Race, gender, mental health and veganism aren’t themes you’d normally associate with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which returns on May 24-28, having last been held on its traditional pre-pandemic date in May 2019 . But change is afoot, symbolized by the Queen’s unlikely appearance at the world’s most prestigious gardening event.
The Royal Horticultural Society’s focus is now on environmental protection and community involvement under new Director-General Clare Matterson, and the number of women, younger designers and people of color represented at the show is increasing. Located on the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in west London, fresh faces at Chelsea include Darryl Moore, Tayshan Hayden-Smith, Jamie Butterworth, Lilly Gomm and Lottie Delamain – emerging designers with new perspectives on the century. old institution.
Darryl Moore and Adolfo Harrison
Project Giving Back – Charity for the homeless of St. Mungo’s
New Zealander Darryl Moore is designing for homeless charity St Mungo’s as part of Project Giving Back, which is funding 12 gardens that are revitalizing this year’s show. Two anonymous donors have pledged £12m to fund gardens for three years.
Darryl Moore is making his debut in Chelsea with Adolfo Harrison as part of landscaping company Cityscapes – although he was part of a class of landscaping graduates who worked on a garden for Woolworths in Chelsea in 2004.
Moore, who now designs on his own terms at Chelsea, often works with the RHS, reusing legacy show garden materials to bring green space to urban communities.
The design for his St. Mungo’s garden, created as part of the charity’s horticultural training and therapy program Putting Down Roots, has been around for a number of years, but arranging his own funding proved difficult. Working with Project Giving Back meant “everything fell into place this time,” he says. “A lot of people are in the same situation [without funding for a garden design]. I’m happy that Project Giving Back is there to sponsor. It’s pretty incredible.”
The garden is conceived as an urban pocket park: “A public space – which makes it somewhat different from a domestic space – it brings people, plants, health and well-being together,” he says. “We need a lot more green spaces in the communities. Chelsea is a good way to get that idea across.”
After the show is over, the Chelsea Garden will be moved to a location at London Bridge under the terms of the grant: “If that weren’t the case I definitely wouldn’t be interested.”
Moore reuses paving and scaffolding board materials from a BBC The One Show Garden designed by Arit Anderson and a Chelsea 2021 COP26 garden. “I’m giving it a new lease of life. It’s a connected cycle.”
Plants are a mix of native and non-native species, with grasses and perennials interspersed. Fagopyrum (buckwheat) is a characteristic plant. The planting is based on natural plant communities and their ecological mixture, braided like a hedge.
Moore wants his garden to reflect natural processes, and that includes being plant-based like vegan, meaning no animal products like manure or fertilizers are used. Peat is also excluded. “That makes ecological and economic sense. It seems child’s play to me. Plants play a central role in our lives.”
A Swiss sanctuary garden
Lilly Gomm designed for nursery Hillier, winner of 74 consecutive Chelsea gold medals, in the plant tent in 2019. Hillier, one of the last major commercial nurseries to exhibit in Chelsea, is missing its first May show in a century. But Gomm is back, sponsored by Switzerland Tourism in the Sanctuary Gardens category – her first outdoor garden at the fair.
Her garden, A Swiss Sanctuary, will mix Alpine and Mediterranean plants in a garden postponed from 2020 and originally designed for the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival. “You have to keep your adrenaline pumping on a project like this. This is happiness for the fourth time.” The aim is to show what Switzerland has to offer in terms of gardening: “Before I started, I only thought ‘pasture and skiing’. I didn’t know that there is also a Mediterranean climate here.”
Typical plants are small-flowered alpine flowers like gentians: “I don’t think you see them too often in display gardens in Chelsea.”
For many years, fewer women designers than men won gold at Chelsea, and landscape architect Bunny Guinness recently said it was due to the male-dominated juries.
Gomm says she hasn’t experienced any prejudice, but adds, “The balance between men and women has always shifted towards men. The jury team is now more open with different backgrounds and styles of people. But there can always be unconscious biases.”
Place2Be secures the morning garden
Sponsored by investment manager Sarasin & Partners and designed with input from staff and students at a west London primary school, Jamie Butterworth’s Place2Be Securing Tomorrow garden will be a place where children can feel calm and safe.
Butterworth says a show garden in Chelsea is a “lifetime dream” – he fell in love with the show aged nine while watching it on TV at his home in Wakefield.
The 28-year-old says Chelsea are more approachable now. Gone are the days of £1million budgets and gardens now need a “reason to be there, not just a big bank with too much money looking to burn a little money and do a little corporate hospitality”. Sarasin could have simply donated to a charity but decided that a garden would raise awareness and ultimately more money for Place2Be, a children’s mental health charity.
His father, sister and brother all work in frontline healthcare and his mother is an elementary school teacher. “It was a good opportunity to give something back. The garden is a great way to raise awareness.” He also supplies plants to several Chelsea gardens through his company Form Plants. Hedges rather than fences or walls are the trend: “Since 2016-18 there’s been such a shift from modern, crisp, sharp gardens to natural gardens.”
A textile garden for the fashion revolution
Lottie Delamain is making her show debut ‘a bit by accident’ after unexpectedly receiving funding from Project Giving Back. It is in the new All About Plants category of four gardens within the pavilion, where the designs are at least 80 percent plants. In support of the non-profit campaign group Fashion Revolution, Delamain has selected plants used in textiles and fabric dyes – woad, sweat, madder, flax and nettle. Because the pavilion uses a “borrowed” treescape as a backdrop, it is more of a conceptual design than a storyline to draw direct inspiration from.
When applying for funding, the Glasgow COP26 climate conference was taking place in November 2021 and fashion and climate change were high on the agenda. Delamain, a former textile designer who was inspired by hiking in Vietnam, “celebrates plants in new ways and shows people that what you wear is often made out of plants. I hope many will be familiar enough for people to think ‘I didn’t know that about this plant’ and look at plants in a new way.” The newcomer’s personal ambition? “Survive!”
Tayshan Hayden Smith & Danny Clarke
Garden of the Mangrove Nine
Hayden-Smith, founder of social enterprise Grow2Know, says the garden – and recognition for black gardeners – “has definitely been a long time coming.” Originally slated for last year’s canceled Chelsea show, Project Giving Back once again “came to our rescue and made it possible for it to happen”.
Clarke says, “It was divine timing. The idea developed when Project Giving Back came out. It wasn’t like we had a ready-made project for anyone to fund.” Adds Hayden-Smith, “RHS worked with us and allocated a space when we could get the funding, so it’s kind of a hen- egg situation.”
Key plants are tetrapanax (rice paper plant), cardoon, beetroot and lettuces surrounded by a strict corrugated iron border, with a central sculpture of nine bare roots, each honoring a Mangrove Nine accused.
The garden will be moved to North Kensington after the show. “For me the real Chelsea Flower Show is in my community in North Kensington and the one [near] South Kensington is just a stopover for this garden,” says Hayden-Smith. “Therefore, the plants were chosen to thrive in the community over the long term. That’s the legacy side.”
Chelsea are gradually changing, but newcomers see his enduring appeal. “I think there’s room for Chelsea, an expensive gardening event that speaks to a demographic that has a high disposable income – but that shouldn’t be the pinnacle of gardening,” says Hayden-Smith. “If so, it needs to completely rethink how it all comes together because it’s not sending the right message to broader communities.”
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