| Hannah Grafton

Walk Through Horticultural History at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

Floral enthusiasts visiting The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show this week have a lot more than just flowers to look forward to, as a number of interesting and thought-provoking installations and art pieces are captivating visitors this year. The Sybarite were lucky enough to attend the show’s first day of celebrations, only to be  unexpectedly transported through time, learning about horticultural history. 

Where better to start, than at the very beginning of life on Earth? Impossible to miss beneath the huge transparent dome, ‘Evolve: Through the Roots of Time’ guides visitors on a journey that takes you back 3.5 million years to discover how organisms have evolved and adapted from water to land, to become the plants and trees we see today. The exhibit begins with a bare, baron landscape, dotted with slow bubbling geysers. Setting a scene much like the surface of Mars, visitors follow a weaving pathway through this raw wasteland, surrounded by mirrors giving the effect of an endless parched expanse.

Continuing along the path, the landscape begins to evolve around you, as the climate begins to turn tropical. With greenery growing upwards towering above head height, the surrounding vegetation becomes more and more luscious, hosting an increasing amount of fascinating wildlife. As you enter the dome water sources spring up from the ground, with towering foliage covered in rich green leaves and increasingly dense and rich forests. The route then takes you through to a  ‘Jurassic World’, where masses of prehistoric forests and woodlands provided shade for dinosaurs and other creatures now roaming the earth – the close heat, sights and sounds of the forest immediately transport you from the royal gardens of Hampton Court palace to a scene worthy of a Spielberg film set.  Prehistoric in appearance,  flowering plants appear and dominate the surroundings, stunning visitors with their bright colours and eye catching shapes and sizes.

The Evolve dome emerges onto a collection of excavation tools and fossils, designed for children to discover their own relics and learn about the periods they just journeyed through. Jules Howard, wildlife expert and science writer, is running drop-in fossil workshops on each day of the show using real fossils hand-collected from Jurassic clay, making it a perfect family-friendly activity.

Jumping forward a few million years to the centenary year of the First World War, visitors take a glimpse into the trenches with the ‘Battlefields to Butterflies’ garden. Standing to attention, guests are greeted by a soldier in full uniform ready talk you through the feature in full. The garden maps the journey of the battlefield and the scarred landscape; from scenes obliterated by bombs and fighting, strewn  with shrapnel, barbed-wire and rounds of ammunition to a landscape awash with flowering shrubs. This garden depicts how  nature takes back the landscape, blooming back into life after the desolation of war.

Constructed in tribute to the 24-men of the Royal Parks and Palace gardens who lost their lives in the First World War, the feature is designed to lead visitors through trenches lined with sandbags and corrugated metal, creating a really authentic and jarring atmosphere. The trenches even feature a small room showing us what life amongst the trenches would really look like, complete with rations and hand-drawn maps. As visitors weave their way through the winding trenches, the deep ditches slowly level out, rising up with the greenery. Small pools of water can be spotted along with war remnants such as barbed wire, wooden wheels and sharp splinters of metal, whilst royal blue dragonflies dance amongst the daisies and dandelions. The feature ends with a display of ceramic poppies and a commemorative plaque which will be taken to Brompton cemetery when the show comes to an end. Providing a much needed space for reflection, Battlefields to Butterflies reminds us that from the sadness of war, can come beauty and healing.

‘Battlefields to Butterflies’ by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan

Continuing along the Show’s horticultural walk through time, the thought-provoking garden ‘Conscious Consumerism’ draws viewers attention to the animal agriculture industry and the measurable affect it has on our environment, namely global deforestation. Designed by Joseph Gibson, the piece lures visitors in with luscious tropical rainforest and beautiful orchids, but quickly changes as it depicts mass deforestation with a number of tree stumps and remnants of plants littering the ground. The garden then changes drastically, entering a chilling abattoir, with a ceiling lined with meat hooks, blood-splattered walls and bone-cutting machinery, highlighting the meat industry’s vast impact on our planet.

‘Conscious Consumerism’ by Joseph Gibson

The piece ends with visitors emerging into a bare, deserted space with an empty bottle of oxygen lying half buried in the sand. Tackling these issues such as deforestation and desertification, designer Joseph Gibson has created something appealing to many people’s modern and more self aware sensibility,  highlighting an issue at the forefront of many people’s minds.

The glorious weather shining over The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show this week makes this annual celebration even more spectacular. Visitors will be sure to find much more than flowers at the show this week, with a number of fascinating art installations and learning experiences available along with the usual show gardens, talks, and celebrity demos, crowds are guaranteed an enjoyable and engaging day in the glorious British sunshine.

The RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2018 began on Tuesday 3 July and ends on Sunday 8 July.

Tickets for the 2019 show go on sale on 1 August.

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