I was delighted to be invited to RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2019 on a personal mission to find out what the worlds best garden designers are doing to help get children back outside and inspire the next generation to love gardening and the world around them.
This was my first time at Chelsea as I have been busy raising three girls for the last 10 years, and this is not an event you can take your children too. However, I successfully snuck away whilst they were all busy at school and enjoyed a much appreciated day of escapism, wandering amongst the stunning plants and gardens and the visiting celebrities that also attend on Press Day.
Gardens provide the backdrop for many happy childhood memories, be it digging up worms in the school garden, searching for woodlice under a log, picking apples in a grandparents garden, or kicking a ball around a lawn. Yet sadly fewer and fewer children are getting the opportunity to spend time enough outdoors, and social media and computer games are proving to be an increasing distraction. As well as providing happy memories, the benefits for children’s physical and mental well-being of spending time outdoors are enormous and they learn about the natural world and how to care for it.
Whilst not a prestigious RHS Gold Medal, I have selected my favourite show gardens and exhibits, which I believe truly recognise the importance of plants and gardens for children and families.
I have to start with the RHS Back to Nature Garden co-designed by HRH Duchess of Cambridge and Landscape Architects Andree Davies and Adam White. On the day I visited Chelsea The Duchess herself was in the garden playing with a group of local school children. It is clear that Kate has taken a great deal of pride and satisfaction from co-designing and creating this wonderful children’s natural play space. The garden felt secluded and private, with beautiful natural planting reminiscent of a forest glade. A stream ran through the garden where the children could paddle and splash around. There were plenty of rocks for scrambling upon and a fallen tree trunk with its trunk hollowed out so children could scurry through to a clearing on the other side where there were sticks fire building dens and a campfire for tasting marshmallows. The centre piece of this wonderful garden was a tree house clad with natural logs and sticks, with a rope swing below. It really was something straight from a childhood dream, a place where children can explore and play in a beautiful setting. The same design team will be working on a garden for RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival (2-7 July 2019) and RHS Wisley in the Autumn. HRH Duchess of Cambridge has also worked with the RHS on a series of activity cards to help inspire families to have fun, play together, and engage with nature. These include how to make a welly planter, a bug hotel, a fairy garden or pebble painting. More ideas can be found at schoolgardening.rhs.org.uk.
The next show garden to catch my eye was the stunning Greenfingers Charity Garden. The Greenfingers charity was established in 1999 to enhance the work of children’s hospices by providing accessible and inspiring outdoor spaces. The garden had a wonderfully calm atmosphere with gentle green planting, yet filled with so much shape and texture there was lots for children to engage with. On the lower level was a secluded bench where families could sit, and a wonderful apple shaped swinging chair. The garden was fully accessible, including the mezzanine level accessed by a lift that led to a netted area where children could sit and relax amongst cushions as if in a hammock. Following the show, elements of this garden will be installed in Richards House Children’s Hospice in East London where the Greenfingers Charity are transforming an acre of woodland. You can find out more about this charity at www.greenfingerscharity.org.uk.
The Family Monsters Garden was designed by Alistair Bayford with all the family in mind, and on the day I visited three generations of a family were seen enjoying the garden together. The idea behind this garden is to provide an intimate, secluded area, where families can spend time together talking about everyday pressures and setting free some of those ‘Family Monsters’ so many people live with. The garden was created with Family Action, a charity that has been supporting families across the UK for 150 years. The Family Monsters garden is surrounded by beautiful tall trees and shrubs to provide privacy, but still let through light. At its centre is an oak bench overlooking a relaxing, reflective, pool. Whilst the beautiful planting and landscaping may be difficult to achieve at home, the concept of a quiet secluded area for the family to sit and talk felt like one that could be interpreted and introduced into many family gardens. This Chelsea garden will also have a lasting legacy when it is moved to a Family Action Children’s Centre in Stafford following the show. You can find out more about the wider Family Monsters project at www.familymonstersproject.com.
In celebration of 100 years of Montessori teaching in the UK, The Montessori Centenary Children’s Garden, provided a bright and playful contrast to the previous calmer gardens. A bright pink pagoda running along an ‘edible wall’ leads into a colourful teaching area. Nestled amongst the sweet-box inspired planting in the garden below, was a greenhouse where visiting school children were able to get stuck into some planting using the latest in hydroponic technology. This garden definitely had the most kerb appeal for the young at heart.
In the Great Pavilion, I was delighted to find out more about the upcoming National Children’s Gardening Week (25 May to 2nd June 2019) which is designed to introduce children to the fun and fascination of gardens, plants and the word around us. See my post over on Fulled by Latte on Gardening with Children) Events are being held during the week at local garden centres, and a series of activity cards have been produced including how to build a sensory path, a bamboo tipi or bug hotel and how to grow a pizza wheel. Further details can be found at www.childrensgardeningweek.co.uk.
In support of families beyond the UK, the work of the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) to help girls in Zimbabwe to become agriculturalists, was highlighted in a bright and bold garden, Giving Girls in Africa Space to Grow, that cleverly demonstrated the challenges and techniques used in Zimbabwean farming. Amongst the artisan gardens, the Donkeys Matter Garden was created to mark 50 years of The Donkey Sanctuary, which is helping to support families and communities who rely on donkeys to carry water.
Finally I stumbled upon every child’s’ dream playhouse created by Wallgarden, and decorated by Sanderson, complete with its own mini Aga.
It was heart-warming to discover that in amongst all the excitement of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, with its and incredible feats of landscaping and inspirational design, was a real desire to improve the lives of children and families through a shared love of gardening and the outdoors.