Landscape near Verdun, France.
Designer Charlotte Rowe took on her first Chelsea show garden in partnership with ABF: The Soldiers Charity. It is named 'No Man's Land' and was inspired by the damaged landscapes of the trenches and battlefields of The Western Front. I have walked along this landscape in France, and I was immediately staggered to how the landscape had been so scarred by the brutality of human conflict. The ground covered in snaking bumps and mounds of the trenches, before flattened fields stretching as far as the eye can see. It was impossible not to imagine the men being sent onto, and falling on that very same land. And yet, there was a calmness to it, the birds returned to sing, and it felt like slowly, nature was reclaiming it's scars.
Charlottes garden incorporates this mix of terrain, with beautifully naturalistic planting and calming reflective water. Watch the videos for the most effective walk through of this gold winning garden, it really is a wonderful tribute, with a heartening message of recovery and rejuvenation.
“Those were the inspirations,” she says. “They took me to Flanders and the Somme a couple of months later, in early December 2012. I thought it was amazing that you could still see traces of the trenches, mines and bomb craters that had been created over the course of the war. The lines hardly moved, and the landscape was completely destroyed. The topsoil was removed, trees were stumps and there were crevasses in some areas.
“The tie-in with the ABF charity is this whole idea of no-man’s-land – what today’s soldiers should not have to come back to. I’m trying to bring together ideas of the landscape recovering with the human spirit and body recovering – it’s quite conceptual, really.”
Charlotte Rowe designer of ABF The Soldiers' Charity Garden for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014. ©Marianne Majerus
Help for Heroes is supporting Matthew Keightley's garden 'Hope On The Horizon', which is addressing the war in Afghanistan. Keightley himself has a brother serving in the RAF Regiment deployed out there, and hearing him talk about his experience was a powerful force in creating this garden.
"Talking to him got me thinking about how all we hear about is the tragic wounding and then, much later, the soldier who has recovered heroically,” Keightley says. “I wanted to represent the recovery process through a garden.”
After Chelsea, the garden will be broken up and installed at a larger landscape at the Help for Heroes facility Chavasse, near Colchester, which will continue it's message of rejuvenating and recovery for the future, an amazing tribute. The design is arranged in the shape of the Military Cross, with sculpture by Scottish artist Mary Bourne. The hard landscaping is in granite, with grows more refined as you walk through, representing the soldiers growing physically stronger. The planting reflects more mental well being, being a tactile space which releases scent as the soldiers move through, grasses to touch, and strong hornbeam trees to frame the view but also to provide shelter and a protected space. Cool calming colours encourage a serene, completive atmosphere.
I hope that these gardens will put Horticultural Therapy into the spotlight, with the potential to be supported by the NHS and local councils. Living in a military town, I would be eager for such a project to be brought here, I think projects like these are truly invaluable to a community.
I think this could be my favourite Chelsea in many years, I am loving the amount of under-30's new talent, but I was quite dissapointed with the choice of Best In Show, I think it was a safe choice. For me, it is Charlotte Rowe. I will be back with further Chelsea picks, I just can't stop scribbling down inspirations from all these amazing gardens!