Chelsea Flower Show - using garden spaces to tackle the challenges of climate change

| 25th May 2017
The Chengdu Silk Road Garden, by Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins shows how the Chengdu Government in China has responded to a population explosion over the past 20 years. The 'fins' act to increase wind speed and wind speed is increased as it is forced between these narrow ‘fins’ clear air pollution
It seems we've been talking about bringing green areas to urban spaces for years, but at this year's Chelsea Flower Show (which runs until 27th May) it's clear this theme remains a top priority writes LAURA BRIGGS who pays a visit to the world's best known flower show
The ideas are inspiring - low-input, high impact planting with multi-tiered habitats known as creature towers, recycling, composting and edible planting - but it shows too how far we have moved away from gardens in their own right

We are fast becoming an urban sprawl and as development takes over our green and pleasant land, we're having to come up with better landscaping solutions to cling on our tranquil oases and prevent ourselves being stifled by concrete and sky-rise tower blocks.

Walking around the beautiful green spaces at this year's Chelsea flower show it was easy to forget that I'd just fought my way through traffic and pounded the concrete for what seemed like miles trying not to breathe in the pollution that hung low in the air on an incredibly hot and heavy Monday.

One of the most talked about gardens this year, the RHS Greening Grey Britain garden designed by Nigel Dunnett, focused on meeting the challenges of climate change. Set to a backdrop of a high-rise flats and apartment-block cut-outs, it features pollution-soaking plants, a water-sensitive design and claims to inspire urban development. The show garden certainly met its brief - it was beautiful and sensitive to its surroundings, but I was acutely aware of how many of Chelsea's displays used the garden to re-green an otherwise desolate landscape. It felt like the garden was secondary to the office blocks and man-made structures. Perhaps these days it is.

The ideas of course are inspiring - low-input, high impact planting is used, with multi-tiered habitats known as creature towers, recycling and composting facilities and edible planting - but it showed how far we have moved away from gardens in their own right. Most of us now have little space or time for gardens, and areas of green are highly prized - so much so that Indoor Garden Design, in co-creation with IKEA, was showcasing how best to bring plants into the home. (Three walk-through rooms highlight the scientifically-proven health benefits associated with having plants indoors.)

Experts understand that plants act as pollution sponges, absorbing carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds released from man-made products, and the science behind horticulture is a big focus at Chelsea again this year. Its Discovery Zone features the power of plants and their cancer-busting properties, the psychological benefits being around plants delivers and of course, the environment.

Sustainable growing technology is demonstrated by AutoPot Global Ltd, with a piece that explored the possibility of putting up greenhouses within or near to refugee camps to help people grow their own food despite those hostile environments. Bioscience International's CABI exhibit explores the natural solutions to the problem of invasive plants, and Kew spotlights the exciting plant discoveries and the importance of promoting their conservation and sustainable use.

The STEM Surrounds US exhibit from The Animal and Plant Health Agency demonstrated how Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are now being used by Government, businesses and individuals to protect the country from ongoing threats to tree and plant health.

The show garden that really stood out for me was a reflection of where we are all heading in terms of development. The Chengdu Silk Road Garden, by Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins demonstrated how the Chengdu Government in China has responded to enormous population growth over the past 20 years.

The Green Walls of China involves the design and build of 20 massive gardens circling the city. Linked by a green linear park, the green wall acts as amenity space for residents and also carries out an important environmental role. As Chengdu is located in a sub-tropical area at the height of summer conditions get humid but by harnessing the prevailing easterly wind and funnelling it through the ‘fins' of the gardens(see our main image) to the east of the city, wind can be initially cooled as it crosses man-made lakes. The wind speed is increased as it is forced between these narrow ‘fins' and this helps to clear the air, before it is expelled from the city. This phenomenal concept shows what lengths are needed to clean our cities and how much we need to reconnect with the natural resources we have left.

What concerns me is that we seem less interested in conserving the natural areas we already have, and more focused on recreating new green spaces in our cities and urban areas.

If I'd my pick, I'd have taken home the Poetry Lover's Garden, by Fiona Cadwallader Designs, inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's romantic poem This Lime Tree Bower My Prison. No sign of sky-rise flats, not a hint at over-development, instead a piece of wilderness harnessing nature to create a meditative space. The bees loved this garden as much as I did; bean flowers, lime trees, bearded iris and geranium mixed with muted greys and greens made this garden feel for me like the most natural of all.

And hardly surprising then that on leaving the calm, green grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London I found myself hurled headlong back into the centre another metropolitan sprawl whilst trying to come up with ideas on how to bring green spaces into my own urban landscape.

This Author

Laura Briggs is a regular contributor to the Ecologist. Follow her here @WordsbyBriggs






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