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Core Arts and the Front Garden Revolution

At the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022, we supported garden designer Andy Smith-Williams with tools to help build his show garden After the show, both garden and tools are being re-used by a community garden in Hackney, run by charity Core Arts. We visited the Chelsea garden and caught up with Core Arts to find out more.
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Core Arts and the Front Garden Revolution
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Core Arts and the Front Garden Revolution

At Burgon & Ball we’re always interested in how garden design is evolving. Where we’re able, we like to support designers as they create their amazing show gardens. We especially enjoy working with designers who are starting their journey in the international spotlight of the RHS shows - in the past we’ve worked with young designers Lilly Gomm and Kristian Reay among others. So when London-based designer Andy Smith-Williams got in touch about his plans for his first Chelsea garden, we wanted to hear more.

Andy explained that he was planning a garden in collaboration with Hackney-based Core Arts. This charity uses music, art, landscaping and sports to promote the abilities of those who experience mental health issues. The Chelsea garden was to incorporate themes around community, sustainability, a connection to the local landscapes, green streetscapes… It sounded a lot to pack in, but we wanted to see it come to life, so we agreed to help out.

Core Arts runs a horticultural project, Core Landscapes, which transforms under-used green spaces to promote positive mental health for all. It manages a range of areas including a roof garden, a garage garden and a street-level garden, brightening the environment in areas where people might not enjoy a lot of access to green space. Andy’s plan was to re-home the tools and plants from his Chelsea garden in a new community garden being created by Core Landscapes in the grounds of nearby St Barnabas’ church, creating a new community space.

The Chelsea garden

The Core Arts Front Garden Revolution was one of the gardens in a new category for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022, the All About Plants category. The category championed the ‘the positive power of plants to improve lives and livelihoods’.

Intriguingly, it was the first time a garden category has been hosted inside the Great Pavilion. The four All About Plants gardens were all funded by Project Giving Back, and all created to celebrate the work of a UK charity. All were created by designers under 40 who have never previously exhibited at Chelsea, and all four gardens were to be relocated to a permanent location after the show so that they can continue to benefit the good causes they are supporting.

Andy's garden depicted two urban front gardens joined together by removing their defining boundary, to create one flowing, open space as an area for gardening, socialising, wellbeing and environmental gain. It is an imaginative take on a pair of front gardens that focus on the power of plants to lift spirits.

The planting was developed along three key themes; a connection to the local landscape; benefits for nature; and benefits for the people who also inhabit the space. Much of the planting was inspired by the nearby Hackney Marshes, connecting the garden to its environment. In making his plant selections, Andy also took into account feedback from the service users at Core Landscapes, with a focus on plants with a long flowering season or year-round interest; colourful blooms; edible fruit; and plants loved by pollinators.

The garden featured a mix of dry areas with low-maintenance resilient planting; native hedging; and a planter packed with moisture-loving plants. This cleverly caught any overflow from the water collection system when rainfall is heavy by means of a rain chain, directing it into the planter for the plants to enjoy.

There was also imaginative use of recycled and upcycled materials. Created from salvaged waste materials, the garden landscaping featured gabions filled with stone offcuts and broken stone, while more waste stone was crushed to create a free-draining permeable substrate/top dress for the dry areas.

Andy used a restful palette of steely grey, silver, blue and white throughout the garden, but we also enjoyed the flashes of rusty orange and red which ran through the planting, echoing the tones of the corten steel doors.

We loved the garden, when we got to see it. It managed to be joyful, uplifting, peaceful, welcoming and cosy, all at the same time. And of course it was packed with ideas to take home, from the planting combinations to the ways to make a garden more sustainable.

The legacy

After the Chelsea dust had settled, we caught up with Nemone Mercer, manager at Core Landscapes, to find out a bit more about the Chelsea experience and the plans for the new garden.

“At Core Landscapes we’ve worked in a lot of temporary spaces over the last ten-plus years, and then just a couple of years ago we finally we put down roots at our site at St Barnabas' Terrace. We’ve created a roof garden there, together with a plant nursery, where people can come for horticulture, design, workshops, training and events. This rooftop garden was what flagged us up to Andy, in fact. He’d passed the garden on his daily walks during lockdown, and wondered what went on up there.

“Andy made contact in summer 2021 as he was planning for a Chelsea garden. The application took a long time, but it was very exciting when we got the go-ahead. It’s been great to have the opportunity to celebrate this long-term green project. We’re one of numerous organisations working to create green spaces in the area. In fact Hackney’s very green, with a lot of community gardens, and we're one of numerous organisations working to create green spaces in the area. In many ways the Chelsea spotlight has helped to highlight the ‘greening’ of the borough, raising the profile of all kinds of groups.”

The new garden which will be home to Andy’s Chelsea garden is very close to home: it will be in the grounds of St Barnabas’ Church, right next door to Core Landscapes’ HQ and roof garden. It’s a site the team knows well, as Core Arts has been using facilities at the church for 30 years. The space was originally earmarked for a community building, but as another space became available, it was decided that a garden would be of benefit instead. Core Landscapes will be able to extend the services it offers to the local community, and help more people.

“Whoever we’re working with, we’re very focused on personal progression paths,” explains Nemone. “Whether people want help with career progression, therapy, or to learn how to grow their own food, we aim to make the project as inclusive and accessible as possible.”

At the time of writing, the new garden at St Barnabas' church is still waiting for the funding, permission and planning stars to align. The Chelsea plants are in pots, having been kept alive through the hot, dry summer. The tools we donated are on site, ready to dig, plant, trim and welcome in both people and wildlife.

When the green light is given, the team at Core Landscapes is ready and waiting to swing into action, and it’s hoped the garden will be in use in 2023. We wish the team all the best as they create the new community space. We know that if it’s anything like Andy’s Chelsea garden, it will be vibrant, welcoming and beautiful.






Congratulations to Andy Smith-Williams on the Core Arts Front Garden Revolution's well-deserved gold medal. Read more on Andy Smith-Williams’ website about how he created his Chelsea garden. 

To find out more about Core Landscapes, contact Nemone Mercer,

Find Core Arts on Facebook and Instagram.

Images in this blog © Core Landscapes, used with kind permission.


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