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Conceptual gardens - where design tells a story

Highlights of the 2012 RHS Hampton Court Palace Show's Conceptual Gardens

Light at the end of the tunnel

Space is the only limiting factor in the Conceptual Garden category, sponsored by Renault, at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show. Designers enjoy free rein to create whatever their imagination can conjure up, giving visitors a visual and often thought-provoking treat of art and horticulture.

Bombing survivor turned garden designer

This year, stories of survival, conservation and human inequality are some of the inspirational sources of the eight gardens. Matthew Childs, who has designed 'Light at the end of the tunnel', uses his life-changing experience of being injured at Edgware Road station in the 7/7 London bombings of 2005 to create a garden of hope and recovery.

The entrance to his tunnel-like garden is narrow, dark and confined, but a clear path leads visitors to an area of light, space and natural planting, so illustrating Matthew’s journey from injury back to full health, and through his career change from advertising to garden design.

Best Conceptual Garden - the designer's journey

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Making a positive from a negative

‘This Conceptual Garden has provided a narrative for me to explore how I got to garden design after the bombing,’ said Matthew, who has previously not spoken publicly about his ordeal. ‘I’ve tried to make something positive out of a negative. Rather than talk about how awful it was, I’ve tried to make the most from the opportunities I have subsequently been given’.

Following a year of recovery, Matthew returned to his job in advertising with the feeling that he was lucky to be alive and that ‘every day counted’. After a visit to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2007 he saw how it was possible to make horticulture a profession and so went on to study and gain qualifications with the KLC School of Design and the RHS. Matthew now has his own design company and ‘Light at the end of the tunnel’ is his first RHS show garden.

Butterflies symbolise hope

A cube planted with tropical plants that provide a home for live butterflies is surrounded by a meadow of grasses and cornflowers in Robert Kennett’s garden, 'Las Mariposas; hopes of a Nicaraguan girl'. Supporting Amnesty International’s Butterflies of Hope campaign, it uses contrasting planting and strong forms to highlight the plight of women exposed to sexual violence in this Central American country.

Thought-provoking garden designs

Christine Cottrell (Graduate Landscapes Ltd) tackles the issue of dyslexia in her 'Garden for DA' (Dyslexia Action). She interprets the diagnosis of this condition using two squares joined by a dark pool. One square with mown grass and an uninviting boulder seat represents a time of little or no development, while the other has meadow-like planting and small trees to symbolise growth. The path of diagnosis links the two squares.

Flame-coloured plants are used in 'Uprising' by Daniel Shea. A bold, dynamic garden set in an underprivileged urban area, it aims to attract young people to horticulture and nature, and away from acts of violence and aggression. Daniel’s inspiration came from the destruction caused by last summer’s riots.

Personal emotions of shock, fear, shame, anger and despair are called on by Jo Hanslip (Jardinissta Landscape & Garden Design) in her garden inspired by the recession. Called ‘Free Fall’ it includes seven water-filled Perspex tube-like cages of differing heights, each representing a human emotion. The plants within the cages are contained in special cylinders and surrounded by water, which bubbles and spills over the tops.

A coral reef is represented by a blue, Perspex box covering cacti, succulents and other desert plants in Antonia Young’s garden (Pod Garden Design) ‘The Coral Desert’. Here she aims to highlight the fact that three-quarters of the world’s coral reefs are at risk from pollution, overfishing and climate change, and show that if coral reefs are not protected, they will end up as ocean deserts.

Textured blocks, water and duckweed feature in Tony Smith’s ‘Chaos’ garden which, at first glance appears to very organised, but on closer inspection proves to be random and chaotic.

A giant television set is the focal point of Simon Webster’s (Garden Hero) design ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’. Black and silver plants, reflecting pools and granite paving provide a monochrome setting for the splash of wildflower colour spilling out of the television.

The Conceptual Gardens category is sponsored by Renault.