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Sara Edwards thinks big for her Tiny IBC Pocket Forest Garden at Chelsea Flower Show

For her debut garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021, Sara Edwards explores and challenges conventional ideas of container gardening by thinking BIG with her IBC Pocket Forest Garden.

Sara runs the successful No.30 Design Studio in Herefordshire, which was launched in 2019 following her success at RHS Malvern Spring Festival, when she won an RHS Gold Medal and Best in Category ‘Green Living Space Garden’ for her repurposed shipping Container Garden – ‘Defiance’.

At just 4 x 3m, Sara’s IBC Pocket Forest Garden at Chelsea Flower Show demonstrates how even in the smallest of spaces, it is possible to create an urban pocket-sized forest, through creatively upcycling and re-purposing readily available, Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBC).

“I absolutely needed to make a statement. I have aimed to show everyone something different by creating a unique and edgy styled garden that you don’t see every day. I wanted to go extreme with large format style planting, and create a micro ecosystem.”

The IBC Pocket Forest – Container Garden – RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021 – Designer Sara Edwards – No 30 Design Studio – photography by Stephen Studd

Pushing the boundaries of size, Sara decided she was going to design a garden that challenges the usual small space containers planting. “I have made a garden that is completely immersive, which prompts a feeling as though you are sitting in a tiny glade, with narrow paths that overhang with branches. The idea is experimental and playful, and I really hope that it is something people try out for themselves.”

Sara cleverly repurposed the large plastic containers to create deep but compact, planting beds, which provide enough volume to hold a richly tiered planting scheme of trees, shrubs and ground cover.

The Pocket Forest Garden has been inspired by Sara’s love of the verdantly planted, towering balconies of Milan’s ‘Bosco Verticale’ designed by Boeri Studio. Sara was also influenced by the planting methodology of Japanese botanist and plant ecologist Akira Miyawaki, which was instrumental in creating the concept of ‘Tiny Pocket Forests’ in small urban spaces.

The IBC Pocket Forest – Container Garden – RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021 – Designer Sara Edwards – No 30 Design Studio – photography by Stephen Studd

“Everyday, you can find trees growing in containers dotted around cities, or in pedestrians streets. I wanted to emphasise that anyone can do this.”

However, with such great opportunity, can often come challenges. “It is wonderful to be able to create my first garden for RHS Chelsea Flower Show, but due to the changes this year, I’ve only had a couple of months to create the garden.”

Sara described that the issues she has faced during her build have situated around bad weather, supply chain problems, and not having too much time to put her idea together. “At first, I struggled to get hold of the IBC containers. Due to the supply chain issue, stock wasn’t where it was supposed to be – I had to wait a month to get the containers of the quality I needed.

“In addition, the summer has been pretty hit and miss this year. I struggled to get any commitments from growers, as stock hasn’t been so good due to the weather.”

Nevertheless, the final project is complete, and is a dramatic, tiny woodland garden that is both sustainable and attainable for those with even the smallest of outdoor spaces. The IBC Pocket Forest Garden provides a haven for wildlife and a sanctuary in which to sit and be immersed in nature.

To Sara, it was important that the message of experimenting with scale reaches her visitors. She explained: “I would like my visitors to understand that just because you might have a small space to work with, it does not mean you have to think small. A space can feel bigger with bigger pots and plants in it as opposed to filling it with lots of smaller ones. Be brave with your garden, and focus on bringing sustainability in wherever you can.”

With the aim to provide inspiration and sustainability, Sara ensured the concept of the IBC Tiny Pocket Forest Garden provides practical solution, and new ideas to influence gardeners to stay focused on the future.

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