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Bringing organic to Chelsea

RHS Chelsea Flower Show will get one of its first completely organic show gardens this September
Sarah Mead and Tim Massey

This article first appeared in our ‘Why organic is the answer’ issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 03 September 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

This Organic September will see the first autumn RHS Chelsea Flower Show (12-26 September) – and one of the first completely organic show gardens to be staged at the event.

Yeo Valley Organic, the family-owned organic dairy company, will feature an organic garden – approved by the Soil Association – at what is likely to be the only autumn RHS Chelsea Flower Show, postponed this year from its usual May date.

The team has wholeheartedly adapted its May garden plans – reusing as much as possible from the original design and donating plants that wouldn’t make it – to stage a spectacular celebration of autumn colour and biodiversity
inspired by the real Yeo Valley Organic Garden.

‘It’s a really exciting position to be in: the first and possibly the only RHS Chelsea Flower Show in September’, said Sarah Mead, who designed the Yeo Valley Organic Garden in Blagdon, Somerset. ‘We can’t wait!’

The garden behind the show

Tom Massey, an award-winning garden designer and second-time Chelsea garden designer – most recently seen presenting the BBC’s Your Garden Made Perfect – has collaborated with Sarah to design the Yeo Valley Organic show garden.

‘We feel very fortunate, under the circumstances, that our Chelsea design is inspired by a real place that changes with the seasons and has been designed by Sarah for year-round interest and colour’, Tom said.

The garden was due to be built at the 2020 show before Covid-19 restrictions forced its cancellation. In March 2020, just before lockdown, Tom Massey jumped into action and donated the show plants that could not be reused to hospital gardens including Derriford Hospital, Plymouth and a small number of London hospitals.

A garden for wildlife

The modified 2021 autumn design combines some plants from the original show with a new palette of autumn flowering plants to create a diverse range of habitats that will encourage wildlife and support pollinators. The garden mirrors the diversity of life found on the organic dairy farm and garden in Somerset.

The design includes biochar logs and rammed earth walls as boundaries, highlighting the importance of soil health. A wooden egg-shaped, stem-bent hide has been handcrafted for the garden by celebrated Cornish sculptor Tom Raffield. It provides a wonderful elevated view of the garden and a place from which to observe attracted wildlife.

A pioneering show garden

Yeo Valley Organic considers its impact on the environment in everything it does, and taking on a show garden is no exception.

For Sarah it was crucial that the garden would be built on the same organic principles as her Soil Association certified garden in Somerset – and that’s not easy for a show garden, says Tom Massey.

‘I’ve learnt a huge amount from the Yeo Valley Organic team and the Soil Association in the process of designing an organic show garden and I’ve seen first-hand how growing organically can positively impact the environment’, Tom said. 

‘With the exception of the large specimen trees and shrubs, the plants for the garden are being grown completely organically – a big challenge for a main avenue Chelsea show garden, which needs to look its absolute best for one week of the year.’

Sarah Mead says she wants to give Chelsea visitors a real slice of organic country life; ‘We’ve been quietly growing and farming organically for many years now and we know it has huge benefits for the environment, particularly by safeguarding our soil and supporting pollinators and wildlife’, Sarah explained. ‘We’re excited about bringing our organic credentials to the world’s greatest flower show. Now is the perfect time to start shouting a bit louder about the benefits of growing and buying organic and putting nature first.’

All plants and garden materials will be rehomed after the show, ensuring nothing goes to waste.

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