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Focus on plants for the world horse welfare artisan garden

In keeping with their signature ‘wild and wonderful’ style, garden designers Adam Woolcott and Jonathan Smith have selected between 50-60 different species of wildflowers and wild grasses, plus trees and shrubs which are all British natives. for the World Horse Welfare Garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Almost 1,000 plants will be grown in total, with 300 cultivated in Adam and Jonathan’s own garden in Hertfordshire.

The garden is a traditional wildflower garden and will tell the story of a real horse rescued from a small, derelict stable and nursed back to health under World Horse Welfare’s care, now living in a bright, open meadow where he can thrive and continue his journey to re-homing. The garden will celebrate the charity’s 90 years of helping horses and introduce its work to show goers and television viewers alike. The aim is to shine a spotlight on ‘invisible’ horses around the world whose suffering goes unnoticed or ignored.

Whilst planning the garden, the designers were keen to use a feature tree in the right hand corner of the garden to add height and interest. The choice was limited as it couldn’t be a cultivar and had to be ‘horse friendly’ in this part of the garden. The first choice might have been a horse chestnut based on the fact they they look so impressive in May but are harmful to horses and so opted for a sweet chestnut tree (Castanea sativa), a type which coincidentally happens to grow at the charity’s headquarters in Norfolk.

Ragwort (Senecio jacobea) is the most poisonous plant to horses and included in the Injurious Weeds Act 1959. As one part of the garden is designed to show an unsuitable space for horses, the designers and charity felt appropriate to include it. Using both horse friendly and horse harmful plants is intended as an educational tool to help demonstrate both poor and good horse welfare.

Adam and Jonathan have recycled some wildflowers from client compost heaps, potted them on and now have some wonderful specimens growing in their own garden which will be ready for the Show come mid May. One favourite is greater stitchwort (Stellaria media), a gloriously understated pure white flower that scrambles up between other plants. It’s a perfect plant for use on the edges of meadows and will be planted towards the front of the garden on the right hand side.

Ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) is a great wildflower for damp meadows so a good choice for planting near the meadow stream. It has a beautiful delicate pink flower and was one of the stars of the Chelsea Flower Show 2006 when it caught the eye of show goers and the media. Another meadow wildflower winner has to be Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare). Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) are highly poisonous to horses and it’s the wild native purple form that will be planted in the neglected horse area. This area will not be overly pretty; it needs to evoke a certain menacing darkness symbolic of the terrible circumstances that these invisible horses find themselves in.


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