The Chelsea Flower Show has been for decades all about flowers. This year, in a surprising change, its theme was the importance, the beauty and the glory of trees. Gold medals were awarded to gardens that had been designed without or almost without flowers. And together with softly cascading brooks, wild pools and even the whole stretch of a canal, complete with a lock, the gardens were landscaped by huge rocks, slabs, stones, pebbles, shingles, and sand.
The world-famous show, normally a riot of colour, this year was mostly calming green in the section of individual gardens, as can be seen above. This reflects the growing concern about climate warming, the campaign to destigmatise mental problems and offer help, and the overwhelming evidence that nature can be a powerful antidote to the turmoil and chaos of our daily lives. The designers of all these gardens spoke in their interviews about feeling renewed, free of anxiety, free of the pressure of modern living, within minutes of strolling among the trees, or sitting by the softly burbling waterfall and inhaling unpolluted air. Many gardeners, including myself, know well this surreal feeling, which is as if a heavy coat had fallen from our shoulders within a moment of entering our gardens. Instantly, our attention is diverted to a bumblebee busy among the bushes, or a bird singing on the branch above, or the twigs that need pruning… The list is endless, and we seem to cease to care what shenanigans the politicians or big businesses get up to, we are safe in our own paradise. This is another constantly used word – paradise because our gardens are the closest places, we know, to heaven.
The recent technological takeover of the lives of children and even their parents has resulted in the fragmentation of family life. Often seen as a joke, at which to poke fun, in adverts showing everybody everywhere looking, checking or texting their mobiles, even when dining out, in reality, it has resulted in a huge rise in mental problems among the young and their sense of isolation. It was wonderful to see that so many people agree that nature is the only answer. With that in mind, the garden designed by the Duchess of Cambridge is my favourite. With its woodland setting, a brook, a treehouse, luscious ferns with slabs and pebbles galore, it was loved by her own three children, and indeed it was a wonderland, where they played, learning while being active.
Perhaps, it could be possible in all our schools to read the book that is the illustration of the benefits of spending time in the wildness of woodlands, with a lake and a little boat thrown in. The children in ‘Swallows and Amazons’ sailed to woods on an island, put up their tents and ate the scrambled eggs that they cooked over an open fire. No burgers anywhere, instead, apples for afters. A morning swim in the lake replaced a hot bath. Tea was made with water from the lake and milk came from local cows, without any processing involved. The children caught fish for their supper, cleaned the catch without squeamishness, and cooked them over an open fire. No doubt, it tasted more delicious than any takeaway. All the activities required a degree of independence, skill and a no-nonsense approach to life, a valuable lesson for their future. They were never bored. Today’s health and safety brigade would have a fit, but while it may be physically safer to stare for hours into mobiles or iPads, it is certainly dangerous to our mental stability.
Take another famous book, ‘Mary Poppins’; in it, the children love flying their kites and the story is full of interesting people, all individual in their pursuits, not an army of zombies, oblivious to the world around them, and brought up not to look up at the sky, the stars, or to delight in throwing a pebble into a lake, and then watching the ever-decreasing water circles, like Winnie the Pooh and his friend, Christopher Robin, in another children’s classic. I think that faced with so many problems besieging today’s young, we need to go back in time to find the solution. It is very encouraging to see that so many people taking part in the Chelsea Flower Show came together and at the same time to the same conclusion, as one garden proclaimed: ‘Gardening will Save the World’.