As we were talking about gardening and mental health last week, I thought you’d like to hear about a very special garden produced by Ian Price Design with idverde.co.uk for this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. Ian, a garden designer based in Northern Ireland, designed a garden to tell the story of his own struggles with mental health with the aim of letting others know that they are not alone and to encourage the conversation around mental health.
The garden very cleverly illustrated the issue from the point of view of a person struggling with depression while also providing insights into the condition to a person unfamiliar with it – a very tricky thing to pull off as it’s such a hard thing for anyone to understand from the outside.
Four partially see-through metal walls enclose the garden and are hugely symbolic as they can create a feeling of security, as well as feeling like a prison, depending on your point of view. The walls block some of the views in both directions, illustrating that it’s not always possible to see the bigger picture from any one perspective.
The twisted rectangular dark pool inside the walls features a seat from which you can take any one of four paths, but to reach them you have to step into the unknown by standing on the hidden grid below the black water surface. One path leads to a dead end while the others lead to steps of different heights, symbolising the choices we make to help us get better, and illustrating that some of the paths may not be the right path to take to improve our mental health.
Plants such as Carex buchananii in the inner area were chosen to look dying or dead to the casual observer, with other plants featuring dark, twisted shapes. Outside the walls, shade tolerant planting dominates towards the rear while plants thriving in sunnier conditions were featured in front. The reason behind the contrasting planting is to highlight that we can have darker moods as well as brighter moods. The path that leads out of the garden easily winds through the brighter sun loving area to reflect the mood of those that are on the right path to learning to manage their depression. A spiral chute water feature symbolically reminds us that even when we are feeling happy, we can always spiral back down again to where we started.
The plants, including many of my own much-used favourites such as Euphorbia, Vinca, Agapanthus and Birch trees, were chosen for the meaning behind them rather than just to look good.
The garden received an extremely positive reaction from the public and was awarded a much-coveted gold medal by the RHS judges. On the final day of the show, the plants were sold to raise funds for a trio of gardening and mental health causes – Perennial, Inspire and Heads Together, the mental health campaign spearheaded by Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Hats off to Ian, idverde and their wonderful team for bringing such an important subject to the world stage in such a creative and thought-provoking way.