Hampton Court Flower Show with Chewton Glen

At Chewton Glen, I have been involved in many high profile events and projects; these moments are what I love most about working for such a prestigious hotel. However, when I was asked by Alitex to be a part of their stand at Hampton Court Flower Show this summer, it really got me excited and has been one of the most challenging and interesting projects I have ever been involved in. As soon as I returned to the hotel after meeting with Alitex and discussing our stand at Hampton Court the team were just as excited as I, and eager to get started.

We are very lucky at Chewton Glen to have an incredibly skilled team of gardeners who make every day a pleasure with their hard work and dedication. We all share a common goal, which is to make the gardens at Chewton Glen as close to perfection as we can, whilst maintaining our unique sense of humour, which quite often makes me cry with laughter.

In November we started by planning how the planting would look on the stand. From day one, we wanted to produce an edible garden that replicates the Kitchen Garden at Chewton Glen highlighting the work we do at the cookery school and The Kitchen restaurant.

On a daily basis we work closely with Chefs Adam and Steve, to supply fresh salads, mixed baby leaves, edible flowers and vegetable crop; it is all about being able to show our guests how we grow and use the produce. We encourage visitors to come over to our nursery garden and see how we sow seeds and raise and harvest crops, so they can see where their food is coming from; it doesn't get much fresher than on the Estate! With this in mind, we decided to create a miniature version of our kitchen garden using hot colours such as reds, yellows and oranges to complement the beautiful Alitex greenhouse perfectly.

By Christmas, we had our planting schedules and crops planned, and the one thing we decided to do from the beginning was successional sowing. In February, we started sowing the first crops and this was when the successional sowing proved to be a very good idea as we had three very cold snaps with snow, ice and freezing fog to deal with. Luckily, due to growing extra crops and a flexible approach to our planting, we have been able to discard any failures, concentrating on the crops that have grown well to give us the stand we have today! Flexibility has been an important feature throughout this experience; we originally wanted to take coloured Mustards with us, every year we grow literally thousands of these however, for some reason this year they have continually bolted, so we have substituted them with an array of coloured Kales and Chards. I also wanted to get some height into the stand, so we have created pots of Nasturtiums and Runner Beans grown on Willow and Dog wood sticks harvested from our estate.

I have been keen to make the stand fun so we asked sculptor Rupert Till to create some wire Chickens for us. Rupert designed The Chicken on a fork for our logo at the cookery school, so it has been delightful that he has not only re-created this, but also made some chicks to run through the crops. If you look closely at the borders you will see them running through the foliage.

Texture has also been important, I wanted to bring a variety of different leafy textures to the stand. I love Fennel leaves as they are so tactile and interesting, so we have grown fennel bulbs as well as some baby sweet corn, which adds height. For something a little different, we have also included Perilla with its stunning red edible leaves and another is one of my favourite crops, the Patty Pan Squash. We wanted to bring some slightly unusual crops with big showy leaves and we thought this was the perfect crop to do this, along with providing height, structure and showing off it's vibrant colourful fruits.

For the beautiful Alitex greenhouse we have grown micro tomatoes, which are a dwarf plant with miniature Tomatoes on, as well as baby Chilli plants, which funnily enough are actually one of our biggest crops at Chewton Glen!

I was also very keen to show one of my favourite projects at Chewton Glen, which is the bees. We keep 70 beehives on the Estate, so we have made two of these with beautiful copper roofs to complement the greenhouse. Installing so many beehives on the Estate at Chewton Glen has been one of the most important and rewarding tasks I have ever done, and it has been lovely that Alitex share my vision.

The fact that Chewton Glen and Alitex are so similarly aligned as companies, sharing the same values, ethos and standards has made the experience a pleasure and I am very excited about our week at Hampton Court.

Find us at stand HC 325.

Tags: chewton glen, kitchen garden, hampton court, darren venables