Show garden design brought together North West communities

RHS Communities team and BBC North West Tonight teamed up to produce a horticultural community hub

RHS and BBC North West Northern Star GardenFive community groups came together to create the RHS and BBC NW Tonight Northern Star Garden for RHS Flower Show Tatton Park 2023, which showcased how communities, religions and gardening styles can come together.

 In January 2023, five community groups were invited to be one part of a collaborative show garden at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park. Designed by television presenter and garden designer Lee Burkhill, aka Garden Ninja, the different groups each had their own border, which measured approximately two by four metres, and conveyed their own distinct message.

Five months later, Lee ran a mentoring day at RHS Garden Bridgewater and introduced the community gardeners to the world of show gardens, and taught the volunteers how to plant up their parts of the ‘star’ design, instead of hiring professional landscapers. 

 “I want to break the rules and upskill these gardeners with show garden planting skills. What’s even better is all the plants from their respective borders go back to the community gardens after the show.”
Lee Burkhill, Garden Designer

The collaboration by North West in Bloom and the RHS Community Outreach team supported by BBC North West Tonight saw Burkhill, BBC One’s Garden Rescue presenter, design: an Islamic paradise border, a food forest border, a relaxing, pollen-rich perennial border, a wildlife-friendly bee border and a grow your own allotment-themed border to showcase the groups’ work in the region.

Lee brought the group’s ideas together in a star shape, with key blue-themed garden sculptures, blue and purple coastal plants and a custom hand built blue chevron bench in the centre, representing the North Western coast and skies. The overall effect was the unification of religions and gardening disciplines for a cohesive whole. Lee selected the plants to mirror the themes the groups had chosen.

At 22x18 metres, the Northern Star was the largest garden at Tatton and unlike most show gardens, people were encouraged to sit, meet and rest within the garden.

“Gardening is a really diverse practice, whether that’s based on budget, style, plants or location.” Lee Burkhill, Garden Designer

The Amaani Initiative, a family-run project that aims to tackle climate change and Rochdale Mosque showcased their presence through their ‘Islamic Paradise Garden’ border, where scented aromatic planting took visitors on a journey eastwards. They used symmetry, water and a pared back-planting palette as a way to find peace and calm in the garden.

The ‘Islamic Paradise Garden’ border

Wigan & Leigh Hospice’s ‘Relax and Retreat’ pollen-rich area was a place to switch off and be at peace with the world. The flowerbed featured rich late-flowering herbaceous perennial plants to help provide a long season of interest in the garden. They used easily dividable plants, to be shared with other people for community spirit.

Blackleach Allotments, in Walkden, Greater Manchester, created a ‘Grow Your Own’ garden, suitable for small urban spaces and relatively easy to grow from seed.

“At times it was hard work but overall we came away with a smile and the fact we had learned something and met similar-minded communities.”
Joe from Blackleach Allotments

Layered with edible planting, Liverpool environmental charity Faiths4Change’s ‘Food Forest’ garden had ornamental edibles and mimicked natural ecosystems, where plants cohabit without the need to compete.

The ‘Wildlife-friendly Bee Garden’ for Myerscough College, the North West centre for land-based, science, engineering and sports education, had a beehive at its centre. Thorne, the leading manufacturer and retailer of beekeeping equipment in the UK, supplied the beehive to show how urban gardens can offer a refuge for bees and beginner beekeepers. Pollinator-friendly plants were mixed with food crops to create a productive space for humans and wildlife.

The ‘Wildlife-friendly Bee Garden’

“Our goal for RHS Tatton Park 2023 was to shine a light on local talent and community causes. We have worked closely with the community outreach team to identify a broad range of communities that are gardening for good.” 
Lex Falleyn, RHS Tatton Park Show Manager

Showcasing small, urban spaces

Key elements of the garden included drought-tolerant planting, zero waste, urban spaces and food growing in a small space. Lee also taught the groups about beginner-friendly herbaceous perennials that attract wildlife, as well as affordable ways of incorporating height and sculpture into a garden. 

“It’s a tricky task – trying to blend them together and showcase the best of them so that everyone gets an equal display for the design. Hopefully, we will show other new gardeners that there is a place for them, and there is a style for everyone.”
Lee Burkhill, Garden Designer

The finished garden aimed to show how horticulture can empower local communities and bring them together.

Each bed of the Northern Star garden is being rehomed at each of the five community sites, with the support of the RHS Communities team based in the northwest. 

The RHS Community Outreach team works with groups and schools across the UK to build their skills and inspire long-lasting community change. Find out more by visiting our community outreach pages.

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