Galicia in a Show Garden

When I was at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Hampton Court Flower Show I overheard Joe Swift, gardener and TV presenter, speaking to camera and encouraging us to “…put a little horticulture into our holidays.”

I always try to visit gardens wherever I go as I feel it not only helps understand the culture I am in but gives me ideas that can be re-visioned and relocated into my own garden.

At this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show there is a section devoted to World Gardens. I went along on Press Day to preview one of these gardens in particular and to chat with the designer Rose McMonigall.

Following the success of the 2016 show garden ‘The Route of the Camellia’ the Spanish Tourist Office and Turismo de Galicia decided to exhibit again in 2017. They commissioned the same designer, Rose McMonigall who achieved silver-gilt in 2016.

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The Pazo’s Secret Garden at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show 2017

The garden is inspired by the many old manor houses along the ‘Route of the Camellia’. Rose distilled down the elements of these gardens she encountered while travelling in Galicia. These were then incorporated into the overall design which resulted in the finished garden.

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Hydrangeas in pots are a common theme

This a garden that appears mysterious and romantic. Enclosed on two sides by the granite stone walls of the manor house or Pazo. Rose’s design leads the visitor on an imaginary journey towards an intimate setting, a secret garden, sheltered by the walls of the Pazo. In this secluded place, there is a pond filled with water lilies and a stone table. Close to the pond is a camellia tree. Old beams are supported by stone pillars and there is a small water feature close to the door.

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A secluded place sheltered by the stone walls of the Pazo
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Leaf litter everywhere creates an air of a garden slightly unkempt

This is no pristine show garden with clean sharp edges softened a little by judicious planting. This is a garden that looks unkempt and uncared for but has the appearance that it was once loved. Above all else, there is an air of mystery and romance that you would expect in a secret garden of childhood. This reflects what Rose discovered in the secret Pazo gardens of Galicia.

This is how Rose McMonigall describes ‘The Pazo’s Secret Garden’

The garden preserves the formality and ornamentation of the Pazo garden, but nature too has claimed it, adding a certain untamed, overgrown wildness” 

She tells me that the after the camellias, which are at their best in February, hydrangeas in stone pots are the signature plant of the Galician Pazos. These are a major feature of the garden supported by ivy, ferns and ‘weeds’ carefully planted in a very naturalistic way.

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‘Weeds’ and an hydrangea that has seen better days recreate what Rose McMonigall saw in Galicia
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Lilies in the pond, but notice the dead camellia flowers floating on the surface
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Dead flower heads floating on the pond

Any plant that is less than perfect, bare earth and dead leaves will lose the designer marks in the judging. The ‘Pazo’s Secret Garden’ has imperfect plants, bare earth in abundance and leaf litter everywhere. Dead camellia flowers float in the pond and a half dead hydrangea shares a planting trough with ferns and weeds.

“I suppose that writing my brief was digging my own grave”

All the detail that made this garden what it was, unlike all the others, had to be included in her brief to the RHS. Rose had researched the gardens in such detail and needed to include bare earth, dead flower heads and leaf litter in her brief or be penalised for it in the judging. The attention to detail surprised me as Rose pointed out that the leaf litter beneath the ivy was, in fact, ivy leaves. Elsewhere the leaf litter corresponded with the planting.

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Leaf litter had to be real and from the plant in the garden. Such attention to detail made the garden feel like it was genuine

The fact that the gardens are used was suggested by the compacted bare earth path which though nature was trying to reclaim it had not succeeded. Grapes were ripening on the vines which were growing up the stone pillars and across the beams. These grapes produce a unique Galician Albariño wine. The low-lying humidity of the region rots the ripening grapes but grown higher up they ripen above the humid atmosphere close to the ground. A bottle of wine on the stone table is once again symbolic of a garden in use.

The pond, a common feature in the Pazo gardens

A year or two back I visited the Impressionist Garden of the Normandy Tourist Office. I was inspired and as a result visited Claude Monet’s Garden in Giverny and followed the Impressionists trail along the Seine. Rose McMonigall has distilled elements of the Galicia region of Spain and, having never visited, I want to follow the ‘Route of the Camellia’ at some point in the future.

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Rose McMonigall, designer of the Paxo’s Secret Garden.

My mental image of gardens in Spain was the Moorish-style garden such as the one at the Alhambra Palace. That has been completely turned on its head after seeing Rose McMonigall’s garden. There is obviously more to Spanish gardens than I thought.

I wanted to change people’s perceptions of Spanish gardens.

OK, I haven’t travelled to Galicia… yet, but my perception of the gardens of Spain has significantly changed as a result of visiting ‘The Pazo’s Secret Garden’. I discovered that there are secret places that are only just being discovered. I hope it won’t be long before I can head there and see them for myself.

For the second year running Rose was awarded a silver-gilt medal; a remarkable achievement considering the realism which had to be incorporated.

For more information on Galicia visit or Spain visit For more information on the RHS Flower Shows click on any of the banners (Note: These are affliate links).

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