Whilst working at London Wildlife Trust I designed and built a garden called ‘The Life Cycle Garden’ for the Small Sustainable Gardens category for the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show. The main concept of the garden was to celebrate the essential cycles of life and death that are necessary within a healthy and diverse garden ecology contained within a well designed and functional garden space.
The form of the design itself was circular and all of the features related to the concept in some way. These included a spiral sleeper path that literally decayed and crumbled along its journey, a decaying log pile wall, dead and living hedges with windows to put a twist in their normally organic function, a bench made out of a living flowering lawn to play on its usually inert nature, a spiralling and distorting recycled copper pipe trellis which was also a light feature over the tree trunk ‘living herb’ table and seats, a new shed with living roof made out of recycled scaffolding planks with a water butt made out of old drums and fed into a small, almost hidden, pond. A series of planting groups for wet and dry shade, bog loving and sun loving plants enveloped the space.
The build up to the show and actual build on site with volunteers was very intense indeed. RHS garden shows are theatrical events and competing gardens must be immaculate but look well established. There is only two weeks to build the gardens and they should ideally be finished well in advance of that to allow plants to bed in. With this in mind as much of the garden as possible is prepared and built in advance off site. We built a flat pack shed, I grew dandelions from seed, planted daisies and buttercups into our new turf and hunted out dead and crumbling wood for the wall and path, which I filled with scruffy grass all in a bid to create authentically decayed and ageing areas of the garden.
Together with volunteers we planted over 1o00 plants into the small 7X5m garden space to create the planting scheme. To illustrate that plants have aesthetic and wildlife value throughout their life cycle and not just when in bloom the planting scheme included poppy and allium seeds heads. The delicate allium seed heads were supported with pea sticks inside their stalks to make them stand up as they had flowered a little earlier than expected the poppies that we grew specially flowered a little later than hoped so were still green, although none the less beautiful. They made a great visual impact to the scheme and created quite a stir with the public and media.
It was really important to me to create a garden that was grounded in a good concept and design but which functioned well for biodiversity and sustainability to demonstrate that gardens can function for people and wildlife and be beautiful to look at and functional to use. I was very pleased with the built result, which was exactly as I had pictured it should be in my head but I was still astounded to be awarded a much coveted RHS Gold Medal by the judging panel.
The Life Cycle Garden was a popular garden with the public and media alike and the volunteers who manned the garden over the course of the show were able to report back very positive comments by its visitors. Hopefully people were inspired to try to encourage more sustainable and biodiverse features into their own gardens.
It was one of the best and most intense experiences of my career but also one of the most stressful. It’s high pressure stuff to get the timings perfect to be ready for the judging panel. However, I am beginning to think that maybe I should build upon what I have learnt and have another crack at a show garden again some day soon….I must be crazy.