Differing vastly from last year, Chelsea Flower Show hosted only 8 show gardens compared to 2016 where 13 show gardens were on display. In an interview, RHS’s General director Sue Biggs speculated that potential sponsors were hesitant due to British political and economic concerns.
Perhaps with this in mind, many of the gardens showcased the practical side of gardens, particularly the health benefits, with designers emphasising the value of investing in plants and garden design.
Studies have proved that gardens and green spaces have the power to improve physical and mental health. The foremost example of this is ‘Gardening Therapy’ at Maggie’s Cancer Centres which is highlighted in Darren Hawke’s well executed ‘Linklater’s Garden for Maggie’s’. Awarded a well-deserved gold, this private and comforting garden embodied the philosophy of Maggie Keswick Jencks who worked hard for cancer patients and their families to have access to restorative green spaces. Although not a cure for cancer, restorative green spaces have a definite impact on patient’s mental well-being.
Similarly, the systematically designed ‘The Breast Cancer Now Garden: Through the Microscope’ by Ruth Willmott brings the fight against cancer into focus through planting and design. A tribute to the work of Breast Cancer Research, Willmott has mirrored all the small delicate flowers at the front with larger but similar planting further away, creating the illusion that the end of the garden is in better focus. The controlled feel of the structure and planting, accompanied by the playful symbolism of rough and smooth rock, highlights hope provided by significant research and by the beauty of a garden.
From the steel, technical structure presented in ‘Through the Microscope’ to Dr Catherine MacDonald’s copper based outdoor apothecary brought to life in ‘The Seedlip Garden’. Clues of historical distillation of plants to modern day research are dispersed throughout the garden, highlighting the potential of future investment in plants to discover their amazing properties. The marriage of historic and modern is accompanied by the marriage of metal and flowers, all working together for the desired conclusion.
Separate to the gardens exhibiting care and cure, Ian Price’s emotive ‘Mind Trap’ symbolises his personal battle with depression. The dialogue for mental health is opening but still needs a bigger platform. This garden, I feel, accomplishes all Price set out to achieve and is one of my firm favourites at this year’s show. Splitting the space into two; the center of the garden symbolising the mind imprisoned in the state of depression but with rare glimpses of the vibrant green space, reminds people currently suffering there is another state of mind and there is hope. ‘Mind Trap’ has created a platform for discussion of this poignant topic. For Price designing this garden was a form of personal therapy allowing him to produce something beautiful out of suffering. How many others, I wonder, have used gardens as a form of therapy
The combined efforts of Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam yielded the thought provoking creation ‘Breaking Ground’. Originally I read this garden as a physical representation of mental health comparable to ‘Mind tarp’, however, I later discovered in interviews that it represented the process of education and learning, the wire frames representing neuron and synapse connections in the brain. Although not opening a dialogue about health, it demonstrated the close relationship our body processes and mentality can have with nature and planting. What I take away from this garden is the firm message that gardens not only have the power to heal but also have the power to teach.
To assume that when economies are failing that gardens and gardening are not worth the investment, would be a grave mistake to make. Perhaps unintentional, borne out of the desire to showcase their passions, this year’s garden designers flaunted the true value and practicalities of garden design to health. Will the message get back to politics and keep the industry flourishing? Only time will tell.
- Written by Sophie Hauser Landscape Assistant - MSc
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