Growing the future at Chelsea Flower Show 2020

by Apr 4, 2020RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Image credit I-Echo Visualisation
I was so excited to receive the news back in 2019 that Facebook wanted to work with me again to produce a new show garden design for the 2020 Chelsea Flower Show, and even more excited when the assessment panel approved the design and confirmed our place at the show.

The title of the garden is ‘Growing the Future’ and the theme is something I’m really passionate about. In brief: It’s all about timber as a versatile and sustainable construction material and trees as tools against climate change and key to our wellbeing if we can integrate forests into our working communities. Key to this is managing the timber to produce a valuable and sustainable resource and so leave a legacy for future generations. The garden celebrates all the professional and community groups sharing knowledge and passion for the subject on Facebook.

The truth is that we have woefully little tree cover in the UK – only around 13% compared to the rest of Europe which averages around 35%. In addition to this, around 25% of our woodlands are ‘small woods’, that is community woodlands, privately owned or otherwise. These are the woods which people have greatest access to, which provide areas for exercise, interaction with nature and which are so critical for our wellbeing. Yet half of these small woods are unmanaged, making access and enjoyment difficult. Not only can woodlands be successfully integrated into our working communities to improve our wellbeing, they can also support a local economy based on timber products, nurturing skills and employment from a sustainable source. The National Forest, the charity partner for the garden and now in its 25th year, is a great example.

Of course it almost goes without saying that trees and woodlands are vital if we are to survive as a species and mitigate the threats posed by our rapidly changing climate. Tree help to filter pollutants, both in the air and the soil, they lock in carbon from the atmosphere, help to prevent soil erosion and decrease the threat of local flooding at the same time as cooling our ever expanding cities.

The garden is designed to address all these points – made entirely from various species of timber to showcase the material’s versatility and beauty for construction, it features a spectacular freeform 6m x 4m wooden canopy at the heart of the garden. Its delicately latticed shape reflecting the unique and integral role fungi play in the health and wellbeing of a forest.
The naturalistic garden also features a stylised meadow, as well as a woodland bank in the form of a planted timber crib wall and rising beyond, a woodland edge of trees and shrubs amongst a relaxed and contemporary planting palette. Many species are chosen either because they are under threat from climate change or they represent possible selections which might become features of our future adapted landscapes in the UK.
For me the journey of understanding some of this huge subject has been eye-opening to say the least. The one thing that it has all underlined for me is how interconnected we all really are – from the fungi and tree roots in a forest ecosystem, to our global economies and modern methods of communication – we are all responsible for our environment and we can all make a difference through the choices we make.
It was therefore with huge sadness that I heard about the decision to cancel the show this year due to the Covid-19 emergency – unavoidable and undoubtably the only responsible decision that the organisers could have made – but so disappointing for all those who have already put so much time, passion and hard work into what would have been another wonderful exhibition of plants and gardens and which makes the Chelsea Flower Show so great.
I really hope to be able to bring the ‘Growing the Future’ garden to life one day – it’s not a subject that will date or be past its best and it has such an amazing team of skilled people behind it.

You can find out more about the show on RHS’s website