RHS Greening Grey Britain Garden

Nigel Dunnett’s inspirational garden created a buzz of interest with the crowds at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2017


The features of the garden drew on Nigel’s former work at The Barbican in London, giving gardeners, communities and urban developers an exciting blueprint full of sustainable design ideas that they could take away and use in their own projects. 

The focal point was an urban apartment block with narrow balconies surrounded by lush edible plants and small private seating areas. On the lower level, a social community garden was filled with vibrant planting that was easy to maintain but attracts wildlife and pollinators. Street art, painted by Sheffield artist Jo Peel, was combined with a living green hoarding that ran along the boundary walls. Paths made from poured concrete and recycled municipal paving slabs set in angles also gave the garden that urban edge with a sense of space.

Making our urban spaces beautiful and functional 

Nigel said: “The Greening Grey Britain Garden illustrated how we can really pack our small and sometimes constricting urban spaces with life to make them beautiful and functional. It really was climate change adapted. Water was an integral part of the garden design, showing how rain water can be re-used in urban places by drawing it down from the apartment block roof using a downpipe and pushing it into the central wetland pools. Cut up concrete pipes were buried in the wetland to collect rain water and sustain the plants within them during drier times.

Key garden features 

“The garden was designed to be a real haven in an urban context. The community area had an ‘edible meeting table’ that seats eight to 10 people with an apple tree and herbs growing within it that people could just pick. Vertical planters full of scented and edible plants grew all around the balconies creating a living private screen. I picked out functional things that people often hide, such as wheelie bins and bikes, putting them up front and creating storage areas for them with natural planting and wood. Butterfly feeders hung vertically on the apartment block and insect hotels made from reclaimed materials attracted buzzing insects from the borders. The overall feel of the garden was cosy but its clean lines surprised people, perhaps something they may not have expeced to see in a sustainable garden.”

Nigel added: “The garden was a living representation of how gardens could be created in the future. I hope it has inspired people to take ideas away and make their own mark to green up a grey space, that’s what the RHS Greening Grey Britain campaign is all about”. 

Five things to take away to your garden or development

1. Dynamic planting that appeals to wildlife can add interest to borders all year round
2. Harnessing the power of rain water from roofs to fill borders and specially created ‘wetland’ areas
3. Insect hotels and butterfly feeders built with reclaimed materials
4. Using a living wall system or vertical planting to add interest and dimension to the space
5. Incorporating social eating spaces with edible plants in borders or containers

“84% of the UK population lives in cities that are densely developed. I’m passionate about greening our urban spaces and bringing wildlife and greenery into contact with people.”


Are you inspired by Nigel Dunnett’s exciting garden?  

Promise to green up your grey space as part of the RHS Greening Grey Britain campaign today. 



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The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.