Gardeners’ World Live: Water, Water, Everywhere…

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Helping with A Resilient Garden in a Changing Climate was an inspiring (and soggy) experience

Water has been a key focus at this year’s Gardeners’ World Live, both in terms of garden design and the inclement weather. Professor David Stevens, designer and winner of eleven RHS Gold medals, believes it has never been wetter at the show, yet last year’s weather was scorching and all through the summer designers struggled to keep show gardens looking at their best. This year the rain and cold winds were the biggest challenge in the build phase – risking damaging delicate plants, creating banks of mud and making working conditions wet and chilly. I didn’t mind the rain but putting wet gardening gloves on again after tea break is a particularly unpleasant sensation! The teams all did a magnificent job and by Wednesday afternoon as the rain started to clear, the gardens were immaculate, ready for the show to open the following morning.

Once planting was finished, I headed off to explore the other gardens and was immediately drawn to the Canal & River Trust Garden. It was easy to become absorbed in the reflections of the tranquil water in the full-size canal and I rather wished I could live in the traditional legger’s hut with its canal-side cottage garden. The Canal & River Trust Garden is not the first design this year to place water at its heart – the RHS Chelsea Welcome to Yorkshire Garden incorporated an entire lock gate into the design, donated by the Canal & River Trust. The combination of canal and wildflower planting in the perennial meadow, represented both Yorkshire’s industrial past and its breathtakingly beautiful natural environment. 

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Naturalistic planting around the canal in Mark Gregory’s Welcome To Yorkshire Garden at Chelsea

Water and Wellbeing

The Canal & River Trust Garden is subtitled ‘Making Life Better by Water’ (also the subtitle of the Trust), emphasising the positive effect that the UK’s 2000 miles of historic waterways have on the wellbeing of everyone who comes in contact with the water. Richard Parry, chief executive of the Trust, explained that volunteers David and Hilary Godbehere inspired the garden and also worked with Chris Myers, the designer, to develop this serene and undisturbed space. 

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Canal & River Trust Garden – Making Life Better By Water. Credit: Steve Granger

Hilary and David, lock keepers on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, are clearly passionate about communicating their love of the canals and the benefits of being close to water. With a huge range of activities including exercising, boating and exploring the rich wildlife habitats and historic features beside many of our waterways, spending time by water can have a positive impact on everyone’s wellbeing. 

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Airy planting of geranium, nicotiana and salvia in the canal-side garden. Credit: Steve Granger

Water in a Changing Climate

The theme of water isn’t restricted to the show gardens; the beautiful borders also consider the impact of water on our daily lives and our gardens. As we’ve seen in microcosm over the past two show seasons, high temperatures and extended periods of heavy rain are increasing as the climate changes. As these changes become more extreme, gardens will be subject to longer periods of drought and possible flooding, making it vital for gardeners to store water, create effective drainage and make plant choices to cope with changing conditions.

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Astrantia ‘Abbey Road’ thriving in the damp soil in A Resilient Garden in a Changing Climate. Credit: Steve Granger

Tessa Parikian’s Resilient Garden in a Changing Climate demonstrates simple ways to mitigate the effects of extreme weather conditions in the garden. Her border includes both damp and dry areas, and Tessa suggests using 150cm depth of gravel as a mulch around plants. In damp areas  this will help to stabilise the soil, preventing runoff and soil erosion, while in dry borders it will keep any moisture in the soil rather than allowing it to evaporate. She also advises incorporating water putts into the garden, like the stylish water butt planter by Garantia at the centre of her border. 

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Drought tolerant artemisia and Mexican fleabane in the Embracing Change Garden. Credit: Steve Granger

The Embracing Change Garden, designed by Lucy Miller, also addresses the issue of changing climatic conditions. Her border channels rain water runoff into planting areas and she has chosen versatile plants that tolerate both wet and dry conditions to ensure that they have the best chance of surviving whatever the weather. 

Waterwise Planting: Dry Conditions

Both beautiful borders include plants that add colour to the garden during late spring and summer. They also tolerate dry conditions so they minimise the need to water. Plant choices such as Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus), rose campion (Lychnis coronaria), Stipa tenuissima, Dianthus carthusianorum, fennel (Feoniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’), Salvia verticillata, Briza maxima and prostrate rosemary (Rosmarinus prostatus) prefer drier soils and will cope with periods of drought, especially when established.

 

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Credit: Steve Granger

Waterwise Planting: Damp Conditions

In the damp areas the designers have chosen plants that tolerate wet ground, such as snowy woodrush (Luzula nivea), Atrantia major ‘Burgundy Manor’ and ‘Abbey Rose’, Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) and Primula bulleyana and Primula beesiana. These vibrant candelabra primulas create colour and interest in the damp area of the Resilient Garden and are very happy in damp, wet or pond-edge positions in the garden. They multiply each year and create a stunning floral display in late May and June, as shown at Gardeners’ World Live. 

 

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Credit: Steve Granger

With a combination of rain-saving measures, good drainage and plants that tolerate dry and/or damp conditions, our gardens will be more able to tolerate changing weather conditions, allowing us to continue creating beautiful gardens and borders into the future.

Gardeners’ World Live continues until tomorrow evening and is a friendly and inspiring show to visit. If you’d like to read more about this year’s shows, you can follow the blog below:

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Chris Beardshaw recently said that he felt Chelsea show gardens should only be accepted if they were going to be relocated afterwards. It seems that other designers may be following his lead as this year’s show sees more of the gardens and planting being relocated than ever before. The recipients of the gardens are diverse; ranging from a refugee camp, a higher education college, the grounds of the Epilepsy Society, a community garden in Westminister and the grounds of the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted.

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The Myeloma UK Garden will be relocated to the Hospice of St Francis

An average of 3010 plants are used in each show garden and many of these are borrowed then returned after the show; in fact some of the plants are Chelsea veterans, reappearing in different gardens year after year. The Weston Garden embraces the philosophy of reusing materials – many of the plants have been borrowed for the duration of the show from Crocus and the rest will be reused afterwards. Plants from The Morgan Stanley Garden for the NSPCC, designed by Chris Beardshaw, will be donated to the NSPCC who are organising plant sales in Barnet, North London and Maidstone, Kent. Across the whole show plants will be collected and redistributed to local schools and community gardens across East London and beyond as part of a reuse scheme set up by the landscape, architecture and art collective Wayward.

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The Urban Flow Garden plants will be donated by Thames Water to ‘Roots and Shoots’ – an environmentally-focused educational charity based in Kennington providing vocational training for young people from the inner city

The RHS Feel Good Garden is another design which is intended for a new life after the show. It will be relocated to the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust which provides care and treatment to vulnerable adults in a build up area of London where green space is limited. Matt Keightley, the designer and twice-winner of the RHS/BBC People’s Choice Award, visited the NHS site in April. He said ‘I am delighted that the RHS Feel Good Garden will live on, providing a calm and beautiful space for adults in need of respite.’

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The RHS Feel Good Garden, destined for an NHS Trust site after the show

Matt is also creating a health and wellbeing garden at RHS Wisley, due to open in 2020, and the RHS Feel Good Garden is inspired by his Wisley design. With an increasing evidence base demonstrating the positive effect that gardens and gardening can have on mental health, the joint venture between the RHS and NHS to gift the garden to a mental health trust site signals the growing awareness of these benefits across the healthcare profession.

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The RHS Feel Good Garden creates a relaxing atmosphere which draws the visitor into the space

Sitting in the garden you are surrounded by soft planting in lemon, green and blue with bursts of deep reds and purples. It’s a relaxing space which also entices you to reach out and engage with your environment.

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Relaxing blue, lemon and green planting including nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’, Iris ‘Silver Edge’ and Salvia nemorosa ‘Amethyst’

The mellow sandy and chocolate coloured paving is laid transversely to give a sense of width to the space, encouraging the visitor to slow down and enjoy the journey through the garden. I like the way the planting falls across the pathway and Matt has chosen many aromatic plants like thyme, rosemary, mint and sage to create scent as you move around the garden.

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Mellow paving to match the planting

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Beneath the seats and stonework nestle aromatic herbs and tiny campanula flowers

Grasses such as Deschampsia cespitosa, Briza media,  Melica nutans and Stipa tenuissima, alongside naturalistic perennials like Pimpinella major ‘Rosea’, Astrantia ‘Moulin Rouge’, Achillea ‘Moonshine’, Cirsium rivulare and Dianthus cruentus create an airy filter through which the more textural plants like the ferns can be seen. The light planting also softens the cantilevered stone terraces which appear to float above the plants, grounding the visitor in the sanctuary of the garden.

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The layers of planting build up texture in the garden

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The shade loving epimedium, ferns and acorus create a sense of intimacy in these stone cavities

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Soft curves and airy planting stops the stonework becoming too heavy

The mushroom seats create more floating structures within the planting. Herbs predominate in this area so that visitors have to step on the mint and rosemary to access the stools and the scent emanating from beneath your feet commits the mind entirely to the present moment.

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These organic shaped seats give the visitor licence to immerse themselves in the garden

I sat in the garden for a while, contemplating the way it made me feel. I had a sense of being grounded in the moment; I was relaxed yet at the same time completely engaged with my environment. If the garden can foster the same feelings of happiness in the patients, staff and families at the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust that I felt yesterday, it will be an extremely worthwhile addition to the site and will hopefully encourage more dialogue and practical projects based on the important relationship between gardens, gardening and mental health.

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Striking contrast of the soft Digitalis lutea and Trollius ‘Alabaster’ with the dark, silky Iris ‘Black Swan’

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The RHS Feel Good Garden – inspiring on so many levels

‘When you are sad a garden comforts. When you are humiliated or defeated a garden consoles. When you are consumed by anxiety it will soother you and when the world is a dark  and bleak place it shines a light to guide you on.’ Monty Don

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