The 14th annual Hampton Court Palace Flower Show opened to the public yesterday – and looks certain to have drawn a record total of visitors by the time it closes at 5.30pm on Sunday.
The first show, courageously launched against all the odds by Adrian Boyd of East Molesey in 1990, covered a mere 11 acres of Royal parkland.
Kate Turner's 'A moveable Feast' a tribute to the soldiers who go away to battle, and their wives... (L-R) Karen Badger, Kate Turner and Sonja Savage.
Now it has 34, and under the auspices of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), has grown into the largest annual event of its kind in the world.
It owes its phenomenal success to keeping pace with changing public attitudes. Visitors in earlier years were eager to see spectacular visuals and extravagant settings – not now.
The recession, the rise in homes with tiny gardens, or no gardens at all, and a new awareness of ecology, means they want to know, not only how to grow their own food, with or without a garden, but how to cook it afterwards.
They want not just to look at a beautiful garden, but learn how to create one.
Marilyn and Barry Bettington's Oska Copper field Nursery...
They also want to encourage bees, butterflies and other endangered species, use recyclable materials whenever possible and, a high priority for many, get their children and grandchildren keen on gardening and the joys it can bring.
This year’s event fills all those wants plus many more.
For example, the Growing Tastes section has dazzling arrays of fruit, veg and herbs, with experts on hand to advise on how to grow them – even if your only space is a windowsill – and how to cook them.
The Countess of Wessex opens the Plant Heritage marquee.
I especially liked the Grow Your Own Curry display, featuring chillis, lemon grass, turmeric and other plants needed for a true curry.
The crisis facing butterflies, and the importance of pollination to global horticulture, is highlighted by the RHS’ butterfly dome with Eden.
This, one of the show’s main features, is presented as a raised walkway from which visitors look down into the heart of a steamy tropical jungle populated by 3,000 butterflies – the largest exhibited collection in the UK.
Photographing 3,000 butterflies in a tropical jungle is so tricky that our photographer, Ben Mole, decided to concentrate on the ones that settled on actress Emilia Fox when she visited
You can watch them sipping from nectar plants, and new ones emerging from their chrysalises in a viewing cage.
Outside the dome is a native butterfly garden and a bee garden, showing which plants will attract and sustain these gravely endangered insects.
The RHS is doing much to attract children, notably by allowing every fee-paying adult to bring in two, aged 16 or under, free of charge.
Meanwhile, infant and primary school pupils from all over the south-east have made an eye- grabbing array of scarecrows wearing national costumes from all over the world.
Visitors can vote for their favourites until noon on Sunday, and winners will be announced soon afterwards.
There will be a special children’s zone at the show all day Saturday and Sunday.
It will include a sow-and-grow feature, where children can sow yarrow, decorate pots and make bumblebee hats to take home, as well as enjoying face-painting and balloon modelling with a birds and bees theme.
Meanwhile, the show’s roses and floristry vintage festival is giving the lie to the so-called “historians” who describe the 1950s as drab and repressed.
Squires won a silver gilt medal for its miniature garden. Chairman Colin Square is seen here with his daughter and company vice-chairwoman, Sarah
In fact they were a heady new era following grim years of war (I know because I was there), some of whose atmosphere is captured in the festival’s 1950s theme.
For accompanying thousands of roses displayed by the UK’s top growers are enchanting 1950s representations of the English seaside, a garden party and a village maypole.
Carlos Ady (9) and Kristina McFarlaine meet some very unusual scarecrows
Totally Locally, founded eight months ago in Teddington to help independent companies in the area collaborate, has played a big part here, with florist Jo Butler teaming up with Elements Salon and Mela Mela vintage clothing boutique to recreate the flower arrangements, hairstyles, make-up and dress that made the 1950s unique.
It is no exaggeration to say, as I do each year, that the Hampton Court Show gives me ecstasy and agony in equal measure.
The ecstasy comes largely from the exquisite sight and scent of more than a million blooms.
The agony is how to visit, let alone do justice to, all 599 exhibitors. I have not managed it yet.
Willow Pattern represents the age-old story of the mandarin’s daughter’s elopement with a humble book-keeper. It was designed by Sue Thomas, pictured, a former doctor at Kingston Hospital. Having retired, she tried garden design and entered the show as that rare being in this setting, a true amateur. She won a silver medal