Chelsea champion Ian's garden inspired by depression battle

John Manley hears how first-hand experience of mental health issues informed and inspired the design of a Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner

Ian Price during the construction of his award-winning Chelsea garden

IAN Price’s journey to the prestige of a RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medal began decades ago growing up in Newtonabbey.

From an early age, the 40-year-old showed an interest in plants and landscaping.

"As a child, I would’ve spent my pocket money on Lego or buying seeds to grow plants to cover my parents windowsills," he recalls.

"I would watch Geoff Hamilton on Gardeners’ World growing plants and making features and spaces outside in the garden – patios, benches, ponds and the like."

The family’s move to Templepatrick and a bigger garden presented the then 14-year-old Ian with his first design challenge and while he concedes there were shortcomings with aspects of that first venture, it didn’t quell his enthusiasm.

After leaving school, he studied a degree in landscape and design at Writtle University College in Essex, and around the same time secured the opportunity to have a week of work experience with the Landscape Centre.

Ian graduated in 1998 and has been working as a designer ever since.

His first major success with a show garden came three years ago at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park, where his ‘Elemental’ garden won a gold medal.

However, Ian’s Chelsea garden – Mind Trap – was a much more ambitious project and one that drew on personal experience.

"This garden is a physical manifestation of my personal experience of suffering from and living with depression," he explains.

"It's purpose is to help those that suffer in similar ways to be assured that they are not alone in their own personal struggles."

He describes the design process as "15 years of research and a couple of days of drawing" but it took a lot more to deliver the garden for May’s show in west London.

After failing to find a sponsor close to home, Ian used social media to pitch his concept and secured the support of French-owned landscaping giant ID Verde.

"ID Verde’s support was incredible – firstly for understanding the garden and then for putting a huge amount of trust in me and the rest of the team to create the garden to the highest standards," says Ian.

For logistical reasons, most of the materials were sourced in England though the four metal ‘walls’ were created by Newry company Patio.

The landscaping was carried out by Conway Landscapes, a Chelsea veteran with 15 RHS medals to its name, while the plants were raised by similarly experienced Kelways nursery.

Mind Trap’s walls act as a foil for the exterior planting and enclose the inner area. According to Ian, the walls symbolise both security and imprisonment – "depending on your perception".

Within the walls is a pool with a central seat surrounded by gravel and large stones and boulders. The planting is more architectural than colourful, using species such as Carex buchananii, a bronze coloured grass.

All the plants and trees used in the garden were available to buy during the show week to raise funds for a mental health charity.

"While the garden contains a lot of symbolism, it’s not intended to be hard work for a visitor to appreciate the main ideas behind it," he says.

The Chelsea judges certainly got the message and, most importantly, liked it, placing Ian among a select group of designers from this side of the Irish Sea to be awarded a RHS gold medal.

Among those who visited the garden to chat to Ian about his award-winning project were comedian Peter Kay and the Duchess of Cambridge.

"The level of interest about the garden and the reaction from the public was everything I hoped for, but far in excess of anything I expected – a truly humbling experience and one that I will treasure," says Ian.

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