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Chelsea Flower Show 2013 '100 Years of Growing'

In 2013 Roots and Shoots was invited by plant nursery Pennard Plants to collaborate on their RHS Chelsea Flower Show stand. The stand won a Gold medal and was featured in the Sunday Telegraph as a highlight of the show.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show is an annual international showcase for horticultural companies and green professionals held for a week in late May at the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London, UK by the Royal Horticultural Society. It receives an enormous amount of press, with daily BBC shows showcasing the gardens, vendors and attendees across the week.

Pennard Plants is a heritage vegetable seed and plant nursery based in Somerset which Roots and Shoots came to know several years earlier when both were exhibiting at plant fairs, and who had regularly taken part in our Apple days. Pennard had exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show a few times, but had never received a coveted Gold medal for their stands. In late 2012 Pennard’s invited Roots and Shoots to collaborate on a 2013 stand in the pavilion. The theme of this show was 100 years of Grow Your Own, with a nod to the first world war. 

Every year Chelsea Flower Show has a theme for pavilion displays to be inspired by, the 2013 theme was “100 Years Of Grow Your Own”, with a nod to the first world war. Pennard (Chris and Mike) thought they could display an Edwardian garden that showcased their plants and garden memorabilia, and Roots could show 100 years in showing a modern sustainability-focused urban garden, following specific RHS guidelines.

Chelsea Flower Shows are usually sponsored and often cost tens of thousands of pounds for the design and display. We didn’t have this budget (Roots managed to get it all done for £300 on our side), so the garden was designed to creatively recycle and reuse as much as possible. Our Director’s partner Tony Danford is a landscape architect, and he donated his time to design the garden and create a 3D design for RHS approval. Before any exhibit is agreed by the RHS, a 3D plan and outline of the design has to be submitted and put before the RHS committee for approval. 

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The design reflected a walk through time from the Edwardian era in 1913, walking through the archway into 2013 where the garden had been left fallow, and then repurposed by the community to grow vegetables using recycled materials. 
The Edwardian (circa 1913) vegetable garden side was inspired by the grandfather of our director Linda Phillips MBE AoH, who was an Edwardian head gardener of an estate near Kew Village. This side of the garden was mostly created by Pennard Plants, who are experts at creating beautifully classic vegetable gardens. This side of the garden was to feature “a kitchen garden with heritage vegetables in neat rows, with a shed full of old tools and garden paraphernalia”.

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The modern urban side of the garden was inspired by the way we grow vegetables at Roots and Shoots, and was a retelling of the history of Roots and Shoots - taking an abandoned urban space and using creative sustainable methods of growing to revitalise the space for all. Plants were grown in recycled water tank planters, giant takeaway oil cans and Lidl shopping bags. The plants, including vegetables, herbs and some creatively-placed weeds were grown by students in their horticultural classes, who also helped set up the garden. 

Read more about Urban Growing at Roots and Shoots here

Chelsea Flower Show gardens are a lot like stage sets - participants are given up to 1 week to construct the garden, and it must be perfect for judging on the Sunday evening/Monday morning. All gardens & displays are allocated a grass area, which is covered and protected during the week of the show and is the foundation for the garden and ‘stage-set’. This means that as much work as possible has to be done prior to the show, with display items needing to be as lightweight and transportable as possible. 

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The dividing garden wall was completely fake, made of cardboard and painted using theatre set design techniques by our extremely talented staff, volunteers and students. Pennard’s side used life-like cardboard painted bricks, and the Roots side featured a custom graffiti interpretation painted by staff member Greg, of Roots with students and their tags, flowers and wildlife seen on our site. A bike shed with a green roof was added, and amongst the weeds, supermarket bags for life planters, old buckets, water tanks builders bags held together by pallets and miscellaneous pots full of vegetables and companion plants were placed, with an olive tree in a large water tank reflecting how now we can grow new types of vegetables and so-called tropical plants in London. 

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Judges decide if gardens receive a coveted gold, silver gilt, silver and bronze awards. For nurseries this is a key PR opportunity, a way to showcase their brands and a medal can be a large boost to their business. We are proud to say that our garden won a Gold medal for its storytelling and attention to detail.

Our garden was also featured in the Sunday Telegraph as a highlight of the show, “Tucked away in the back of the marquee, is a Gold Medal-winning garden that to me encapsulates the cultural and horticultural changes throughout the past 100 years, a cooperation between Pennard Plants and environmental training charity Roots and Shoots. Two very different vegetable gardens, side by side, show how much difference a century can make.”

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