Zia Allaway talks to the planting professor to find out what\'s planned for this RHS exhibit garden at the Chelsea Flower Show
As a professor of planting design, urban horticulture and vegetation technology at the University of Sheffield, Nigel Dunnett’s portfolio includes planting at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the roof garden at the Barbican and three Main Avenue Chelsea show gardens. This year, he’s creating a feature at the show as part of the RHS Greening Grey Britain campaign. It will showcase solutions to the challenges of climate change and urban development.
Q. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE CONCEPT FOR THE RHS DESIGN FEATURE?
A. I’m the RHS ‘Greening Grey Britain’ Ambassador, and the overall aim of the garden is to highlight the benefits that plants, soils and vegetation give us, such as mitigating flooding and reducing pollution, as well as increasing wellbeing.
I was keen to do something that had never been seen at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show before, and wanted to include places that don’t usually feature there, which I could also fill with take-home ideas for the public. This led to the idea of referencing social housing and small planted spaces, such as balconies and community gardens.
My final design includes a high-rise apartment block and shows how even in this seemingly inhospitable environment, plants and gardens can make a huge difference to people’s lives.
Q. WHO ARE YOU HOPING TO REACH?
A. I will be showcasing realistic, simple and sustainable ideas that are directly relevant to home gardeners, community groups and, crucially, to garden designers and commercial developers. In particular, we want to reach new audiences and change perceptions of what gardens are all about. We’ll be creating a nature-based installation by the acclaimed Sheffield street artist Faunagraphic.
Q. WHAT IDEAS WILL VISITORS BE ABLE TO TAKE HOME WITH THEM?
A. The garden will include a range of water-sensitive design ideas, such as rain gardens and wetland areas to deal with flash flooding.
Container planting will also be a main feature. The garden will be filled with the ‘low-input, high impact’ planting I have been researching and evolving at the University of Sheffield. These drought-tolerant, highly colourful plantings will be used in the balcony displays and throughout the garden, showing visitors that many beautiful schemes are easy to care for and do not require lots of water or chemicals to sustain them.
I am also using everyday materials, such as low-carbon and recycled concrete, from which I will be creating new-look crazy paving.
Q. WHAT OTHER PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON?
A. My time is divided between university research and teaching work, and a range of writing projects, as well as design projects that apply all these ideas, including a new sequence of gardens around the lake originally designed by Capability Brown at the Trentham.