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Life after Chelsea: a show garden to inspire

At Chelsea this year we supported Joe and Laura Carey with tools for the build of their gold medal-winning Talitha Arts garden. Two months on, the garden is already welcoming the community in a new London location. We wanted to learn more about the garden's new home, and catch up with Joe about the Chelsea experience.
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Life after Chelsea: a show garden to inspire
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Life after Chelsea: a show garden to inspire

Regular readers of our Journal will recall that this year at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show we were delighted to support new garden designers Joe and Laura Carey with tools for the planting of their debut Chelsea garden, the Talitha Arts Garden.

Talking to Joe before the show, we’d been intrigued to learn that the garden ‘had been designed from the relocation plan, backwards’. This approach involved finding out how the garden could be useful, relevant and inspiring in its eventual home, and then fitting those requirements into the footprint of a Chelsea garden. We were even more intrigued when we saw the pictures from the official opening of the garden in its new home, St. Margaret’s House in Bethnal Green, a little over four weeks later. Could this be the fastest relocation of a Chelsea garden ever?!

Funded by Project Giving Back, the Chelsea garden highlighted the work of Talitha Arts, a London-based charity which uses the creative arts to help people move on from trauma in their lives. As the organisation doesn’t have its own premises, it facilitates its broad workshop programme from a variety of locations, including St. Margaret’s House, which is home to a wide range of groups, workshops and activities for the community.


A challenging relocation

We caught up with Emily Jones, the energetic Operations Manager at St Margaret’s House. She explained that while the venue was fortunate in having its own private outdoor space in this densely-populated corner of London, it had needed some TLC to turn it into a welcoming space.

“We’re delighted to have the Talitha Arts Garden within the St. Margaret's House settlement, as it helps us welcome in the community, where previously the space was not being used to its full potential. We’ve built a whole summer festival around the garden - our inaugural Discover Festival - and we’re excited to now be welcoming people in.”

Emily explained the many logistical challenges faced by the team during the relocation. “Access to our site is very limited. We’re surrounded by a busy road, a school, a leisure centre, and a hotel. Happily, we have good relationships with our neighbours, who were very accommodating regarding access, and we managed to get everything in.”

Planting begins, and the stage is installed by Landcraft

The Talitha Arts Garden is just the first phase of an even more ambitious landscaping programme at St Margaret’s House. The second phase aims to focus on an aspect of the area’s rich history. It was home to French Huguenots in the seventeenth century, and there’s still an ancient mulberry tree at St Margaret’s House, thanks to the silk-weaving connection – silkworms feeding on mulberry leaves. Finally, the third phase will make the garden’s main seating area fully accessible, so everybody can fully enjoy the outdoors.

Designer Joe Carey (third from left) with teams from Talitha Arts and St. Margaret's House. Photo: V. Orr

Designer and garden reunited

We thought it was lovely that Joe Carey, one of the husband-and-wife design team behind the garden, was able to attend the opening event to see the gold medal-winning garden in its new home. We wanted to get his take on the whole Chelsea experience – and whether he and his wife and co-designer Laura would be tempted to repeat it.

“It’s wonderful to see the garden again," he told us. "It’s much bigger, more spaced out and less dense – but it’s still our garden. The plants came straight from the show, and were given the Chelsea chop after the show to help them survive the move. Once they were in the ground again, it didn’t take them long to start putting out fresh leaves and even repeat flowering – even though it all happened in that intense June heatwave."

Reflections on the Chelsea experience

Joe continued: “It still hasn’t really sunk in that we won a gold medal and also Best in Show in the All About Plants gardens. With Chelsea being our first show garden, we didn’t have a benchmark on how we were doing. On judging day, we genuinely thought we were out of the running. One of the criteria to deduct points is ‘One or more signs of neglect’ and of course we had the odd less-than-perfect leaf here and there. Chelsea showed us that although the RHS judges are meticulous, of course they recognise that a garden is a living, evolving environment.

“We had such a great team working with us at Chelsea. We built the garden with our friends’ goodwill and we really enjoyed the experience. We wanted to share our delight at the medal with as many of our contributors as possible, and managed to get extra copies of the gold medal certificate – including one for our plant supplier Katie's Garden Plant Centre, who had never grown for a show garden before."


Image: V. Orr

Future plans?

“I’d say we’ve got the show garden bug, we’d love to do it again – although I suspect Laura might be a little more hesitant! She’s never not thinking about plants, and I think she enjoyed that aspect more than the stress, deadlines and long hours of the build and show itself.

“I’d love to do Hampton Court, using that very different July planting palette, and also with the challenge of working with a more spacious site. Now that we know we can create a gold medal-winning garden, I think we’d feel more confident to be braver, more creative.”

We can’t wait to see what Joe and Laura come up with in their next show garden – and we’re sure there will be one! Watch this space…

If you’d like to take a look around the garden in its new home at St Margaret’s House, you can book onto one of the tours running in August 2023.


With thanks and many congratulations to Joe and Laura Carey. Thanks also to Emily Jones at St Margaret’s House.

With thanks to Emily Jones and Virginia Orr (including header image) for kind permission to use the photographs.

Image: V. Orr
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