Words and images by Max Thrower
Amongst traditional show gardens and against the backdrop of the palace where Henry VIII once feasted, a set of garden designers are using their talents to address a set of very modern issues.
The Global Impact Garden category at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival showcases how plants and design can address social and environmental problems in a creative and show-stopping way.
We spoke to the designers of this year's gardens to talk more about starting conversations, their inspiration and the legacy of their gardens.
Believe in Tomorrow
Designed by Seonaid Royall of 'Sprout Up', the 'Believe in Tomorrow' garden's primary aim is to help reconnect children with nature. A garden designer by trade, Seonaid also runs gardening clubs for local schoolchildren to help them understand the risks of nature and to equip them with the necessary skills to respect and protect the natural world.
'If you don't show them these things then they play with them in a more dangerous way.' Seonaid told Candide, 'I want this garden to ask what we're holding back from, why are we so uncomfortable to put children in nature?'
'We need our children to connect with nature because if they don’t, then they won’t understand it and if they don’t understand it they won’t fight for it. And we really really need them to fight for it.'
Seonaid Royall designed the garden to help schoolchildren reconnect with nature.
The garden, part-oasis, part-playground and part-classroom, is designed with the four elements in mind. A diverse array of planting represents fire, while a grassy exploring area showcases the power of the wind. There's even a pond complete with stepping stones and a woodland area which is inaccessible to adults. Overall the garden examines all aspects of the natural world and provides spaces for interactions with nature of all sizes.
'Children don't have a problem with nature if you put them right there in it.' Seonaid continues; 'But to find the space and the ability for parents and teachers to educate them is a different problem entirely.'
A seating area in front of the fiery planting. Image: RHS / Tim Sandall
The garden was crowdfunded and designed in collaboration with five local primary schools and was awarded a Silver-Gilt medal from the judges. After the festival, Seonaid will work with each school to create an outdoor space, taking materials and inspiration from the show garden.
The Forest Will See You Now
The 'Forest Will See You Now' aims to highlight the health benefits of trees, as festival-goers walk through the shade of silver birch, Scots pine and field maple. The tranquil beauty of a fallen tree among the understory and a mossy boulder add to the sense of escape and relaxation among the hustle and bustle of the festival.
The calming nature of the forest is a benefit that designer and horticultural therapist Michelle Brandon is aiming to raise awareness of. 'The benefits of woodlands are huge' Michelle explains: 'For medicinal purposes, for the environment and people's mental health.'
Michelle Brandon practices horticultural therapy alongside design work.
'I was thinking about how I could raise awareness of forests and woodlands in the UK and the benefits they have. So I wrapped a forest in a packet of pills.'
Michelle's not wrong. Scientists have shown that time spent in nature can reduce stress and blood pressure and could help improve memory and mood. In addition to this, Michelle also believes that phytoncides, chemical compounds emitted by plants, could directly strengthen our immune systems by raising the number of natural killer cells in our bodies.'
The garden is wrapped in a packet of pills. Image: RHS/Tim Sandall
'Forests should be protected and considered as a national resource for everyone.' Michelle continues, 'Only 13% of the land in the UK is woodland, and this should be shocking to everyone! They're just so beneficial.'
On the Brink
Designed by Julian Carter and Lucy Vail, the 'On The Brink' garden aims to educate children about the ecological disaster caused by plastic pollution, in the hope to create a plastic-free future.
The garden is centred around a six-metre-tall metal salmon, stuffed with plastic waste collected by schoolchildren from local primary schools in the two months leading up to the festival. Patches of growth and dried flowers surround the recognisable fish, representing the remaining beauty in the oceans and the chance for plastic redemption.
Children from the local Pyrcroft grange who helped collect the plastic waste joined the team to write a message - a pledge to the ocean - which will then be placed in one of the bottles to be used as part of the garden barrier
'We wanted to shame the supermarkets who quite clearly aren't doing enough', designer and florist Lucy Vail explained; 'So we have some branded plastic bags in there too.'
'We also created a seashore beneath the fish, cluttered with plastic bottles and discarded fishing nets that have been collected from our shores.'
A closeup of the plastic waste interspersed with flowers in the 'On The Brink' garden. Image: RHS/Tim Sandall
The designers hope to maintain awareness of plastic pollution in the hope that the backlash against single-use plastic will act as a gateway to looking at more pressing environmental concerns, including fishing reform.