Bowles & Wyer

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021

Written by Rosa Hinton

As the first ever Autumn RHS Chelsea Flower Show begins, we’re divulging the details of the Main Avenue show garden we’ve constructed this year…

It goes without saying that it has been an unprecedented year at RHS Chelsea, featuring many of the gardens that were going to be part of the 2020 show. We’ve been busy constructing one of these magnificent show gardens – ‘The Florence Nightingale Garden – A Celebration of Modern-day Nursing’. Originally designed to mark the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale’s birth in 2020, this year the theme seems even more prevalent as we celebrate the importance of nursing in the 21st century.

It has been designed by the talented Robert Myers and the garden is sponsored by The Burdett Trust, which is a charity that supports nurse-led initiatives to enable nurses in their professional development and empowers them to improve patient care. The garden itself has been designed as a hospital courtyard garden, enclosed on three sides by a sculptural timber pergola and surrounded by imagined perimeter rooms that represent the ‘pavilion’ hospital layouts proposed by Nightingale.

The show garden design by Robert Myers

The design uses modern and sustainable materials to represent her pioneering ideas in hospital construction, as well as vibrant planting to highlight the importance of green spaces for health and recovery. The pergola itself has been constructed from CLT (Cross-Laminated Timber), a material dubbed as the ‘concrete of the future’, thanks to its low carbon footprint – and it’s something we believe has never been used on this scale before at RHS Chelsea.

The pergola in construction
The initial model for the pergola design
The pergola during the build on site
Catching the evening shadows

The garden also features a reflecting pool, which nods to Nightingale’s insights into drainage and hygiene. References to Nightingale appear throughout the design – ghostly images of her can be seen on the slightly opaque ‘windows’, alongside echoes of her handwriting inscribed into the timber perimeter walls.

Unveiling the ghostly windows!
Florence Nightingale's letters feature on the perimeter walls

The planting in the garden is inspired by Nightingale’s interest in botany and her own extensive pressed flower collection, which contains over 100 plant specimens. Some examples you can see in the garden include Chinese Rhubarb, Witch Hazel and Ferns, which were used in the 19th century and are still used in medicine today. You’ll also find her own personal favourite flower, the Foxglove – in the form of seed heads. Of course, the planting is perhaps the most different aspect of constructing a show garden in September, rather than May. However, it has created the opportunity to showcase different specimens and for the planting itself to be much bigger than usual, thanks to a longer growing season.

Inspecting the plants at the nursery ahead of the build
The team kept a close monitor on the plants in the run-up to construction
The team planting during the last few days of the build
Despite being an Autumn show, there's still plenty of colour in the planting scheme!

The show gardens at Chelsea are unfortunately often transient, but we’re excited to announce that this garden will have a life after the show too. We’ll be relocating the garden to Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London, where it will be enjoyed by both nurses and patients. As an extra special touch, this is where Nightingale established the first professional nursing school in 1860, so it will pay a fitting and long-lasting tribute.

The garden comes together as a stunning celebration of Florence Nightingale’s legacy, as well as our modern-day nurses and the future of the profession. A special thanks must go to Vande Moortel and Torc Pots, for their kind donations to the scheme. We’re now looking forward to seeing visitors explore the garden and we’re delighted to have been involved in such an exciting and important project.

Watch a night-time showing of the finished garden

The finished garden! Photo by Richard Bloom

And if you’re interested in what happens behind the scenes, do have a read of our dedicated blog behind this year’s build!

September 20, 2021