Guest blog: Volunteering at the ‘A Rewilding Britain Landscape’ Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

by Kate Graham, Yorkshire Rewilding Network volunteer

30th June, 2022

Credit:  Dave Watts

A while back I wrote about how excited I was to be volunteering with Rewilding Britain at the Royal Horticultural Society Chelsea Flower Show 2022 and describing the garden. In the end five members of the Yorkshire Rewilding Network volunteered at various days in the show, which I think was very much appreciated by Rewilding Britain staff.

The garden itself was fabulous. It won Best in Show and deservedly so. I listened to one guide explaining why it had won to his tour group, pointing out the detail that had gone into the planting, and how difficult it is to create the incredibly natural look that they had achieved. The beaver dam with its sticks drawn from real beaver dams was a huge success with visitors, as was the way the two streams gently coursed through the rest of the garden, both alive and deeply restful.

People clearly really enjoyed looking at the garden. Many had seen it on the TV the previous evening and were very interested in the role of beavers. “It’s so natural, so flowing” one person summed up as its appeal. “It’s as if it has been there for centuries, and we have just stumbled across a little corner of the English countryside” said another. It really had that presence, the feel of something permanent and real.

Credits: Kate Graham and Ed Bailey
Credit: Ed Bailey

There was an excitement about presenting something different that had been so successful. Whilst most of the gardens had an environmental theme, and several had a touch of wildness about them, they also incorporated “standard” garden flowers, whereas the Rewilding Landscape was totally natural. I recognised most of the plants, though that didn’t help with knowing their names (I should have made myself a crib sheet with photos, as there were a lot of questions along the lines of “that looks familiar, what is it?”).

As a volunteer my role was to hand out leaflets (loads of them) and engage people in conversation about the garden and their interest in rewilding. Most of the people I talked to were keen gardeners who were already leaving part of their (usually large) gardens to grow naturally. There were discussions around the orchids that had appeared naturally, the value of dandelions, water features and Knepp estate. I’m hoping that a few people went away thinking a little differently, and hopefully followed the QR code to the Rewilding Britain website. Some people came to look at it because it was the Best in Show, take an obligatory snap and move on, but most, particularly earlier in the day before it got too crowded, were genuinely interested.

The garden will now have been dismantled: the dry-stone wall taken down to be reused again and the plants, shrubs and trees taken to a charity in the Chilterns. It has been great publicity for Rewilding Britain, and many people who couldn’t afford to go to Chelsea will have enjoyed it on TV. I found the Show itself disconcertingly elitist, but it was a real pleasure to spend several hours absorbing the Rewilding Landscape, meeting Rewilding Britain staff and smiling and talking to a huge range of enthusiastic excited people. A great way to start my birthday!

Credits: Kate Graham and Dave Watts