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Small spaces and community gardening celebrated at first RHS Urban Show

by | 18 Apr 24 | Long Reads, Nature & Biodiversity

RHS Urban Show

Show manager Lex Falleyn explains how the Royal Horticultural Society’s latest event could help to inspire greener cities.

 Overpriced coffee, crowded transport and a lack of parking – these might be true of most cities, but they’re not what’s forcing people to leave them. A recent study by property developer Landsec revealed that a third (33%) of urban dwellers are planning to say goodbye to the smog in the next 10 years, with the top reason being a lack of access to nature and green space.  

These fed-up residents might want to head to the RHS Urban Show, being held at the Depot Mayfield in Manchester from today. Urban gardening is on the rise, according to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). So, the charity is launching its first large scale indoor show, dedicated to helping visitors create greener cities across the UK.  

Emma Tipping

Emma Tipping, designer of the RHS and MEN Pub Garden at the RHS Urban Show 2024

From celebrating pub gardens and community gardening, to offering ideas for even the smallest of outdoor spaces, the RHS Urban Show will be showing what’s possible to create in an urban environment. Two of the biggest threads throughout the show will be caring for houseplants as well as gardening on a budget, as these have been some of the top-searched topics on the RHS website, says show manager, Lex Falleyn, whose own experience arguably makes her the perfect fit to head up the charity’s new show.  

Just before the first lockdown hit at the start of 2020, Falleyn moved into a flat in London, with no private garden. So, she got involved in caring for a communal outdoor space with her neighbours – at a social distance, of course. She’d been working for a floral design and events styling company at the time, but soon joined the RHS to manage its flower show at Tatton Park, which she still does alongside launching the RHS’ latest addition to its lineup, one that she feels can add real value to people living in cities. 

“People are looking for ways to green up and, once they’ve done it with a houseplant, they want to know what they can move onto next. And if you don’t have a garden or a terrace or a balcony, how can you garden in a public sphere? We’ve touched on this at other shows, but it’s going to be a big topic in our Talks Theatre here.” 

The RHS Urban Show strikes a balance between what can be done at home but also in a community setting. There’s a particular focus on groups and organisations in the northwest, where the show is being held this year. The RHS started growing these connections when it was developing its latest garden in Salford, RHS Garden Bridgewater, which opened three years ago. 

Conal Mcguire

Urban Shade designed by Conal Mcguire for the RHS Urban Show 2024

“We knew of all the great work that was already happening in Manchester, so rather than going somewhere that hasn’t started that journey yet, we wanted to bring everyone together. So, we have local authorities, community groups, tree charities – there are more than 20 different local organisations involved.” 

Along with highlighting the positives of community gardening, Falleyn says the show will also address some of the challenges, such as the legalities to consider, to ensure more schemes are successful.  

‘Content cubes’ will tackle other issues, such as rainwater collection in urban landscapes. Garden designer Leon Davis will explore how rainwater can be captured and reused in a city. Another ‘cube’ called ‘Urban Shade’ will show how a vertical planting solution can be used in awkwardly shaped spaces, such as kitchen returns. 

“When we have applications for other shows, it’s often for sunny, south-facing gardens; but we’re aware that’s not the reality for lots of people. So, we commissioned people to design for shady patches, especially for those living in cities whose garden is often overlooked. We wanted to make sure that was represented at the show.”  

Overall, the RHS Urban Show is about working together to create clever solutions, explains Falleyn. If access to nature and green space is lacking, then perhaps there are opportunities to create this on a smaller scale at home and or as a community, so city dwellers can at least drink their overpriced coffee whilst enjoying the benefits of being surrounded by plants.  

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