Almost within sight of the M25, where the average speed is now calculated at 25 mph, there can be few better places than Hyde Hall to spend the time you would have wasted on the motorway.
The way there is by A12, no pleasure either, but once on a local road through East Hanningfield it is a different world. RHS directs visitors via Rettenden but the quiet road through East Hanningfield, perhaps not to the residents’ delight, is quicker. There is a long drive to the entrance, which becomes a long walk on event days because a large number of cars has to be parked. Wheelchair routes are easy though, as they, or the courtesy buggies, are throughout the site. Events also have large numbers of extra food and drinks outlets as well as WCs.
We thought to avoid an early coffee stop – and its inevitable successor – and headed for the stalls beside the hard-surfaced route to the top garden. There would be time to see about a third of the nursery stalls, give thought to purchases, and still arrive at the thatched barn restaurant for an early lunch before the main pressure.
Some favourites were displaying: Beth Chatto, Harkness Roses, Barton from Wisbech and – new to us but now firmly on the favoured list – Heucheraholics. Apart from a bag of miniature Alpines, nothing was bought before lunch. Nonetheless, we were ready to work back along the opposite flank, except that was to be reserved for the afternoon. There were also the strong wind and occasional squally shower to contend with, so lunch became the favoured plan.
Even before noon there was a queue at the Thatched Barn. It moved quickly inside and we had the choice of light lunch – preferred – or something substantial at a very reasonable price. No main course was above £10 or £11. Watching the staff carry some of these to nearby tables we were impressed by both quantity and quality. Our choices, tomato and basil soup with a large chunk of walnut bread and mozzarella and pesto sandwiches with a good coffee each cost just over £13: good value and all very tasty.
A visit to the top garden followed lunch. The gardens are not just a background to the flower show but a powerful experience in themselves. Hyde Hall never seems to rest on its laurels either. There is now a World Food garden with a central greenhouse so people can see many of the food plants they would otherwise know as ingredients in a packet. We were amazed to find quinoa looking just like a common garden weed of the northern hemisphere: I’m sure it isn’t. Equally, the range of chilli plants is quite surprising.
Part of the dry garden now abuts a new development, due to open in 2019, where conservation and education will feature. The buildings are dramatic. There is still the long view towards the Thames valley though.
Walking off lunch we returned to the stalls where the morning’s targets were located: some squirrel tail grasses, a pink evening primrose from Beth Chatto, the heucheras and a fine new clematis, said to flower repeatedly. All that remained was to negotiate the downhill walk and find the car – no problem as the bay was marked A12, just like the road we’d used. The journey home seemed quicker than the way out, but that must be an illusion based on the search for a destination never being successful until reached.