We know that buying our food locally makes good sense, but how many of us think about the origin of our plants? It’s something that visitors to the new Bristol attraction, The Wild Place Project, have the opportunity to learn more about. ‘Stop the Spread,’ a Chelsea Flower Show Silver medal-winning garden that deals with this very subject, has been re-built in its grounds. I went along to Wild Place, just off Junction 7 of the M5, to find out about the garden’s move to its new home.
‘Stop the Spread’ was designed by Jo Thompson for the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show. The garden shows the impact that pests, diseases and invasive non-native plants could have on our landscape. Jo’s design creates a garden of two halves: the bountiful and the barren. In one section, native woodland trees and dense herbaceous planting surround a beautiful sunken garden, while in the other an avenue of bare and lifeless trees lead to a black pool and one single seedling. The message is simple; we can protect the countryside we know and love by avoiding importing anything into our gardens that could threaten it.
It was fortunate that The Wild Place Project was working with Defra (one of the partners involved in creating ‘Stop the Spread’) just at the time that a permanent home was being sought for the garden. Eddie Mole, Bristol Zoo Gardens Head of Horticulture, says that Jo Thompson’s message fitted ‘with the nature education and conservation ethos of the Wild Place Project’, its naturally bio-diverse site and its beautiful native bluebell woods. ‘An exhibit that highlights threats to our native species seemed made for the site.’
The Wild Place Project was due to open to the public less than two months after the Chelsea Flower Show. Fortunately, there was just enough time to install the medal-winning garden. The main question that Horticulture Manager, Mike Adams, and his team faced was where to put it. Mike says that they ‘had to think about visitor flow’ around the site. The position they chose, relatively close to the exit, seems ideal. Visitors can take the ‘Stop the Spread’ message away with them at the end of their visit.
After Chelsea, the garden was dismantled and travelled on an articulated lorry to Bristol. I asked Mike how he knew where to start with the reconstruction. He said that as soon as he heard that ‘Stop the Spread’ would be part of the Wild Place landscape, he sent staff to Chelsea to take photographs of the planting. He also watched the video of the garden’s pre-Chelsea build on the Royal Horticultural Society website. With the help of design plans, he was able to work out a strategy for the rebuild before it arrived.
While the hard landscaping was put into place, the herbaceous plants were well cared for in the Wild Place plant nursery. With the additional help of volunteers, the planting was completed just in time for the opening of Wild Place Project. Then it was a case of watering and more watering to get the plants through the hot summer in their new home.
Mike and his team will be watching the garden closely during 2014 to ensure that its transition to the windy site and clay soil at Wild Place Project is a smooth one. It is, he says ‘a privilege to have it here’. Re-building it as a team ‘was a very helpful exercise’ as ‘not many people get the opportunity to build a Chelsea garden’. What a wonderful opportunity for us too: to have the space and time to really absorb the important message behind the design of a Chelsea garden!