Your invitation to our garden party

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The Independent Online
The Independent has teamed up with the Royal Horticultural Society to provide readers with a great season of gardening. We begin with a grand summer evening at the Hampton Court Show in July. In September we will hold a private evening at the Great Autumn Show, which was a sell-out last year, and there will be attractive special offers for Independent readers at the RHS shows in October and November. But for now there is Hampton Court to look forward to. Here, Anna Pavord outlines the highlights of our special reader evening and previews this most prestigious of garden shows

At this time of year I shoudl be writing severely practical pieces on gardening: the care of lawns; identifying aphids; growing prize cucumbers. Instead, I am inviting you to a party. The Independent has arranged for readers to have a private view of the Hampton Court Flower Show during its first evening on 7 July.

Your ticket will give you access to the show between 4.30pm and 9.15pm; the show closes to the general public at 7.30pm at which point wine and food - included in the ticket price - will be available in an Independent marquee.

So, if you did not manage to get to Chelsea, stop gnashing your teeth and come to Hampton Court instead. And bring a carrier bag because at Hampton Court, unlike Chelsea (where you can only look at the seductive plants that far- flung nurserymen have brought to town), you can buy as well.

Picture the scene: the sun setting conveniently behind the elegant facade of the Palace buildings, the Long Water shimmering in the evening light, a glass of wine (chosen by Anthony Rose, our wine correspondent) conveniently to hand, the smell of roses in the air. The Royal National Rose Society has one entire marquee to itself for its annual festival and show.

Of course, it may not be like that at all. The sun may be obtuse, the heavens may open and you may be staggering round in waders. It is wonderfully irrational how outdoor summer events proliferate in this country, with an unspoken collusion, a kind of mafioso omerta, surrounding the subject of the weather. Since there is no one to blame for it, we accept it.

At the Hampton Court Show there are five enormous marquees at the heart of the five-and- a-half acre showground. There are two more marquees at the western edge of the ground, by the curve of the Palace's Fountain Garden. One contains an event entirely new to the show, a large display on the theme of flowers and the house - cut flowers, that is, not growing ones.

The second marquee here is devoted to the work of the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens. An important part of the NCCPG's work has been to establish national collections of garden plants throughout the country. Thanks to it you can now visit hosta collections in Hampshire and Devon, pinks in Gloucestershire, catmints in Kent.

Only the Shropshire group went to Chelsea. At Hampton Court, collections are coming in from all over the country: summer flowering argyranthemums from Cannington in Somerset, passion flowers from Clevedon in Avon, lavenders from Norfolk, delphiniums from the 150- strong collection at Rougham Hall in Suffolk and foxgloves from Wiltshire, where Terry Baker looks after one of the national collections at his nursery in Melksham.

The NCCPG is a well-seasoned regular at the Hampton Court Show but for Stephen Griffith, of Abbotsbury Gardens in Dorset, this will be a first, nerve-wracking appearance. In the gardens, which lie in a frost-free pocket close to the sea, he specialises in tender, sub-tropical plants and it is these that he is planning to use in his display. 'We'll have to wait and see what is looking good on the day,' he says philosophically.

He is hoping that his tetrapanax, or rice paper plants, which are the most unusual pieces of exotica you are ever likely to see growing in Britain, will peak at the right time for the show. He has already squeezed some monster Petasites japonicus var giganteus with leaves two feet across into pots ready for the journey. Not all his plants are as laid back as the petasites about this kind of treatment. Bamboos sulk, so those will mostly have to stay behind. Argyranthemums, salvias, Chusan palms he will have in plenty. You will find him on stand 14, marquee No 4.

Why did he choose Hampton Court for his first big show, I asked. 'The sense of space,' he said. 'I hate to feel crowded. I went there as a visitor last year to snoop about. It's a wonderful site. I liked the relaxed atmosphere and there were some excellent growers showing plants.'

What will he be looking for this year, I wondered (that is, if he ever gets time off from his own stand). 'New cultivars of half-hardy plants,' he said. 'Architectural plants. I'll also be looking at the prices of some garden machinery. And watching to see what other people charge for their plants.'

My own route round the show will, as usual, be that of a drunken spider. I start off with good intentions, meaning to make a logical clockwise circuit round the stands and gardens that I have marked in the catalogue. I always get waylaid.

Nothing, however, will make me miss Blackmore and Langdon's exhibit of delphiniums. I have given up trying to grow them myself. For a few years the score was at least 30-all between me and the slugs. Now it is game, set and match to them. I turn up at the Blackmore and Langdon stand like a traveller at an oasis to take a deep draught of delphinium, which then has to last me until I can catch up with the firm again.

Blooms of Bressingham will be there, showing planting ideas for four small garden areas, including a drought garden and a shady garden. Half a dozen nurseries will be bringing fuchsias to the show, and Hare Hatch nursery of Twyford will be showing a wide range of plants suitable for hanging baskets.

Carol Klein, whose eye for a good plant (and a good hat) is second to none, is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Gertrude Jekyll's birth. She has created a garden full of Miss Jekyll's favourite flowers, combined with more recent introductions that Ms Klein thinks would have been equally welcome in the Jekyll garden at Munstead Wood, Surrey.

Walking across the temporary bridge slung over the Long Water to get into the show, you have a fanciful impression of crossing the boundary into some small, previously undiscovered principality activated by priorities entirely different to the world you have left. The water makes the difference.

It has a practical use, too. Along its edge, nurseries specialising in pond plants and companies anxious to demonstrate fountains, waterfalls and bubbling waterjets have their pitches. It is difficult to believe in the idea of a water garden when you know that the water is endlessly re-circulating from a barrel hidden under the skirts of a show stand. Here, on this spectacular stretch of water, laid out in the 1660s for the amusement of Charles II and his wife, Catherine of Braganza, water gardens have a purpose.

Hampton Court is a young show. This is only its fourth year, the first under the aegis of the Royal Horticultural Society. From the beginning it has been a hugely popular event: 100,000 came to the opening show and 180,000 were there last year. I look forward to seeing you at the private view. I will probably have taken root in front of Blackmore and Langdon's stand.

(Photograph omitted)