Chelsea flower show, BBC / RHS People’s Choice Garden of the Decade

15 May 2020
Tom Hoblyn and Chris Beardshaw Chelsea Flower Show gardens.

For the first time in its history, the world-famous Chelsea Flower Show will take place online between 19-23 May after it was cancelled due to Covid-19.

As part of the line-up the BBC will be running the People’s Choice Garden of the Decade from 2010 -2019. This includes our 2012 The Arthritis Research UK Garden (Versus Arthritis was formed in 2018 following a merger of Arthritis Research UK and Arthritis Care), designed by Tom Hoblyn and our 2013 The Arthritis UK Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw.

All of the 10 nominated gardens were shown at the end of the Chelsea Flower Show programme on Sunday 17 May on BBC1 at 17.50. The vote is now closed and the winner will be announced on Sunday 24 May on the final Chelsea Flow Show programme on BBC 1.

We spoke to the Tom and Chris to find out what inspired their designs and how gardening can help living with arthritis.

Tom Hoblyn, designer of the 2012 The Arthritis Research UK Garden

How do you feel about being entered for people’s choice of the decade?

It’s great news. Especially in a year that the Chelsea Flower Show isn’t running. The fact that I’m one of the top 10 is quite an honour. It makes me realise how special it was. It was the most fun garden I’ve done at Chelsea. It’s also the one I’m most proud of.

How did you consider people living with arthritis in the design?

The garden was designed to be easy to maintain. The flowerbeds could be reached by people with restricted mobility, there was a sunken garden, and we installed ramps so that anyone could access the different levels.

I also planted lots of plants with oils that are known to have healing effects on people.

Now, when I talk to people with arthritis, knowing what I know about how debilitating it can be, I look at arthritis in a completely different light.

Do you think gardening is important for managing arthritis?

I think gardening is extremely important for people with arthritis as it’s a very therapeutic form of exercise. It can improve both your physical and mental wellbeing.

That’s why I designed my garden to be low maintenance, to make it possible to maintain for anyone who may have restricted movement or pain due to arthritis. You could kneel, stand, sit, and still be able to tend to it. I also chose plants that would behave themselves, to an extent.

During this time of COVID-19 the desire to garden has had the biggest surge since I can remember. People have been asking me about gardening who never would’ve before. It’s all about activity. Activity and therapy at a time when they’re needed most.

Chris Beardshaw, designer of the 2013 – The Arthritis UK Garden

How do you feel about being nominated and what inspired you?

It’s a thrill to have been nominated. It’s great that people remember the garden and the inspiration behind it which was about being confronted with my own diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.

From when I was first diagnosed to how it makes you feel. It was the first time I’d told a personal story in a garden. It was a personal and raw subject to deal with.

I like gardens to have reasons for existing. My role is to try and convey that gardens and plants connect with life – stepping beyond the practical to a more emotional level. It’s the approach I take with any garden I create. You know when you’ve got it right when you see the response in people.

Tell us more about how your garden design reflects your arthritis journey?

The garden was in three zones: In the first, representing diagnoses, there was little colour, some green, dark stems of plants and twisted trees. I wanted to create the ‘fog ‘of arthritis – when you’re first trying to find information and how that makes you feel.

This area was planted to be intimidating and overwhelming, so densely planted, monochromatic and no obvious way out of the area. I wanted people to feel they had to actively commit to get out of that space into a more positive place.

The second area represented clarity and more optimism with upright flowers, whites and blues representing the purity of light.

From uncertainly to positivity. I used your research on complementary medicine and the plants mentioned in the research in this area to show how gardening and plants can help to treat the condition.

The third area was about living life despite having arthritis. I created an area that was bright, plants with varied hues to represent a carnival atmosphere of life. Paving was smoothest in this area and it was a celebratory garden people could connect with.

People were in tears once they saw the configuration of the three spaces and the story we were telling. Many people completely understood.

I wanted to show the purity and simplicity that came from the transition of diagnosis to living life to the full. Gardening can convey quite complicated stories.

Do you think gardening is important during this time of COVID-19?

I’ve never experienced such a need for gardening information from my neighbours, people I walked past in the street at the moment! It’s been a good thing.

Creating great gardens is a mark of who we are as human beings. People have been propagating their plants and sharing with their neighbours, so it’s brought people together.

Everyone has a conversation and a connection with green spaces. Green spaces have become a church for us. Gardeners have had the most spectacular spring!