Chelsea – The Modern Slavery Garden

Amongst the madness, beauty and razzmatazz of Chelsea this year, there was a garden with a powerful message. The Modern Slavery Garden, designed by Juliet Sargeant, the first female black designer in Chelsea’s 103 year history.

Modern Slavery Garden

Modern Slavery Garden

Behind the closed doors, a dark centre – charcoal floor, dark railings and door backs representing a hidden reality of men, women and children trapped in modern day slavery. The tall Oak planted within, symbolising the Oak Wilberforce stood under in 1788 with William Pitt discussing the campaign to abolish slavery.

The door numbers represent deeply moving statistics from the 2014 Global Slavery Index. Men, women and child human trafficking and forced labour. Sex slavery, debt bondage, domestic servitude, child marriage, organ harvesting, forced agriculture labour, factories and sweatshops, producing goods for global supply chains, even nail bar forced labour.

Modern Slavery Garden doors

Modern Slavery Garden doors

The small oak saplings at the base of the large Oak tree were grown by modern slavery survivors on an allotment run by the Medaille Trust, a Salvation Army partner, on a UK south coast allotment they use as part of their recuperation and recovery from their experiences of exploitation.

Modern Slavery Garden

Modern Slavery Garden

The open Oak doors and colourful planting represent freedom beyond the bleakness.

The UK Modern Slavery Act was passed last year, and from April 1st 2016 for the first time, companies with a turnover of more than £36m must declare what they are doing about slavery, within their companies and their supply chains – (Last year there was a successful prosecution of a bed company in Yorkshire using trafficked slave labour supplying several prestigious UK stores).

Modern Slavery Garden Planting

Modern Slavery Garden Planting

However, as yet there are no repercussions if companies choose not to publish these reports, its early days. Hopefully this legislation will be further tightened. As consumers we can challenge companies making huge profits from others bleak slave misery. A new campaign promoted by the Modern Slavery Garden to coincide with the first wave of disclosures in April 2016, gives power to the public to challenge the labour ethics of products and suppliers. Folk are encouraged to photograph the product with the hashtag #askthequestion via social media and publicly ask for answers.

Today, a few days after Chelsea closed the Global Slavery Index has released new 2016 figures, and reports a 10 million increase – 45.8 million men, women and children are modern slaves. 13,000 within the UK. Victims here are both vulnerable people in the UK and trafficked from overseas, forced to work illegally.

What kind of world is this?

Having been on the verge of giving up Chelsea visits, tired of hotel gardens and greenhouses the price of houses, its refreshing to see the RHS accept new challenging designs. Chelsea is eclectic and eccentric, filled with passion and excellence but so valid to find thought provoking emotive gardens too. Juliet won both a well deserved gold medal and the Peoples Choice in the Fresh category.

My top two Chelsea Flower Show Gardens ever


I am a sporadic Chelsea visitor, sometimes preferring the space, freedom and elbow room of Hampton Court, sometimes neither and watch from the comfort of my home. But every time I have visited I’ve kept the lovely leaflets from gardens that move or inspire me the most.

In my own tribute to the centenary year, I’ve tried to recall every show garden ever visited and two stand out for me, head and shoulders above the rest, but for different reasons.

The Daily Express’ ‘The Lull after the Storm’ Chelsea 1990 and Julie Toll’s ‘The Edible Garden’ Chelsea 1994.

“The Lull after the Storm” from the 1990 Chelsea Flower show, was magical, I kept running (early in the day) or politely attempting to get through the crowds to re visit. Inspired by The Great Storm of 1988, Jane Cordingley had been placed 1st in the Daily Express garden design competition. Based on her design, with contributions from the second and third placed entries, Van Hage constructed and planted.

The garden was a gem of natural planting amidst the fallen trees. I hadn’t seen a show garden like this before, it was quite moving to view from my allotted shuffling spot. Long grass and wildflowers, ferns and a boggy area, a large pond, log paths, all woven around trees that had fallen in the great storm. My overriding memory is the long grass, and thinking yes! This is what a garden should be, free and wild.  Not constrained and uptight. Back in 1990, there really did not seem to be anything like this gorgeous and regenerating natural garden.

Four years later, I came across my other all time favourite garden; as a new mum of two children under two we had taken on an allotment, about a miles drive away. It was disastrous. Very young children want freedom and attention at the same time, not an absent-minded earth mother trying to sow, hoe, weed, dig, water, look jolly. We gave it up the day my youngest marched over to our car and bashed the bonnet with a metal children’s rake lovingly bought so that she could join in the allotment fun, clearly she wanted some of her parents time.

So welcome was the sight of Julie Toll’s ‘The Edible Garden’, in aid of St John’s Ambulance, we viewed and viewed, at each end of the moving shuffle we went back to the beginning again, making lots of notes of what we could take from Julie’s ideas. It was so inspiring and exactly what I wanted from any garden I have ever owned or would go on to own in the future. Borders were beautifully filled with wildflowers, herbs and fruits of all kinds, vegetables, native trees, shrubs and flowers. Brick scooterable paths linked each area and the centre a tapestry lawn, perfect for children to roll about in and collect daisies. A wonderfully planned and designed garden that could be translated and achieved by many and was the perfect solution for my young family. If the Peoples Garden award had existed then this would have been the absolute outright winner.

Patrick Blanc Vertical Garden Berlin April 5th 2013

Patrick Blanc Vertical Garden

I have just visited Berlin with my daughter, where we spent a few icy cold days. Our excellent insider tour guide described the weather as the spring that never came.

Berlin’s huge park, The Tiergarten was still bare and wintery, no leaves yet on the trees or any signs of spring bulbs and the inner lakes covered in ice. I craved greenery.

On a long walk back to our hotel one evening, we stopped at Dussmann das Kulturkaufhaus, an enormous bookshop on Friedrichstrasse.

As we walked through to the English Bookshop in the rear of the store we were absolutely delighted to discover Patrick Blanc’s Mur Vegetal – Vertical Garden, the back drop to the cafe. My first close up encounter and it is stunning.

The link to Patrick Blanc’s innovative and ingenious work and webpage is below

I also recommend watching the you tube video Patrick Blanc and the Chelsea flower show interview with the brilliant Chris Beardshaw, which explains the inspiration and construction so well.

My photographs, so hard to do this justice!

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