The Nurture Landscapes Garden
With national gardening treasure Monty Don claiming Sarah Price’s The Nurture Landscapes Garden “…will remain with me long after all else from the show has faded…” I was eager to experience it for myself. Coupled with this, fellow Sussex-based studio Local Works who are known for their waste re-use and have collaborated with Price in the past, fabricated the walls, planters, and boundaries for the garden.
Inspired by the paintings of artist and plantsman Cedric Morris, Price’s was one of the first show gardens I set eyes on. Its ecologically appropriate colour palette is both striking and reassuringly readable, with earthy tones painted on the boundary wall using low-carbon plant-based paints, courtesy of Local Works.
Benton Irises are nestled amongst saplings and trees that create shade along a pathway made from demolition waste. Vessels, housing water and succulents cast out of low-carbon concrete and cured in the earth, are dotted around the garden and feel as though they belong to it just as much as the planting does.
The Nurture Landscapes Garden successfully draws on themes of re-use, waste, and of how the man-made should and can co-exist with our natural environment. It demonstrates horticultural skill and material craftsmanship without compromising on using low-carbon, toxic-free accompaniments to the sensitively curated planting.
The Royal Entomological Society Garden
Mimicking the eye of an insect, The Royal Entomological Society Garden’s colourful polycarbonate domed roof acts as a beacon to show-goers, capturing both the beauty of biodiverse gardens and the invaluable role insects play in supporting them.
Inspired by the rich biodiversity of brownfield sites, Tom Massey designed this show piece not only as a research space for biodiversity but as an integral aspect of the garden itself. Living up to the ‘Chelsea Weed Show’ reputation, Massey’s garden features dandelions, clover, and common knapweed.
But it’s not only the planting that contributes to enriching the landscape for insects. Gabion walls made from recycled materials and dead wood sculptures act as habitats, while rammed earth walkways create minimal impact and increase flood resilience. A stream flows through the garden to a still pond, a nod to the importance water plays in our gardens.
The pressing nature of the biodiversity crisis is one which we have been speaking about more frequently in the last few years, and so it was great to see this highlighted at The Royal Entomology Society Garden. It is incredibly important that we recognise the role that the built environment has to play – whether that’s within our cities or our own back yard – to act as a part of nature, not apart from it.
The Centrepoint Garden
As I was pressed shoulder to shoulder with fellow show-goers also trying to get a glimpse of The Centrepoint Garden I heard the person in front of me exclaim “…is that meant to be there?”. As I shuffled my way to the perimeter of the garden, I can only guess they were referring to the massive fallen tree situated close to the barrier.
Perhaps the most contrasting to the manicured gardens of past shows was Cleve West’s garden. Designed to celebrate Centrepoint’s work with young people facing homelessness, the show garden is both an evocative exploration of the notion of home and a reimagining of what a biodiverse garden should look like.
The uprooted tree is a reference to the displacement felt by those facing life without shelter, it also contrastingly acts as a habitat to surrounding insects and fauna. This concept of a garden laid to ruins extends to the far edges, where rubbish piles constructed from demolition waste act as additional habitat creation.
It poses the question: in our current climate, is it more important for gardens to be aesthetically pleasing to the human eye or for them to function as biodiverse habitats for declining wildlife?
Although Centrepoint’s display might not have been the most reassuringly designed show garden, it offered up something more important instead. That, at first glance, it might appear to be a ‘ruined’ garden full of weeds, but you only need to look a little further to see that it is simply nature healing its wounds.
Change was in the air at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, a gentle tug of war between wanting to preserve a centuries-old tradition of producing beautiful gardens and making a statement on current environmental and social conditions.
In my opinion many of the gardens I experienced did both, and perhaps there should be more emphasis placed on the importance of revaluating beauty than on the prevalence of ‘weeds’. Because amongst the crowds and overpriced prosecco, there is a real feeling of hope within the show gardens – that we are listening and adapting to nurture our relationship with nature.