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Juliet Sargeant: “We’ve got to change the way we do things”

by | 04 Jul 24 | Garden Design, Long Reads | 0 comments

Juliet Sargeant

Juliet Sargeant’s The Lion King Anniversary Garden scooped RHS Hampton Court’s first Environmental Innovation Award as well as Best in Show and a Silver-Gilt medal

‘How am I going to build a three-metre-high wall without concrete?’ That’s the question garden designer Juliet Sargeant was pondering after she submitted the plan for a show garden at this year’s RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival. The selection committee had asked if there was anything she could use instead of concrete foundations to reduce the carbon footprint of the wall – and so, that’s what she did. 

The Lion King Anniversary Garden

The Lion King Anniversary Garden. Credit: Alister Thorpe

Consulting a structural engineer, Sargeant and contractor Gardenlink instead used four tonnes of water tanks and a towering tree to weigh down the wall and prevent it from falling over – and according to Sargeant, it’s this outside-the-box thinking that “clinched” Hampton Court’s first Environmental Innovation Award.  

Introduced at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show before being brought to the summer show, the RHS’ new green award recognises efforts to make show gardens more sustainable. Sargeant calls the award itself “a fabulous innovation”, adding that winning it in its first year feels “wonderful”. 

“The RHS is really keen for these show gardens to be as sustainable as possible because these days you can’t really justify the kind of waste and the carbon footprint that we’ve all been used to just taking for granted. We’ve got to change the way we do things.” 

 

The Lion King Anniversary Garden

The Lion King Anniversary Garden. Credit: Alister Thorpe

Sargeant’s The Lion King Anniversary Garden – which celebrates 25 years of the West End musical – not only used no cement but also no steel. The timber poles have been collected in woodlands for them to be chipped after the show, the timber for the wall will be reused by Gardenlink. How Green Nursery – “a pioneer of peat free” and a small, local nursery to Sargeant – supplied most of the plants. The team also used crushed red brick, which is a recycled material but also permeable, says Sargeant. “As you go around the show, you see a lot of gardens are moving to permeable paving now.” 

 

Despite winning the RHS Enviromental Innovation Award as well as Best in Show, The Lion King Anniversary Garden just missed out on a Gold medal, taking away a Silver-Gilt instead. There were only four Gold medals dished out at Hampton Court this year, and none of them were in the show garden category. “It’s tough,” says Sargeant. “The RHS shows are arguably the best in the world, and they have a really high standard.” 

It’s not all about the medals after all, says Sargeant, who adds the pressure – be it from striving for awards or from the sponsor – can lead to designers playing it too safe. “That’s something that I’ve never done, because I see the show as a real creative opportunity to do something different, both for myself because I need to be interested in it, but also for the visitors…But you take a risk if you do that. You take a risk with the medals because it may not be understoof or accepted. It’s good to take risks; but as a designer, you have to decide whether you are doing the show for the medal or for a lovely exhibit or for your own progression as a creator, and I try to do the latter – though it’s nice to get medals, of course.” 

Thenjiwe Thendiva Nofemele

Thenjiwe Thendiva Nofemele performs at RHS Hampton Court. Credit: Craig Sugden

Fortunately, Disney’s The Lion King proved to be a “really lovely” sponsor. “Everything has been about working together and making my life easier; they haven’t put any pressure on me at all.” Its exhibit is a community garden, which featured live performances from the cast on press day. Sargeant’s design aimed to bring visitors through their own ‘Circle of Life’, a famous song from the original film. 

After a quarter of a century, the West End show has been experienced by more than 19 million people. And thanks to Sargeant, it’s not only celebrating its 25th anniversary this year but also two of the top awards at Hampton Court. Hakuna matata, indeed. 

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