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Chelsea Flower Show 2023 in review

Rebecca Wallersteiner takes a look at this year’s health themed gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show 2023 such as the Samaritans’ Listening Garden, the Centre for Mental Health’s The Balance Garden and The Myeloma UK Garden

This spring the British weather has been unnerving for horticulturalists hoping to present their perfect specimens at the Chelsea Flower Show this week – February was very dry; March was very wet and April chilly and windy. Press Day at Chelsea was no different – it began with a few spots of rain and a cool wind and ended with tiny blue butterflies dancing in the warm sunshine. Whatever the weather that first glimpse of Chelsea is always very exciting. This year there are 12 show gardens, seven sanctuary gardens and eight balcony and container gardens. Several stunning gardens have health themes such as such as the Samaritans’ Listening Garden, the Centre for Mental Health’s The Balance Garden and The Myeloma UK Garden, amongst others. As with last year, many of the show gardens are funded by the recent initiative Project Giving Back.

For many people, a garden is a private space to retreat the escape the stresses and challenges of everyday life. If this appeals to you don’t miss visiting the Samaritans’ Listening Garden by Darren Hawkes, which celebrates seventy years of the charity and is inspired by people who have reached out to the charity when they were struggling to cope. The garden’s designer, Darren Hawkes has lost close friends to suicide and was inspired to create the garden by his work as a Samaritan volunteer. His garden will be moved to different Samaritan branches after the Chelsea Flower Show closes.

In recent years, the importance of looking after our mental health has been under the spotlight like never before. Fortunately, so too has the proven positive impact on our mental health of spending time outdoors in nature. One of the most tranquil show gardens is the Centre for Mental Health’s, The Balance Garden by Wild City Studio designed by Jon Davies and Steve Williams. This imaginative garden is made up of waste materials such as concrete and steel and rather unusually for Chelsea, has am actual steel shipping container, with a mushroom-den as its centre-piece, surrounded by wildflowers, grasses, a forested area and a wetland. Jon Davies explains, “the central message of The Balance Garden is that the mental health benefits of nature are for everyone – not just for people in well-heeled, leafy suburbs, but in urban landscapes too.” Steve Williams, the other half of the design partnership behind the garden, stresses that affordability is key when creating spaces that people can access to help boost their connection to nature, and improve their mental health. He hopes the garden will create a template that can be handed to councils and other organisations nationwide to help them reimagine urban green spaces. The show garden itself – including the fungi-filled shipping container – will be relocated to Markfield Park in Tottenham, London, after the show. And for the designers, that poses an even greater challenge than Chelsea: making sure that the garden thrives in the long term. As Williams puts it, “We need to put in place an aftercare package with volunteer support groups to make sure the garden delivers benefits to the people there.”

Another breathtakingly beautiful, health-themed garden at this May’s Chelsea Flower Show is The Myeloma UK Garden – A Life Worth Living by Chris Beardshaw, who is a frequent exhibitor at the show. This garden celebrates the 25th anniversary of Myeloma UK, a charity whose goal is to find a cure for this type of blood cancer. The calming, stress relieving and anxiety reducing effect of planting is highlighted in this garden. Last week’s Mental Health Awareness Week highlighted anxiety which is a normal emotion in us all, but sometimes it can get out of control and become a mental health problem. Lots of things can lead to feelings of anxiety, including lack of sleep, problems at work or with relationships, starting a new job (or losing one) or coping with bereavements, or struggling with paying bills. Anxiety can affect us physically and mentally and can cause symptoms such as an increase of heart rate, feeling panicky, breathlessness or headaches. Beardshaw is keen to encourage activities such as walking in a park to encourage sufferers with anxiety to relax and reduce these symptoms.

During her 70 year reign, the late Queen Elizabeth II hardly missed an appearance at the Royal Horticultural Chelsea Flower Show. To mark her passing and in celebration of the recent coronation of King Charles III, the RHS has created A Garden of Royal Reflection and Celebration – a tranquil space featuring some of Her Majesty’s favorite plants grown by some of her favourite nurseries. As you meander through the beautiful garden take a moment to pause and reflect at the end of one era and the dawn of the next.

And if you feel too tired after your hospital job, or too lazy to garden, you can console yourself with the knowledge that this year re-wilding is one of the main themes of Chelsea. Letting your lawn grow freely, or cutting down on mowing it, will help attract bees, insects and other wildlife and spending time there enjoying the sunshine and nature will calm you down.


Rebecca Wallersteiner
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