A few days ago Ms B asked the question on Twitter:
Do you really think that designing a garden at Chelsea is of any long term value, other than to your career?
A very good question and I believe this year's Places of Change garden at Chelsea provides the answer. At nearly 600 square metres, it's the largest show garden ever built at Chelsea and involves 450 people; 49 agencies from around the country who work with the homeless, drug abusers or ex-offenders; 8 prisons; and growing 10,000 plants.
This garden builds on the success of last year's Eden Project garden, The Key and has the same core Eden Project team and Paul Stone as the designer. However, much of the design elements have been decided by the groups involved in the project and Paul's job is to ensure these come together into a cohesive whole and at the standard of horticultural and show garden excellence expected by the RHS.
On the Places of Change website Paul says:
Eden has a worldwide philosophy of wanting to make people aware of the importance of the relationship between people and plants and the whole thing just ties in together. The overall theme is that horticulture is at the centre of life and from it come all the things we need. We can push that message home by involving the most unlikely candidates: homeless people and prisoners - amateurs who may be in the process of training or work experience – giving them an opportunity. We like to think of our teams as buried treasure, the ones that society tends to give up on, but here they are and I’ve got every reason, especially after last year, to expect just as much from this garden.
The garden has a number of different areas depicting how plants have an impact on things such as health, the environment and industry. It's also telling the story of the participant's own relationships with plants. The volunteers are also receiving training as part of their involvement, so will have transferable skills and qualifications which they can use long after the garden has been dismantled at Chelsea.
I kept on being drawn back to this garden and right at the end of the day I had quite a surprise. This is Jane Knight and I was on the same course as her at Newcastle university 30 years ago. She's the project's landscape architect and was also involved in The Key last year. After quickly catching up on what we've been up to over the last 3 decades, I was telling her about how impressed I'd been listening to the people involved with The Key talking to Chelsea visitors last year. I said how gardening had provided much needed common ground between completely different people. Jane smiled broadly and said, That's it, that's completely what we're about.