Has Chelsea had its day? By Simon Ward

I watched in dismay at the BBC`s Chelsea Flower Show review on Sunday night. No doubt the programme will attract many times over the 170,000 site visitors anticipated next week, and I tried my best to be generous about what Chelsea really means and all the positive broader messages it conveys around our appreciation and connection to the natural world; and how our gardens and green spaces can provide the antidote to our busy lives and the benefits that spending more time in green spaces can bring. Yes, we can do amazing things with a small space when there are huge sums of money and forensic attention to detail, but…

The Show is just that, a show, and it feels like complete self-indulgence. It's a series of car showroom vanity projects, an ostentatious display of the Lamborghinis and Aston Martins of the horticultural world that are just as remote to the ordinary man and woman. Sustainably reprehensible and an awful lot of money and effort to construct, just to entertain the middle classes for a week.

What does it matter if someone wins a gold medal at Chelsea? Where are the references and calls to arm around the very real and pressing issues facing today`s society, that the design of our everyday spaces can help to ameliorate? I`m thinking about climate change, clean air, active travel and the urgent fight against obesity and ill health. These gardens provide a pretty distraction, but why can`t they be used as symbols to raise awareness of these issues, especially as many of them have an input from landscape architects? Too few of them either speak of or address them in any meaningful way and what we are left with is simply an empty fashion parade of horticultural fancies, which will be packed up or destroyed a week later.

The D-Day Garden (notably placed outside the "city" walls) was the only space with any meaning and integrity. And the killing joke? The president of the Landscape Institute gets a prime BBC slot at a time when the profession is crying out for students and in dire need of raising its profile. He fails to even mention he is a landscape architect or that it`s our Institutes 90th anniversary this year, which begs the question of whether the general public are any the wiser that we exist as a profession, than they did back in 1929?

Simon Ward

Simon is a chartered Landscape Architect with over 26 years of experience in landscape design and assessment, with a speciality in place making and project delivery.


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