I SUSPECT that as many worshippers cite going to church as a time to reflect as see it as a time to engage with others — and, of course, for most it is both. A similar spectrum is on show at the Chelsea Flower Show this week. There are gardens designed as retreats from the pressures of life, while others are very much communal spaces.
Either way, many of this year’s show gardens focus on the link between gardening and well-being. One of the Royal Horticultural Society’s objectives is to “transform communities through gardening”, and their initiative Greening Grey Britain is all about turning “hard grey areas into living, planted places that enrich lives”.
So far, more than 1300 people have promised to plant up an area, helping the RHS towards its target of 6000 pledges by the end of next year. The designer Ann-Marie Powell and her team have created a garden at Chelsea to highlight the campaign and to inspire others. The garden has been drawing smiles from the crowds with its buzzy mix of colours, scaffolding pergola, and vegetables growing on a roof.
There are bug hotels made from crates, old hanging baskets, and laundry baskets housing straw, flowerpots, fir cones — anything to create a network of small spaces for invertebrate life. Ann-Marie recommends using recycled materials. It invariably demands a range of skills, and draws a variety of people in to help. Food crops, with their inherent gluts, create opportunities for sharing.
At the other end of the showground, the champion herb-grower and self-confessed introvert Jekka McVicar has created an altogether quieter space. Her garden, “A Modern Apothecary”, will be rebuilt at St John’s Hospice after the show, and will provide herbs for the hospice restaurant.
The circular path, edged with lavender and thyme, leads people gently to perimeter benches. The siting and size of the benches has been given careful thought. They are not opposite one another; so eye contact is optional. The seats provide just enough room for two people, but, if you want to be alone, you can be without a big empty space next to you.
Chris Beardshaw’s garden, sponsored by Morgan Stanley, is for Great Ormond Street Hospital, and has been designed for a space about as grey as you can get: an old Victorian boiler-house roof stranded in the middle of sprawling extensions. The new intensive-care unit, an arterial corridor, and the main offices all have views into it.
Chris noted that, at the moment, parents of the young patients at the hospital have only a café in which to take time out. He has designed a contemplative breathing space specifically with them in mind: it has a subdued colour-palette, and verdant, textural planting bathed in dappled light.
Chris explained that in the stressful hospital environment there is a tendency for the shoulders to drop, and the eyes to go down. When someone sits in the pavilion at the end of this hospital garden, they look into the reflective canal, and, of course, see the sky.