Pre-Registered SGD Member Alison Galer explains how she created her award-winning first show garden, at RHS Tatton 2016
This year I created my first show garden, The Waiting List, in the Back-to-Back category garden at RHS Tatton. It won a Gold Medal and People’s Choice too.
My previous career was as a transplant nurse, so I was passionate about the focus of the garden: a place for patients waiting for a kidney transplant. Having seen so many pockets of empty space while walking down hospital corridors, I knew they could be turned into something calm, beautiful and uplifting.
I chose RHS Tatton show because I trained and lived in the North West, and the show has a lovely setting. Also, the Transplant Games were due to take place the following week. I don’t have a formal relationship with the Organ Donor Register; I just wanted to promote the cause. People like a story – why you’ve created the garden, your background and your influences.
I did a simple, rectilinear design, with no changes of level. The beauty would be in the planting and materials. Two months before the show you can review the brief to ensure it accurately communicates the intentions of the garden, and I kept it flexible – instead of specifying a particular variety, for example, I referred to ‘umbellifers’.
The Waiting List was created with transplant patients in mind. Photo: RHS/Lee Beel
I chose a local landscaper I often work with, James Loaring Landscapes, who had done a garden at RHS Malvern. The plants came from Orchard Dene Nurseries and I grew them on myself. We built a mock-up of the garden at a local builders’ merchant. I asked for a lot of advice, and for a lot of favours. I had met the sculptor John O’Connor at RHS Chelsea and loved his work. I sent him a mood board and he agreed to lend a piece.
I also took my mood boards to the SGD Autumn Conference. Vande Moortel were there – their Belgian clay pavers fitted my design perfectly. And I knew instantly that Sitting Spiritually’s floating bench would be perfect.
I did spend some of my own money on the garden. I had been to an RHS talk about creating a show garden, where Adam Frost said he earned £6,000 from a design job and invested it in a show garden. His wife wasn’t pleased but he said it had paid off.
During the show, I approached hospitals in the North West about rehousing the garden in a permanent location. Whiston Hospital had an appropriate space, and the estate manager came to visit the garden. After the show, the garden was dismantled and rebuilt there.
The garden was marked ‘excellent’ for the realisation of the brief, ambition, overall impression, attention to detail and choice of materials, polish and dressing.
Ultimately, the garden should help my career, but I didn’t set out to do it for that reason. I had a goal I wanted to achieve, and a cause I wanted to promote. I’ve got a better understanding of what’s possible – the experience was invaluable.
Find out more about Alison at www.florencegardening.co.uk