The Chelsea Garden Show, now in its 86th year, is a high point in the horticultural social scene, with the Queen and all sorts of celebrities attending on Opening Day. But amidst the glitter and glamour of the fabulous show gardens, there is a fascinating and stunning social experiment.
The Key is a major garden developed through a collaboration between a government agency working with the homeless, prisoners and the Eden Project. It more than holds its own amongst the glitzy show gardens surrounding it.
We spoke to Paul Stone, the designer, who is with Architecture sans Frontieres--U.K. He developed it with Places of Change, a capital improvement programme funded by government agencies which seeks to improve services for people who are homeless. He wanted it to represent a journey that anyone might be forced to take during these difficult economic times.
The garden is laid out in a very serious and thought-provoking way. At the front, It starts with a foreboding and jungle-like feeling. It is overgrown and decaying, with narrow winding obstacle paths. It was meant to be dark and scary and impenetrable. This was purposeful to make one feel that they are working through the hardship of the place.
Some patches of the garden have brambles and thorns and poisonous plants, reflecting the difficult journey that prisoners must take.
Mid-way are huge reclaimed timber pieces set into the ground. They are the storywall and painted onto them is a poem by a homeless person about homelessness. They form a striking entrance and transition to the back area of the garden.
At the back it turns into a large, open, welcoming social space with a big table and chairs. There is a feeling of inclusion, abundance and bounty. There are vegetables growing and herbs in a shelf unit with a car's windshield as a protective roof.
There are old keys spread all over the garden floor. They represent a key into society and an opening back into the real world. Thus the name of the garden, The Key.
Ninety per cent of the plants were grown from seed by the homeless. They also built the garden physically on site, dug the holes and made the structures. The garden is completely sustainable, the materials are from recycled sources and it will be broken down and reused afterwards.
It will be fascinating to see what the judges make of this when prize time comes around... RHS Chelsea Flower Show
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