29 July 2021

If you follow us on social media, you’ve likely seen pictures of us working at the wonderful RHS Hampton Court 2021 show this last month. We were incredibly grateful and excited to be back at the RHS, building another fantastic design by Tracy Foster, so we thought we’d break the project down a little for you.

What is the RHS, anyway?

We mean no disrespect with that question! To those in the gardening and landscaping world, the RHS is a very familiar organisation, but many people may not be aware of the RHS and what they do, so don’t worry if you’re not acquainted. The RHS, or Royal Horticultural Society, is “the world’s leading gardening charity”. In their words, they “aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place – [they] are committed to inspiring everyone to grow”.

At FirstLight Landscaping we’ve been fans of the RHS and the work they do for a long time. They organise shows each year at various locations, each of which highlight and promote different designers, landscapers, and artists. Most importantly, they encourage and promote ways to have a greener life that benefit both the individual, and the planet.

This year, we were fortunate to be able to attend the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, which was held from the 6th-11th July, and at 34 acres is the world’s largest annual flower show!

Collaborating with Tracy Foster

As many of you’ll know, we collaborate with Tracy Foster regularly – she’s a fantastic designer and creates exquisitely beautiful spaces. We’ve previously worked with Tracy at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show on her beautiful ‘Hedgehog Street’ garden in 2014, which won the RHS Gold Medal and People’s Choice award, so we were delighted when she asked us to help build another.

Tracy initially approached us two years ago with plans for her design, but due to the calamitous disruptions of 2020, the show was postponed until this year. While we were of course disappointed, we were grateful that the show was able to be rescheduled at a time that would mean people were able to enjoy it safely.

One of the most exciting parts of our work is finding creative solutions to potential obstacles. Liam, one of our directors, met with Tracy to devise practical solutions for bringing the design to life. They discussed landscaping techniques that would be used, materials, and in particular the steel “fencing” that would surround the garden, and the material needed to create the bottle structure around which the entire garden was based.

Building the bottle

Our preparation began around 3 months before we headed down to Hampton Court. We bought mild steel panels that would surround the garden and, after washing off the oily protective coating, Tracy sprayed them with white vinegar and left them until the build to develop a natural weathered look. Also known as weathering steel, it develops a self-protecting rust when exposed to weather that resists corrosion and keeps its structural strength – an important factor when considering the message of Tracy’s garden (we’ll get to that shortly).

After assembling a team (avengers style), we travelled down to Hampton Court and began the hard landscaping construction, which took three days in total. Once the landscaping was completed, Tracy’s own team began the planting.

Why Message in a Bottle?

Tracy’s conceptual garden depicted a discarded bottle floating towards a shore. Instead of being a depressing piece of pollution, the bright and beautiful garden inside depicted a message of hope – we can all take action to prevent plastic pollution, and utilise previously discarded materials to create something positive and beautiful.

Tracy chose Stipa tennuissima and perennial flax to surround the bottle, which are graceful, blue flowers with swaying seed heads, and beautifully depicted a flowing canal. They were specifically chosen to represent the huge number of plant species that are used to make natural alternatives to plastic. The steel boundary wall created the vivid imagery of marine piling, as seen on locks or motorway embankments – they were placed at varying heights to represent a city skyline.

Tracy’s design was supported by the Canal and River Trust, local Environmental group REAP, and MURA Technologies LTD. Tracy won a silver medal for her fantastic garden, and we’re so proud to have been involved in the project and to be associated with the message it represented.

You can read more about the project on Tracy’s website, or read about some of the other beautiful gardens that were featured on the RHS website.