our team on their allotted days. I’ll be posting the schedule of talks and info about the no dig team here soon.
On site now, I am mostly photographing and chatting with the other designers and construction workers. It is fascinating – I can’t share the photos of the construction of the other gardens to respect their privacy, but I can honestly say I have never seen anything like this!
I am having such a good time!
Everyone on site during the build has to wear a hi viz vest and steel toe cap footwear. Not the most glamorous of looks but important on a site which is filled with machines and crew.
It is incredibly noisy and dusty. There are diggers and other large machinery everywhere. Huge trucks navigating narrow one way systems to deliver massive trees, crates filled with thousands of plants and building materials, and within all of this teams of electricians are laying cables to provide everyone with power.
In contrast, the park’s wildlife are getting on with life almost as normal. We have ducks happily living their life a few metres away from our garden and on the long water, herons calmly fish.
What an adventure this is.