Tipped to win Gold at The Chelsea Flower Show 2024

Tipped to win Gold at The Chelsea Flower Show 2024

Tipped to win Gold this week, the Muscular Dystrophy UK Forest Bathing Garden designed by Ula Maria has left Rebecca Wallersteiner, our correspondent, utterly amazed at The Chelsea Flower Show 2024.

One garden to look forward to at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower show is Ula Maria’s stunning garden for Muscular Dystrophy UK, sponsored by Project Giving Back Supporting Muscular Dystrophy UK, which is tipped to win a coveted Gold Medal in the Show Garden category. The design is based on the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), in which soaking in the forest atmosphere and reconnecting with nature through our senses has a beneficial effect on our mental and physical health, helping us to reconnect with the natural world.

Having been awarded RHS Young Designer of the Year 2017, the garden’s designer, Ula Maria is no stranger to Chelsea success: ‘The Muscular Dystrophy UK Forest Bathing Garden is a sanctuary for those affected by a muscle wasting condition. It seeks to showcase how an immersive, yet accessible garden can offer a place of refuge to patients, their families and clinicians at the time of diagnosis and beyond,’ says Ula Maria. The garden seeks to awaken imagination and innate connection to nature by bridging the gap between us and the natural world. The layout of the garden and its paths are flat, making it easier for people using wheelchairs to navigate.

Garden shoot in Northampton, designed by Ula Maria, July 2021

The main feature of the garden is a knapped flint wall, which is reminiscent of muscle cells. This serves as a tool for explaining what muscular dystrophy is and the wasting effect it has on one’s muscles. At the core of the garden is a central hub which provides a sheltered space for people to meet and share their experiences outside the clinical environment, mirroring the emotional and practical support that

Muscular Dystrophy UK gives patients and hospital staff at a time of need.

The planting is inspired by a birch grove, with more than forty birch trees planted in a grove, with woodland edge style plants beneath them, varying from deep shade corners to more open, sunnier woodland glades, creating an otherworldly forest-like atmosphere. The majority of the plants have been selected for their foliage, creating a green tapestry rich in texture with an occasional burst of colour.

This woody garden reflects the limitations of a person with muscular dystrophy to maintain it: the mind and senses are still active but the body is in physical decline. The owner can still enjoy the garden’s sensory elements, its relaxed beauty and forest atmosphere, while unchecked it becomes a haven for wildlife.

Living with a muscle wasting and weakening condition can be exhausting, stressful and lonely, with many medical appointments, physiotherapy, treatments and respiratory support. Over 110,000 adults and children live with a muscle wasting condition in the UK today.

The garden aims to raise awareness of these conditions and provide a sheltered space for visitors to reconnect with nature and give comfort and clarity.

This thoughtful and sensitive garden will be relocated to the Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine in Oxford, where ground-breaking research is taking place, after Chelsea closes. The garden will be a sanctuary for patients during treatment and new trials, as well as clinicians, scientists and researchers and will also be open to the general public.

Ula Maria is a garden and landscape designer, based in London, specialising in creating meditative and immersive outdoor spaces. Her strong connection with nature originates from her childhood spent in her family’s countryside home in rural Lithuania – with streams, wildflower meadows, pine forests and glades. She seeks to recapture the feeling of comfort and otherworldliness they evoke in her gardens.

Latest posts by Rebecca Wallersteiner (see all)
Rebecca Wallersteiner: Rebecca Wallersteiner is a health and arts journalist, who writes for The Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, NetDoctor, Telegraph, The Times, Traveller and The Oldie magazines. She also works for the NHS and is the Hippocratic Post's roving reporter.

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