Sunday November 17 2019




Gardening with Hannah Genders

The soul of Chelsea

Posted on June 27 2012 at 11:26:12 0 comments

Stained glass leaves

Hannah Genders discovers Jubilee exhibits and a special charity garden at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.

The Chelsea Flower Show (and the parts of London that I saw when walking to the show) was truly spruced up and shining ready for the Jubilee and Olympic events this summer.

There were plenty of signs of the Jubilee in the show itself, from a very traditional feature of carpet bedding with the Queen’s head like a large stamp on top, to afternoon tea made from flowers in the great marquee.

Main Avenue sparkled, with lots of top name designers showing their gardens, all beautifully executed and breathtaking – but it was one small show garden that got my vote this year. Situated on the Rock Bank just along from Diarmuid Gavin’s tower garden, there was a garden with a true soul.

The Furzey Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw, had been built to show the work of a charity in the New Forest which trains and supports adults with learning disabilities. Furzey is the name of the garden, essentially a woodland garden based in the village of Minstead on the edge of the New Forest.

The gardens were first laid out in 1922, making them 90 years old this year. They are mainly acidic woodland, so plenty of azaleas and rhododendrons in the mature planting, something Chris was keenly aware of as being very unfashionable when I spoke to him in this garden at Chelsea.

His expectation was not to get a very good medal as this sort of planting has probably not been shown at Chelsea for at least fifteen years. The current style is more about screens and modern clean lines with naturalistic planting, as shown on Main Avenue this year in the large gardens.

But what the Furzey garden may have lacked in fashion, it gained in a great story to tell. Chris had worked from the start with the students who train at Furzey – all of whom have learning disabilities – from initial brainstorming sessions, through the design phases and on to the build.

Chris told me he had been working with five different students each day on the site at Chelsea to build this garden. All the plants apart from the large trees had been dug up from Furzey and bought to Chelsea, which involved the students and staff “root balling” them two years previously.

Root balling a tree or shrub means digging down around the roots to cut the main tap roots and create a ball of smaller fibrous roots – the plant has a much better chance of being moved successfully if this has been done.

The buildings at Furzey needed to be represented: most of them are thatched and built from local timber found around the site, so in the garden was a magical hut called the Lantern Building, complete with a winding staircase and stained glass leaves (pictured right) which each of the students had made.

These were fixed in the open roof space so they caught the light as you entered the building and were truly stunning.

I’ve mentioned the azaleas and rhododendrons, and in this sort of acidic woodland garden you would also expect to see acers, ferns and hostas. As the area became wetter nearer the stream at the front of the garden there were some wonderful primula species, from yellow to bright pink.

The planting throughout was fabulous and so accurate for this sort of situation, as you would expect it to be. This was a real garden, not a made-up one for the show, so visitors to Chelsea who have similar conditions in their own gardens could get an idea of what to plant.

I really think it was an amazing achievement to recreate this garden so well and genuinely involve all the students and staff from Furzey. Chris said he had hit no obstacles when putting ideas to the staff; the attitude was always “Yes, I’m sure we can find a way of doing that”, and they did.

The garden was a testament to what can be achieved and I was particularly thrilled to find out that Chris and the team had won a gold medal for their fabulous garden.

The garden at Furzey is open to visitors throughout the year. More information at

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