A few days ago I received an invitation to attend a selection day to volunteer at RHS Chelsea and Hampton court flower shows this year. Whilst this is very exciting news and I am holding my fingers firmly crossed for the big day on 11th of February, my memories return to a very special day last summer when my partner and I were helping with a show garden at RHS Hampton flower show. I have been itching to write a post about our volunteering day for a long time, but I was anxious that my writing skills won’t be able to express the warm feelings and special emotions I have about this garden and the team who built it. But I can hold back no more…
Zoflora and Caudwell Children’s Wild Garden was created by the talented designers Adam White and Andrée Davies, of Davies White Landscape Architects, and triumphantly won a Gold Medal, Best in Show and BBC People’s Choice awards at RHS Hampton 2017. The main concept of this project is to reconnect kids with nature and provide a safe and engaging, woodland like, outdoor space for children with various disabilities, in particular Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
There are more than 8000 plants(!) in this wild garden but plant palette is very subtle and doesn’t overwhelm your senses. Astrantia, periwinkle, thalictrum, potentilla and hostas are stars of the show garden creating a tranquil white, light blue and pale yellow color mix. To be honest, I have never seen Thalictrum, commonly known as Chinese meadow-rue, and its beautifully elegant ball-shaped purple flowers before. Andrée introduced it to me and made sure to save one lovely plant for me to take home. Thank you, Andrée!
The garden incorporates a lot of edible plants and fruit trees as what is a wild garden without tasty blueberries, currants, plums and alpine strawberries?! I was pleased to see wild strawberries as these are my favorite berries to grow. Starting flowering in spring and producing little strawberries full of flavor well into November, they grow happily under the pine trees in my London garden, where no other plant has ever survived.
If edible berries were not enough, there is also a secret mushroom cave hidden underground for visitors to discover. How cool is this! During the day, Adam spent lots of time creating the right conditions in the cave and I suspect he was very proud of it and not without reason. I too was captivated by the amazing variety of mushrooms growing in the cave and could peer into it for hours.
Kids on the autistic spectrum might sometimes feel overwhelmed by people or loud sounds and need a quiet place to relax and calm down. There are lots of hidden spots to find in the garden: tree-top nests, an impressive hollow oak, willow seats and rocks carved inside, creating little sheltered areas to escape to and forget about the world outside.
I really liked massive birch trees stretching their arm-branches to the rocky water spring. The birch tree is a symbol of Russian nature and has a special place in the heart of every Russian person. I feel at home when I see their shiny white bark.
If you watched BBC live broadcast from RHS Hampton, you will most definitely remember Monty Don, jumping on the trampoline, like he always does while visiting gardens :), well, this is the first trampoline which is also wheelchair friendly. In the photo, Adam is greeting visitors, talking about the garden and jumping on the trampoline. Very engaging and lots of fun too! This is how everyone should welcome visitors into their gardens!
I found out about this amazing volunteering opportunity by pure chance through a garden community on Twitter. It was Saturday and the last day of the show gardens’ build. We arrived early and were introduced to Andrée. I didn’t know that she was, together with Adam, the designer of this beautiful garden. I just thought she was very kind and thoughtful and was genuinely happy to see us complete novices, arriving at 9 o’clock in the morning, keen to get stuck in. 🙂
We were given two buckets and the task of tidying up the wild flower meadow at the entrance to the garden which was laid the day before. I met this little guy (see photo) while removing and deadheading wild flowers. Then we were cutting huge sheets of the garden membrane to protect stone paths from soil and dirt; and revamping the lawn with our fingers to make it look green and perky, and after this, sorting empty pots and unused plants at the back.
By the lunch time, I was getting very impatient. I enjoyed all tidying tasks and helping out but I was itching to plant some real plants in a real show garden! And then, bang, an opportunity appeared! A stretch of empty soil was running along the edge of the garden and it definitely wouldn’t impress the judges. So armed with some spare plants and a couple of hand shovels we got on the task. I planted periwinkle, astrantia, variegated ivy and thalictrum, mixing and matching as best I could. I was feeling my confidence rising along the way! I knew of a garden design rule that tall plants go at the back of the herbaceous borders but one of the Chinese meadow-rue plants was looking particularly good when placed in front of a giant hollow oak log so I sneaked it in. Please don’t tell Adam about this!
In the photo our team after very long and super exciting day! My only regret is that I couldn’t be a part of this amazing build from the beginning. It felt so good to be part of something so special. We met some really nice people and even got free tickets to see the show during the week. A big thank you to Adam and Andrée for being kind and supportive and for allowing us to mess with your award-winning garden!