Plants, flowers, trees, epiphytes, and a bit of meat broth

The Grange Wellington served “Continental buffet” for breakfast. So with the “full English” at Gables Guesthouse, we went from a fat-and-protein based breakfast to a completely carbohydrate based.

Then the tube and a commuter train to Hampton Court for the expected next high point: the Royal Horticultural Society Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. There were plenty of other middle-aged middle-class couples on the train, most of them pulling little collapsible carts. When we arrived we found out that the first few days of the show were members-only, but out of the goodness of the receptionist's heart, we could have a couple of unbooked tickets. Quite expensive ones, at that.

Iron DragonFancy one for your garden?
Anyway, we were soon in, and about as soon as we got in, a drizzle started. It continued throughout the day, occasionally letting up in favour of serious showers. As we walked through the show, we found that it actually wasn't so much about exhibiting flowers as selling garden accessories. And what accessories! 1:1 scale gorillas in bronze, stylised giraffes, three-metre high sculptured dragons, garden fairies, gargoyles, module-assemblable mediæval ruins, fountains, gazebos, realistic giraffes, more giraffes, huge steel balls, nymphs in bronze, marble, and cast stone.

Concept GardenA concept garden. A friend commented: “Yeah, that's what I'd like my burial place to look like.”
There were also “concept gardens”, top-of-the-line garden designers coming up with the least likely design for you to have in your garden.

2009 is the 500th anniversary of the coronation of Henry VIII, which you aren't allowed to forget anywhere, so here there was a Tudor-themed scarecrow competition for school classes.

The Lifestyle tent had less immediately garden-related stuff for sale, paintings, indoor sculpture, clothes, sausages, organic apple cider, etc.

Carnivorous plantsCarnivorous plants are way cool, but did you know many species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and plant theft? Only buy specimens that have been nursery-grown.
Finally we found a tent with actual plants. They were of course also for sale. Ducking for yet another shower we ended up in a tent where some unknown to us B list celebrity introduced a fashion show. It seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with gardening, so left to rest our legs over lunch in a food tent.

We found a tent exhibiting plants significant for British gardening history, not least ones that may have been, somewhere, on some occasion, possibly glimpsed by Henry VIII. This was actually quite good an exhibition and, incidentally, not at all as crowded as the other tents.

After having seen yet a few more stands hawking giraffe sculptures, we decided to leave and go see Hampton Court Palace instead. As luck would have it, a little lady was handing out leaflets as we were leaving and we accepted one. This turned out to be discount tickets to Hampton Court Palace, two for the price of one. What luck, ho!

MistletoeThis mistletoe is about as tall as I am, and there were several in the same tree.
On the way to the Palace entrance we found a tree with huge clumps of mistletoe, just above us. This brought us to a standstill for some time.

At Hampton Court Palace there were ongoing activities throughout the day: a reenactment of the wedding of Kateryn Parr and Henry VIII (him again!), including selecting a wedding gown, a stag party for Henry, the wedding dinner and so on. We decided to forego that and instead take in the palace at our own pace. We started by exploring the famous maze. It wasn't quite as large as I had imagined and at the time was invaded by an audio sculpture, which would make various sounds as people moved through the maze. It was actually just mostly annoying. Anyway, with my 1337 maze navig8r zkillz we found the centre of the maze no problemo and continued to walk around the rest of the garden. Or, to be precise, round the part closest to the palace—the garden is huge. Or gardens, there are several distinct parts of it.

The Great VineThe Great Vine is kept in this greenhouse. The field outside is where the roots are kept.
We never found the way into the Orangery but we found the world's largest (and oldest?) vine, planted in 1769 and still producing several hundred kilogrammes of grapes a year. The longest branches are something like 75 m, folded up several times inside the greenhouse.

Finally we entered the palace itself. There were several new exhibitions on Henry VIII (that man again!), they, like many other displays we'd seen recently, were much on how he really couldn't have acted otherwise than he did. Complete bollocks, one suspects. Anyway, there was much to look at and finally we found ourselves in the Tudor kitchens. They were furnished with mock food and one even contained a cauldron that distinctly smelled of meat broth. Veggie Honeybuns was much revolted.

Here too, the museum closed long before we were done, but we ambled back to the train, accompanied by lots of flower show visitors, their collapsible carts now unfolded and filled with seedlings, gardening tools and what not. Very few bronze giraffes, though.

We decide to have dinner in the Indian Diner just behind the hotel. Slightly on the posh side but excellent food and the staff saw fit to not only supply us with after-dinner mints, but also a long-stemmed rose to Honeybuns. Very sweet.

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