'Belong' - Flower Shows and Community Gardening
'Belong' Border RHS Chatsworth Flower Show 2019
Designer: Cath Fletcher Sponsors: Firs & Bromford Neighbours Together
Following on from my debut flower show appearance last year with a Beautiful Border titled 'Our Space in Space' at Gardeners' World Live I was really keen to have a go at another design challenge, though going on to a show garden seemed a bit too much of a step up. I took a look around at the other show categories, and had a very helpful chat with the wonderful Alan Gardner who gave me some great advice on next steps.
The result of this, the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show Long Borders! An ideal move upwards in scale but without going as far as the construction and preparation needed with a garden installation. I kept an eye on the RHS website for the applications to open for the 2019 show, and to be able to get the imagination flowing once the theme was announced.
The purpose of the Long Borders at RHS Chatsworth are to provide the opportunity for plant enthusiasts of all backgrounds including students, garden designers, community groups and other talented individuals, enabling them to experience the design, planning and build of a horticultural exhibit within a show environment.
I designed a border called 'Belong' through which I explored the idea of a getting a 'sense of belonging' from a garden, and it presented a selection of planting that takes me back to family gardens growing up: from the soft scent of the shrubs; the contrasting visual impact of the terracotta and succulent planting; the tactile sway of the grasses; the familiar taste of the herbs; to the light buzz of pollinators on the flowering plants. This explores how plants and gardens can trigger fond memories and associations, to create a 'sense of belonging'.
Everyone has their own 'Belong' border, garden, or even planter, consisting of the plants, textures, smells and other sensory triggers of their own memory and associations, and the 'double-helix' layout of the terracotta pipes and grasses in the border were a nod to the structure of DNA which spans the natural world, where we all 'Belong'.
I also felt that this theme in gardening also linked really well with social and community gardening and so I wanted to involve the two communities in which I work: Welsh House Farm Big Local and Firs & Bromford Neighbours Together. Both of these areas have amazing people who are committed to and enthusiastic about maintaining and improving community green spaces, and so to really make an impact I wanted the border to be able to become a long term feature in these communities.
There was real interest at the show in the community link of the border, and the sustainability of the plants being rehomed. The sponsorship of Welsh House Farm Big Local, Firs & Bromford Neighbours Together, and Citizen Engagement CIC allowed the purchase of the show plants from the brilliant Bernhards Nurseries and a group visit to the show, with the border being rehomed with half of it in each neighbourhood in new planters donated by the very generous WoodBlocX. This allowed both communities to start to expand on the relationships started by the joint trip to Chatsworth and the conversations and stories around belonging and connections, and promote the benefits of gardening and community involvement.
The judges were impressed with the border, and really liked the theme it portrayed, and it was awarded a Gold! The RHS Education department have also taken an interest in the story of the border, coming from the ideas of a local Winterbourne horticulture student and finishing up as a permanent part of communities in Birmingham.
Following the show there were sessions set up in each area and with a lot of help and support from local residents, volunteers, colleagues and family and friends, the donated planters were constructed on Wisley Way in Welsh House Farm and on the Village Green on Bromford Drive, and planted up with plants from the Belong border. The planting includes herbs and fruit which are for all the community to use and benefit from, and they have already prompted many conversations with local people who came to ask about the planters. This has included the provision of tea for those planting up, regular litter picking by local shop keepers, and watering of plants by local people.
This experience has been thoroughly enjoyable and a great opportunity to include members of both of the brilliant communities where I am lucky enough to live and work. I have already seen a lot of enthusiasm and ideas generated from the border, and the show visit, including potentially a joint community show garden down the line, so watch this space!