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RHS Chelsea 2020 Diaries – Dan Riddleston – part one

First in a series of articles, Dan Riddleston talks about building a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2020. 

It’s seven years since designer Robert Myers created a garden at RHS Chelsea. This year he returns with a show garden that will mark the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale’s birth and celebrate the importance of nursing in the 21st century. It’s going to be a very special garden at Chelsea this year, so we were delighted to get a call, back in September last year, asking us to build it for him.

Our sponsor is the Burdett Trust for Nursing and we’ll be creating ‘an imagined courtyard garden for a new hospital’. Robert’s concept has been inspired by Florence Nightingale’s pioneering views on nursing and the garden will feature several cleverly conceived ideas that celebrate her life and work. For instance, a reflecting pool in the garden will reference her insights into drainage and cleanliness, while plants will symbolise both her own pressed flower collection and plants with strong medicinal properties that were used in the 19th century. Elsewhere in the garden, Robert has included images of Florence on etched ‘windows’ while echoes of her handwriting will appear to be inscribed onto the perimeter walls.

The centrepiece of the garden, and one of the biggest challenges of the project, is a huge timber pergola. At 60ft it will stretch the length of the garden and enclose it on three sides to suggest the courtyard. We’ll be using cross-laminated timber (CLT) to create the structure. For those unfamiliar with CLT, it’s an engineered wood that has become known as the ‘concrete of the future’ due to its potential as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional building materials. It is used a lot by architects in the building industry, but is the first time that we’ve worked with material. We think it’s a ‘first’ for RHS Chelsea too, as we can’t recall anything of this scale built in CLT featured at the show before – more on this next month!

Sustainability is very much at the heart of the design that Robert has created which is really exciting for us. As a company, like many others, we are constantly looking at ways to reduce our carbon footprint, particularly at Chelsea where the gardens are often transitory, so it’s fantastic to have the opportunity to source innovative materials and techniques and to be introducing them at Chelsea.

I will be leading the project alongside our Contracts Manager Dene Hakner and we’ll be working with a number of talented suppliers including CLT expert Jim Johnstone of ConstruktCLT Ltd and metal fabricator James Booth who will create the reflective brimming pool. Trees, hedges and shrubs are currently being grown by Deepdale Trees in Bedfordshire and the remaining plants are being grown in Hampshire by Hortus Loci. Further afield, we have sourced the yew domes from Bruns in Germany. It’s an excellent team who I know will be able to deliver Robert’s vision for the garden exactly as his plans and drawings envisage. We’ve certainly got a great few months ahead.

Dan Riddleston joined landscape company Bowles & Wyer in 2006 and has been managing director since the summer of 2017. With a background in hard and soft landscape construction, he is one of the UK’s most well-respected figures in the sector, with expertise across many areas including landscape restoration, town and country gardens and commercial projects.

Over the past 25 years Dan has been involved in numerous RHS Chelsea Show gardens where he has won two gold medals, both with designer Darren Hawkes, as well as four silver-gilt and one silver medal.  He also sits on the RHS selection panel for RHS Chelsea and is an ambassador for BALI Go Landscape – an education, skills and careers initiative, designed to inform and inspire new recruits into the landscape industry.

Dan’s current client portfolio covers private clients, government bodies and commercial organisations including The Royal Parks, The Crown Estates, The Peabody Trust, Cambridge University and Dulwich College.  He has worked with many high-profile garden designers including Andy Sturgeon, Charlotte Rowe, Christopher Bradley Hole, Brita von Schoenaich, Tom Stuart Smith and Luciano Giubbilei.

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