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Designing a show garden for relocation

by | 28 Mar 24 | Garden Design, Long Reads, Sustainability

Designed initially for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023, the Talitha Arts Garden is a celebration of the creative arts, uniting sculpture, performance, and plants and their therapeutic power to restore the lives of those who have suffered trauma. 

Designed “backwards”, Joe and Laura Carey of Carey Garden Design Studio, based their ideas and preparation on the relocation plan, with every detail selected to benefit the permanent garden at St. Margaret’s House community centre in Bethnal Green, London.

The community space had an existing working relationship with the Talitha Arts charity and now uses the relocated garden as a space for the charity to run workshops, fundraise, and hold events. Working alongside its celebrity patrons such as actress Tamsin Greig, Talitha Arts has now expanded its opportunities and hosts performances such as poetry nights and local music. 

“The wider community can also enjoy the space as it’s part of the café garden,” says Joe Carey, who along with Laura has been invited back to the site to redevelop the remaining space. “This is an exciting opportunity to continue our vision for the wider garden space, making it more accessible for those with mobility issues and ensuring the legacy of the garden continues for generations.” 

The relocation of the garden was essential for Carey, but this of course presented its challenges. “We had many of our components manufactured in north Norfolk, so not only did we face the logistical challenge of transportation to the show, but we also had to consider the long-term home of the garden in Bethnal Green. He adds that the relocation site was also complicated in that access was very limited being within a walled garden surrounded by listed buildings. 

“We found that it was much simpler to work backwards,” says Carey, explaining that Chelsea is a “tight-space site” so there were lots of parameters in place that can limit what a designer can do. “However, we chose to be led by the end goal of the permanent site. We wanted visitors to the garden to be able to see it as it looked at Chelsea, rather than be broken up and sent to different places.” For Carey, this meant spending extra on making something modular, or engineering a clever solution to make the breakdown more straightforward. “Then it felt justified as this wasn’t just for the six days at Chelsea.” 

Building with this transfer in mind, all the steel works including paths, platforms, and seating area were made as a modular skeleton. This meant Carey didn’t need to use any concrete to fix this at the show as it simply sat on the show ground and was pegged into place so that it could be easily disconnected and removed in manageable sections. 

As a result of this approach, the Talitha Arts Garden was more sustainable as almost all of the materials from the show garden were reused at its permanent home.  

Much of the Type1 and gravel was relocated, as well as the cladding which was repurposed as materials for raised beds. Carey also planted in pots for the show to make moving the plants across much simpler. “We relocated straight away after the show, which was exhausting but also kept the momentum of the project,” saving on storage and transportation costs, as well as the overall environmental impact. “We moved everything once and well!” says Carey.  

“Overall, I think it gave the garden more integrity as we always knew it was merely ‘resting’ at Chelsea on its way to the final site. This also helped to take our mind off medals as we could see the long-term impact the garden would have regardless.” 

Proving that their “backwards” way of thinking had its benefits, the Talitha Arts Garden now thrives at St. Margaret’s House and hopes to be an inspiration for upcoming show gardens as designers plan for their life after the show. 

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