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Water-saving makes a splash at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

by | 23 May 24 | Garden Design, Long Reads, Opinion, Sustainability | 0 comments

With 90% of natural disasters being water-related, the importance of water conservation has never been clearer. The gardens struggling for moisture in the summer are the same ones drowning in the spring, with Mark Gregory, managing director of Landform Consultants and decorated RHS garden builder, recalling this past winter as the hardest due to rainfall.

The movement of sustainable water conservation has worked its way up to the main stage at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, from the Show to the Container Gardens.

Evening shot from The WaterAid Garden. Designed by Tom Massey and Je Ahn. Sponsored by Project Giving Back. © RHS / Neil Hepworth

One of the first to be announced for this year’s show all the way back in October, the WaterAid garden, co-designed by Tom Massey and Je Ahn, focuses on sustainable water management and showcases a planting scheme chosen for its ability to deal with varying amounts of rainfall.

In its centre stands a rainwater harvesting pavilion, a prominent central structure that draws the eye but also collects, filters and stores water for later use. Meaning the garden’s planting could benefit from the water collected in spring all the way into summer.

Designer Tom Massey comments on the design, saying: “Water is an incredibly precious resource that should not be wasted, every drop of rain will be utilised.”

And waste this award-winning garden does not; as rain transcends through the pavilion, protruded by large alder trees capable of surviving in large volumes of water, the run-off falls through the walkway grating and into a pond, designed to foster wildlife.

On a smaller scale, the Water Saving Garden, sponsored by Affinity Water and designed by Sam Proctor pays homage to Chilterns’ chalk streams, a chalk escarpment in southern England, to underscore the urgent need to save and reuse rainwater.

The Water Saving Garden supported by Affinity Water. Designed by Sam Proctor. Sponsored by Affinity Water. Container Garden. © RHS / Tim Sandall

With temperatures hitting record highs, droughts and hosepipe bans, the ripples of climate change are being felt in gardens across the UK and the world, no matter their size. Proctor’s contemporary container designer takes full advantage of its limited space to show that water-capture is a possibility even in urban or smaller spaces.

While water saving is a high priority, building gardens to be resilient to flood is of equal importance. The two often go hand in hand when said garden is in the UK. It is reported that one in four homes across the nation are at risk of flooding, including the gardens.

Flood Re: The Flood Resilient Garden, designed by Naomi Slade and Dr Ed Barsley, is another example of how water-capture is making waves at RHS Chelsea. Designed to be an enjoyable and relaxing space, whilst helping to reduce risk of flood with the ability to recover quickly after heavy rainfall.

Its dense planting slows the flow of water to prevent flooding, while large tanks that double as ornamental ponds store water for later use, and can be discharged ahead of further rain, using smart-technology.

Flood Re: The Flood Resilient Garden. Designed by Naomi Slade and Dr Ed Barsley. Sponsored by FloodRe. Sanctuary Garden. © RHS / Sarah Cuttle

Other gardens across the show ground look to the planting to combat the effects of climate change. St James’s Piccadilly: Imagine the World to be Different garden, designed by Robert Myers, features an array of species specifically chosen for their varying resilience and environmental adaptability.

In a recent survey conducted by WaterAid, it was found that 60% of UK gardeners are concerned about climate change, and the fluctuation in water quantity is a major factor in this concern.

By bringing the methods of water-capture to the mainstage that is RHS Chelsea, it sparks the conversation and ripples through the chain until the technology and ideals become accessible, and the more accessible it becomes, the more resilient the UK becomes and in turn safeguards the environment for the next generation.

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