Gardens from Wales to Rwanda

Visionary Gardens at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park address issues on an international level.

Exclusive to RHS Flower Show Tatton Park, the Visionary Gardens category tantalizes the gardening public and media by providing an opportunity for designers to break the mould of garden design and show inspiration and foresight. This exciting category encourages designers to have a strong and creative imagination and the ability to inspire other gardeners.

The Visionary Gardens will display a cutting-edge mix of art and garden design at the show this July. Drawing on a range of inspirations, from abstract art to the industrial heritage of Point of Ayr, this year's gardens offer a diverse selection of designs by both new and established exhibitors, and are at the forefront of garden design, providing both stunning beauty and intellectual stimulation. With highlights including Do Not Step Over the Fence by John Tilley which examines the spread of the HIV virus, a visual portrayal of women in society in Sheena Seeks' Fairy Tale Garden (Red Shoes), and Bill Butterworth's representation of the flight of a Rwandan refugee in 'I Dream of the Promised Land', these Visionary Gardens address a broad range of challenging issues, whilst offering the very best in gardening and design.

This year's Visionary Gardens are:

Fairy Tale Garden (Red Shoes) by Sheena Seeks

Fairy Tale Garden (Red Shoes) by experienced Tatton designer Sheena Seeks is a mysterious representation of the visual portrayal of women and the way they are seen in the wider context of today's society, often defined by their appearance.

Taking inspiration from traditional fairy tales, Sheena hopes visitors will be intrigued by a timber hut painted red on the outside, black on the inside, surrounded by grass and brightly painted trees as though within a clearing in a dark conifer forest. The hut houses 100 pairs of red shoes which represent a female presence as a visual spectacle. The garden also features an axe which in contrast suggests a male presence; it is something capable of action. This reflects the different way in which men and women are often represented: the female is to be viewed, and the male is to act. The cryptic nature of the design is symbolic of how Sheena believes that women are portrayed - seen but not always understood.

Previous Gold Medal winner at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park, Sheena's background is as an artist and sculptor and this plays a strong part in her approach to garden design. After completing RHS certificates in horticulture, and a diploma in garden design at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh, Sheena has enjoyed combining her artistic background with her interest in gardening. The Visionary design category allows her the freedom to view her garden as an art installation, and she hopes that visitors will enjoy doing the same.

Do Not Step Over the Fence by John Tilley

A regular exhibitor at the RHS Shows, John Tilley likes to use his work for good and raise awareness for a charitable cause with his designs, such as the work of the Teenage Cancer Trust with his 2008 Show Garden 'Punk's Not Dead', for which he won the silver medal. This year is no different. After being shocked by an article regarding HIV spreading fast amongst the more mature adult population, despite increased awareness, John chose this as the subject for his 2011 Visionary Garden. He is supported by worldwide HIV charity Avert, who will be sending a team to Tatton to help John make his design a reality at the show.

The design itself is a horticultural representation of an HIV virus cell. The garden is created using Box and Ligustrum balls surrounded by lavender, all sweeping round large rocks on a spherical sub structure. Pink powder coated steel balls have been used to indicate the proteins that stick to the surface of the virus.

Working with such a sensitive issue John hopes to shock visitors to his garden; but by using the artistic freedom of the Visionary Garden category, which he feels allows him to push design boundaries, he can ensure that visitors will admire the beauty of the garden while being informed on a very serious subject.

Metamorphosis 2 by Peter Styles

The first of three designs from Glyndwr University, Metamorphosis 2, by course leader Peter Styles, is a thought-provoking sculptural design and a garden of dramatic colour contrasts. Taking inspiration from various sources, including Hollywood Neo-Noire film Sin City and its unique colour style, the garden is based on the idea of a dull monochromatic landscape transformed into a colourful display of flowering plants by a powerful energy source emitting from the earth through strands of coloured energy. As the energy strands touch the monochromatic plants they are transformed into yellow, orange or green.

Both the hard materials and the plants used focus on the idea of a dramatic colour contrast. Materials such as stone clippings and timber will be black, grey or white in varying shades and in striking contrast the central sculpture will be made up of bright colours of chrome yellow, orange and bright green composed of nylon tubes or rods. The plants will include black, white and grey foliage plants such as Cineraria, Ophiopogon and Sempervirens contrasted with bright bedding plants of yellow and orange and clipped balls of bright green box.

As tutor of the Foundation Degree Art: Garden Design course at Glyndwr University, Peter explains that all students are asked to complete a design for the Visionary Garden category at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park. The friendly rivalry that this produces is forgotten by the time the show arrives and all hands are on to deck to help construct the designs chosen to exhibit. Students are given total freedom in their design and not restricted by a brief, but are encouraged to look beyond the world of gardening for inspiration.

The Relief Garden by Sarah Rile

After helping her fellow Glyndwr University students make their designs a reality at last year's show, Sarah is delighted for her Relief Garden to be one of this year's attractions. The garden is based on the work of abstract painter Ben Nicholson, using circular shapes and a bold selection of colour; white, green, yellow, red, blue.

Using sustainable materials and glass and crushed sea shells as gravel, Sarah hopes that in addition to offering an enjoyable visual experience, she can show visitors what they can achieve in their very own garden if there are limited to space. Her aim was to design a garden that is not only relief in style but also in mood - a relaxing space where visitors can enjoy a moment's peace away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

With a background in Art and Design, something which she drew upon when working on her garden, 22-year-old Sarah now has a taste for garden and landscape design and hopes to complete a BSc (Hons) Landscape Design and Management next year.

Points of Ayr by Craig T Bailey

21-year-old Craig has had a keen interest in horticulture from a young age and is currently studying for a degree in landscape design at Glyndwr University. Originally from Staffordshire, while at university Craig lives in Clwyd near to the Point of Ayr. This, the Northern-most point of mainland Wales, provided him with inspiration for his design, and he has conveyed the natural and industrial heritage of Point of Ayr.

Previously home of the last operational deep mine in North Wales and now an operational gas terminal for the offshore Celtic gas fields, the sand dunes at Point of Ayr are a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a registered RSPB nature reserve. Craig has based his design on the natural colours and shapes of the sand dunes, the gas pipelines that stretch out to sea, and the constantly burning gas flames which dominate the skyline above the Point of Ayr.

Drifts of ornamental grasses create calming movement illustrating the mood of dunes, and a top dressing of coal provides contrasting form and texture while illustrating the area's heritage as an important coal mining location. Plants used include Populus alba, which are growing wild along the Point of Ayr coastline, and native wild flowers such as Silene Maritina. Craig has created a thoughtful interpretation of an area of the world that he enjoys, and he hopes that visitors will be treated to a similar sense of pleasure and relaxation through his garden.

'Ndota Igihugu Cy'isezerano' ('I Dream of the Promised Land') by Bill Butterworth

Bill Butterworth's 2011 garden is a representation of a Rwandan Refugee's flight to freedom. The design illustrates survival through a desperate struggle to 'follow the light' in pursuit of a 'Promised land', and portrays the way in which, as a result of genocide, people simply disappear, leaving only abandoned clothes and possessions. Bill was inspired by the true story of Agnes, who at the age of only seven made this frantic journey through the Congo jungle, fleeing Rwanda where her family was lost to the Genocide. She was rescued by the Red Cross and started a new life in London where she now lives. The garden allows the visitor to experience momentarily a different reality that is fraught with hope as well horror and equates to the 'Inner Jungle' of the refugee. Bill hopes that his use of sound, light and clothing will intensify the feeling of immersion as well as help to manipulate the emotional state of visitors. This garden will later be rebuilt for 'SURF: Survivors Fund' in a location of their choosing - SURF works to improve the lives of the Rwandan survivors of genocide.

The main structure within the 'Inner Jungle' is formed from a series of walls or screens. These screens are composed from dead trees and clothing, which 'populate' the jungle and form a maze-like structure designed to direct and occasionally disorientate the visitor. Simulated jungle planting will surround and effectively screen the inner core of the garden. This will be composed from bamboo suited to conditions here, under-planted with ferns and other jungle floor species, together with several specimen Palm and Banana trees.

Bill has designed and built gardens for almost twenty years across the North East of England, Yorkshire and, currently, East Anglia. During this time he has won a gold medal at BBC Gardeners World Live at the NEC and a silver medal at Chelsea Flower Show. Last year he won a silver medal at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show for his third Show Garden: 'An Uprising Of Kindness' designed and built on behalf of the Homeless Charity Emmaus.

20 - 24 July

Tatton Park, Mereheath Lane, Knutsford, Cheshire

Tickets from 19.50 to 28. Children under 16 go free.

To buy tickets:0844 581 0810 or


Article posted on 09 May 2011.

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