Cultivating Hope at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Maybe it’s an age thing but this year at RHS Chelsea Flower Show I saw things differently. And I’m not just talking about the more muted than normal atmosphere brought about by the Brexit uncertainty, seeing fewer sponsored gardens. This year became an emblem of hope.

I speak from the position of a seasoned Chelsea-goer with 10-years’ experience PR-ing medal-winning, narrative-rich gardens for Champagne Laurent-Perrier, Cloudy Bay, and this year Wellington College’s Breaking Ground Garden.

Recently I’ve been cultivating my own urban garden, into a wonderfully wild place in which to escape and ponder. As I joined the garden gurus in their awe for trending umbel-shaped planting and the bursting return of multi-coloured lupins, this year the plants were definitely not playing second fiddle to my attention on the ‘brand’ and the ‘message’. In my newfound perspective as Novice Gardener the merits of gardening were crystal clear.

There is a wealth of evidence (The King’s Fund report, May 2016) to support the notion that gardening can be therapeutic. Gardens and gardening remove us from distracting forces such as our iPhones and allow us to find fresh eyes on the world.

As influential garden designer, Gertrude Jekyll once said: “A garden is a teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.”

So whilst the stage was set for the week long BBC filming and the media hubbub of Chelsea Press Day attracted a healthy flow of celebs as usual, the next day the dreadful news of the Manchester attacks dampened – kind of trivialised – the most coveted medal-win at the Show. Broadcast air-time moved into constant comment and analysis and RHS Chelsea became less of a media platform but more of a place in which to see and cultivate hope.

In its narrative about the power of education to improve lives and to make the world a better place, the garden I was standing on – the Breaking Ground Garden – carried profound optimism. In the making of the garden, our designers, Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam had asked 8 to 18 year old students for their take on how they would sort out the world’s problems given the chance. A huge wall surrounding the garden hosted these humbling messages from resolving terrorism to sorting climate change.

And in a moment of darkness, away from the media buzz, this garden, in all its simplicity, inspired a kind of new life, a new growth of ideas, and hope in humanity for us all.

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