The Balance Garden at RHS Chelsea could ‘spark a movement’ for urban spaces

Princess Beatrice arrives to Chelsea Flower Show

This year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in Chelsea, London will be held from today until May 27.

Every year the show represents a plethora of gardens which showcase innovative designs, creative materials and stunning blooms.

The show is arguably the most prestigious event of the gardening year, attracting thousands of visitors and exhibitors from across the world.

Over the years, designers at RHS Chelsea have moved away from traditional gardening and horticultural techniques and have focussed more on sustainability, the impact of a changing climate, and creating beautiful gardens in small spaces like balconies.

There’s also been a shift when it comes to how gardens make us feel. The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns saw the majority of people in the UK confined to their homes, and the little outdoor space they had, for weeks.

Nature and gardening became a source of solace for many with people finding renewed appreciation for their local parks and green spaces.

One show garden that’s aiming to create a healing space that links horticulture and mental health while seeking to address the link between access to nature and poverty, is Centre for Mental Health’s The Balance Garden.

Award-winning designers Jon Davies and Steve Williams of Wild City Studio teamed up with the national charity Centre for Mental Health to create a space that is unlike previous mental health-themed gardens.

Research has shown that there are mental health and well-being benefits to connecting with nature, however, access to green spaces is not equal across the UK.

Almost 10 million people live in neighbourhoods that are deprived of nature, with many individuals only able to access a green space the size of a garden shed.

Further research has shown people of colour are twice as likely as white people to live in an area with minimal access to green space.

Jon and Steve have aimed to create an inclusive, accessible and affordable space with The Balance Garden using innovative landscaping techniques and cost-effective ways to connect with nature, showing how urban communities can reclaim disused spaces and turn them into community gardens.

“It’s this idea of a nature connection for all,” the designers exclusively told

“The main thing for Centre for Mental Health and us is that [nature] shouldn’t just be for the wealthy. It should be for everyone and not everyone has the opportunity to get out into the traditional notions of nature. But why can’t it be on our doorsteps?”

The duo were inspired by “neglected and forgotten spaces” and wanted to show that urban landscapes is a natural one. For example, weeds recolonising spaces within the urban campus.

The garden also aims to change the perception of beauty while also showcasing a “lighter touch” when it comes to controlling the landscape.

“We’re trying to show that weeds are quite a lot more interesting than people give them credit for and there’s actually a lot of uses for them.

“There’s a massive narrative through the whole garden with a lot of things being edible. Not only urban foraging and the weeds you might not know or edible but food forestry as well.”

The edible planting and shelter from heatwaves in the garden seek to address the cost of living crisis and the effects of climate change which can contribute directly to poor mental health.

One of the most interesting aspects of the garden is the use of crushed site waste to produce wildflowers, grasses and shrubs which thrive in more stressful environments.

Don’t miss…
Natural item ‘deters’ rats with ‘overwhelming’ scent, says expert[INSIGHT]
‘Dangerous’ household items to ‘never’ place on your windowsill[UPDATE]
Extremely easy and effective’ methods to stop slugs ‘wreaking havoc’[LATEST]

“It’s quite exciting,” the duo said. “There are a few gardens that have this narrative where we’re growing a lot of our plants in actual crushed waste.”

Crushed waste is not commonly thought of as something people can grow plants from but quite often weeds can be seen growing out of an old wall or a crack in a concrete sub-base.

“It’s really showing people that it’s not about really fertile topsoil and compost, where you have to keep feeding the plants all the time and keeping plants on life support almost,” they added.

“You could just look at the neglected spaces in the earth where no one’s looking after them, they’re quite often the most resilient and most beautiful spaces.”

The garden also features large chunks of reclaimed concrete from waste salvage and suspended steel walkways to represent the urban landscape.

Wild planting and a clear pool add to the garden’s tranquillity, creating an authentic connection to nature that’s good for mental health.

Creating an authentic connection to nature is really at the core of The Balance Garden for Jon and Steve. The pair endeavoured to move away from the sensory garden experience to instead create deep ecological planting communities and wildlife habitats while still celebrating the urban environment.

After Chelsea, The Balance Garden will leave a lasting legacy and will be moved to Tottenham, North London to create a new space for the local community to enjoy.

Centre for Mental Health will explore the impact of the garden on mental health in the hope that it inspires people to use green spaces to promote mental health.

“The most exciting thing about this is the legacy garden and Chelsea shining the spotlight on that,” Steve said.

There will be reports looking into the impact of the garden on both social and community health as well as biodiversity and ecology.

The garden is a blueprint that’s affordable, get for mental health, biodiversity and ecology.

The hope is that this blueprint can then be rolled out to councils and cities nationwide.

“That’s why we’re doing Chelsea, to really do something that’s different and showcase a different strand of what’s going on in the landscaping industry at the moment,” Jon said.

The garden designer said there’s an “underground movement” taking place where people are exhibiting a “stewardship of spaces and working with ecological processes rather than standard traditional gardening”.

He added: “It’s really been great to have the opportunity from Project Giving Back to give us the funding to be able to really showcase this other side and be in a position to be able to show people who might not know that world and maybe change some perspectives and inspire people to look into things like this in their own way.”

Chief Executive of Centre for Mental Health Andy Bell told “We know from research that if you have access to green spaces and contact with nature, it improves your mental health.

“And part of that is of course about being outside, being active, but it’s also, I think, the kind of connection it creates with the natural world that seems to be really important for people’s well-being.

“So, although we don’t know exactly why. I think there is really strong evidence that that’s the case.”

There is generally a link between people that have access to green spaces and people who are better off.

Andy said people living in the most disadvantaged areas have poorer access to green space but also lack safe access to green space.

In deprived, urban areas there’s a greater need for spaces like The Balance Garden because mental health is also generally poorer in these areas.

Andy is hoping that relocating the garden to Tottenham will not only create a beautiful space that people can enjoy, but will enhance people’s wellbeing and will provide an example of what can be achieved through community gardens.

“We hope this will spark, a movement in many, many more places and bring about a real social change as a result,” he added.

Centre for Mental Health’s The Balance Garden is designed by Wild City Studio’s Jon Davies and Steve Williams. The garden was built by Stewart Landscape Construction Ltd.

Source: Read Full Article