Children centre stage at Chelsea Flower Show as green issues high on agenda

All large gardens at the show, which is featuring junior judges for the first time, have had to undergo a ‘green audit’.

Preparations under way ahead of the Chelsea Flower Show
Preparations under way ahead of the Chelsea Flower Show (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Children are taking centre stage at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, which is being billed as “one of the greenest” in years with a focus on sustainability and the climate crisis.

The King and Queen, and celebrities will get the first glimpse of this year’s event run by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in London on Monday, before the world famous show opens to the public on Tuesday.

But it is children who are getting a special role at Chelsea this year, with a “no adults allowed” garden co-designed by a group of primary school pupils and the chance to judge the show gardens as junior judges for the first time.

Charles will visit the show’s first garden to be designed by children, where adults who want to see it must pledge to plant a tree to help the environment, donate to the RHS school gardening campaign, or find a flower that starts with the first letter of their name.

The deal to let grownups on the RHS no adults allowed garden, which is not being judged, if they make one of the three pledges, was secured after what was described as “tough negotiating” by the charity’s director general Clare Matterson.

Youngsters are also being recruited to judge Chelsea Flower Show gardens for the first time, with 72 children from nine London primary schools participating as junior judges.

They will be asked to consider questions about the show gardens, including whether it is a good place to play, attractive to wildlife and how the spaces make them feel, and will be handing out a “children’s choice” award.

This year at the Chelsea Flower Show, all the large gardens have gone through a “green audit” as part of efforts to reduce the event’s environmental footprint.

All gardens in the Show and Sanctuary categories – the largest on display – were reviewed by landscape design firm Nicholsons alongside RHS head of sustainability Malcolm Anderson, against a range of criteria including  material selection, waste, biodiversity and ecology, water and air.

They then worked with the designers and contractors to adjust their plans to reduce the environmental footprint of the projects, which the RHS said reduced carbon emissions across the two categories by 28%.

Helena Pettit RHS director of show, said: “The Green garden audit, all gardens living on after the show and our new environmental innovation award, makes this one of our greenest RHS Chelsea Flower Show’s in recent history.

And she added: “We’re super excited that we have our young children designers taking centre stage, who really want to encourage children everywhere to become gardeners, to help save the planet and have some fun.

She said she “can’t wait to see which show garden our young judges pick as their favourite”.

Many of the gardens at the show have a direct focus on sustainability and resilience to climate change.

They include “Chelsea repurposed”, designed by Darryl Moore of Cityscapes, a garden made from reused materials from previous years’ RHS Chelsea show gardens, including steel columns from the Daily Telegraph exhibit in 2010.

The garden is being planted with drought-tolerant species including grasses and local wildflowers planted in crushed concrete and sand salvaged from demolished buildings.

A 3D visual of The Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust
A 3D visual of The Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust

The National Trust and Blue Diamond are behind a show garden celebrating the charity’s co-founder Octavia Hill, who believed green spaces and gardens were vital to everyone’s life.

The urban community wildlife garden, designed by Ann-Marie Powell aims to highlight sustainability, with peat-free plants, reclaimed materials and trees and plants selected for their resilience to the changing climate and the weather extremes it brings.

The garden has itself been hit by those extremes with a frost-free spring meaning original planting choices, including native hawthorn and spring blooms which have flowered too early, have been replaced with alternatives.

The WaterAid garden also features flood and drought resilient plants and a rainwater harvesting pavilion, as it highlights the charity’s work around the world to help people who lack of access to clean water, and the worsening impacts of the climate crisis.

Designer Tom Massey has included elements that can be used at home to help gardeners cope with the increasing extremes, and has tips including collecting rain in a water butt, introducing boggy areas or channels for flood-prone parts of the garden and nurturing the soil.

He said: “In recent years, British horticulture has felt the effects of extreme weather – including heatwaves, drought and flooding.

“As our climate changes water scarcity and insecurity is becoming more commonplace – here in the UK and around the world.

“We can all do things to help mitigate climate change, such as improving soil health, planting greenery to provide shade, and, most importantly, managing water sustainably.”

Another garden focusing on the extreme weather is the flood resilience garden, backed by flood insurance scheme Flood Re, designed to show how people can protect their gardens and homes against the rising risk of flooding.

Elsewhere at the show, visitors will be able to see a Roman villa courtyard garden, from the Newt in Somerset, with planting informed by the popular choices of the 1st century AD and including plants grown for medicine and foods.

And willow sculptures of the Queen’s beloved dogs Beth and Bluebell are to make an appearance at the Chelsea Flower Show this year when the Highgrove Gardens shop features for the first time.