Carol Klein: Being called ‘iconic’ makes me giggle

RHS Hampton Court’s Iconic Horticultural Hero for 2023 reflects on her career, life and garden

Carol Klein on her garden
Carol Klein is flattered to be named as this year’s RHS Hampton Court iconic horticultural hero, if not entirely comfortable. “It makes me giggle – I’m a bit embarrassed. I’m not sure about the ‘iconic’ part but I won’t disagree with the ‘horticultural’ bit!”
One thing she does feel at home with though, is the opportunity to create a show garden at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival – a garden she says will be ‘inspirational rather than aspirational’.

A space full of gardening ideas

“I want to encourage everyone to grow their own plants. It’s packed with ideas people can put into practice whether they’ve got a garden, a balcony or part of a community garden. It’s vital that it appeals to, and helps everybody.”

Although she started her career as a grower, her friendly, approachable style has made her one of the nation’s favourite garden broadcasters, and she’ll be on hand at the showground to give advice in person.

Carol Klein's Iconic Horticultural Hero Garden
More on the Iconic Horticultural Hero Garden

“There’s a greenhouse just outside the garden, where I’ll be talking to people about how to propagate plants. I want to be on site as much as I can during the show to talk to visitors. Gardening can be a very solitary activity. One of the nice things about flower shows is the chance to meet fellow gardeners and discuss our shared love of plants.”

 “Whatever you plan to do in a garden, you can’t break nature’s rules”

Carol Klein’s RHS Grow Your Own series of books and television programmes have been hugely popular, but this garden isn’t just a working plot, it also reflects Carol’s key gardening principles.

“The garden follows nature’s rules, taking inspiration from what works in the wild. It’s all about going with the flow – looking at what you’ve got in terms of site and soil and asking yourself what’s going to enjoy living there? I love the idea of looking to nature; whatever you plan to do in a garden, you can’t break nature’s rules.”

Carol Klein's garden sketch

Diverse habitats

The garden is divided into six main habitats: wetland, woodland, hedgerow, meadow, exposed mountain and seaside, plus a small vegetable patch.

“It is a long oval, with a curving path that leads from one end to the other. On entering you come to a sunken boggy wetland, then a slightly raised woodland area with beech trees and a native hedgerow boundary.

“From the hedge to the exit there’s a ‘meadow’, using a mix of herbaceous perennials and grasses that I would typically use in my own garden at Glebe Cottage. There’s three deep borders and a path leading to an oval seating area, surrounded by taller plants for a sense of intimacy, and a table with an inset herb planter.”

Pathway leading to seating area
In the middle of the space there’s a small vegetable garden, with an example of ‘three sisters’ planting, using sweetcorn ‘Swift’, climbing bean ‘Blauhilde’ and a ‘Uchiki Kuri’ squash. There’s also a triangular bed, with three pots filled with sweet pea ‘Cupani’.

Gardening with nature  

Carol’s garden is located near the Festival of Roses, where she’ll be able to meet and engage with visitors and share her infectious passion for horiticulture.

Opening hours sign
“My ideas about gardening with nature just seem to reflect the way most people like to garden. And perhaps they want to listen to me because I’m good at talking! I can put an idea across and I hope that I enthuse people: for me, there’s no point otherwise. I’m hoping that this show garden will do just that.”

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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.