Every attraction these days has an exit through its shop. Not that anyone arriving at Hyde Hall would want to leave in a hurry. Many acres of landscaped and developing gardens with a good-sized hill at its heart, this is a soft-sell centre of excellence, not the hustling marketplace of Chelsea.
Leading up to the first weekend in August, Hyde Hall has its market however, but it’s a low-key affair. The growers and craftspeople set out their stalls on the slopes above the lake but below the dry garden and rose beds. The choice is to avoid them altogether until after visiting the Queen Mother’s garden, containing many of her late Majesty’s favourite plants, or following a somewhat higher path through semi-tropical planting with a view over the market towards the lake. Alternatively, as we chose, there is a route past one rank of stalls to reach the dry garden and above it the restaurant.
The restaurant was essential because we’d taken a new route, which was an error, and arrived late. Instead of the usual scores of vehicles in the car park there must have been a thousand, parked on the grass and approaching the road entrance, perhaps half a mile from the garden. We’d already had to queue on the road – too much for one car just ahead of us – and that began a further half-mile away.
Crowds? Yes, but in that space once we’d made our way to the garden it was no worse than the average market town on a Saturday, and with much more room to turn wherever we wanted. There was also a plentiful supply of Portaloos, of a good standard as we discovered on trying one. Not only hygienic, they had hand lotion as well as liquid soap of high quality.
Time enough on our stroll upwards to find a splendid clematis for a planned new garden space, and to note stalls for a return later. We noticed people had come from Yorkshire and Cornwall, almost the extremes of England, and one grower of alliums had come, presumably on the overnight ferry, from Holland. There were also the anticipated local people, notably the Beth Chatto Garden. While mentioning stalls, it is also necessary to point out they had all done their version of Chelsea. In front of each was a display area, more like the Grand Marquee than show gardens, where an array of plants was arranged to showcase the material that could be purchased. These were judged, too, with an overall award and one for best newcomer – the one from Cornwall, if I remember.
Hyde Hall restaurant is excellent value, sourced locally and from the gardens. There is a range from sandwiches to full meals, with tables inside and out. It was a blazing day so we chose inside. As well as eating, we could take the time to read the show programme and look at events we might visit later in the year. One that particularly appealed was “Bring a friend Friday,” when RHS members could offer free entry to someone else. The cost of the flower show, by the way, was no more than the usual cost of entry to the gardens.
After lunch we took time to view the pond and the rose gardens, with borders in dazzling colour. There was also a sculpture exhibition by local artists, some of the work very tempting. We particularly enjoyed a toddler riding a half-submerged (in grass of course not water) hippopotamus. No matter that he thought it a dog, and barked at it.
Back to the show, with time to admire the originality of the displays and buy the other planned plants. As always, there’s a plant creche to save having to carry bags all day, and porterage for large items. This seems a good juncture to mention the free transport for the less agile. It follows an attractive route past planting on its way up or down. Also, for children there’s a science is fun area.
Unless the weather is gentle, neither hot nor cold and of course not wet, there’s little chance of seeing everything at Hyde Hall on a single visit. When there’s an event like the flower show, there’s even less time. Membership is well worth while, therefore.
Of course Hyde Hall has its own garden centre for sales that, despite the other attractions, was still doing good business. Almost the last places to visit before this were the marquees for flower arranging and art work. Both had much to admire. The flower arranging competition took the Queen’s ninetieth birthday as theme, and had some very imaginative interpretations. The art on natural subjects could almost have been a celebration of Sir David Attenborough reaching the same age.
So the mistakes of the journey behind us, we found our car, no longer near the entrance (relatively speaking) since many more people had driven in. We followed our more direct route home, but decided next time to mix them. We’ll leave the A12 at the A130 (Southend) exit but return by the A 414 through Danbury from Bicknacre.