DESIGN Ruth Willmott SPONSOR Donors in aid of Breast Cancer Now CONTRACTOR The Outdoor Room
"OUR BRIEF WAS TO focus on the work of the 400 scientists that Breast Cancer Now funds around the UK and Ireland. It also had to fit with the RHS parameters of creating a show garden – so our design is based on a notional space where a team of scientists might meet and discuss their research, with a stylised microscope in the middle.
“I’ve worked with Breakthrough Breast Cancer before, creating a Chelsea show garden for them in 2015, and they were delighted with it [it won a silver gilt medal]. Breakthrough Breast Cancer then merged with Breast Cancer Campaign in 2015 to form Breast Cancer Now, which is now the UK’s largest breast cancer charity.
“Charity gardens don’t have a lot of money to create their show gardens – they usually fall outside their normal fundraising activities, so we have to rely on the generosity of specific donations. I hadn’t realised how productive a show garden could be as a fundraising platform, but since then I’ve set up a donation fund in parallel with the garden and raised £20,000 so far. Some of this money was raised by exchanging the plants for donations at the end of the show week.
“I got the idea for the garden during a visit to The Institute of Cancer Research a while back. I chatted with some of the scientists there and looked through their microscopes to see what cell development looks like. That’s where I got the idea of using the microscope, with a large black slide on the far wall depicting a large circular healthy cell. In contrast, there will be jagged rocks at the entrance to the garden representing breast cancer. This is how the scientists said they would explain cancer to a layperson, and I’ve gone into a bit of detail here, staining the slide pink to match the Eosin-Y stain they use.
“The planting is designed to echo the magnification effect of the microscope. Just as cells are magnified as you look through a microscope, so are the plants! A lot of this has been accomplished within genus – using for instance small-leaved Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Seiryu’ at one end of the garden and Acer japonicum aconitifolium at the other, whose leaves are about 50x bigger.
“Other plants we’re using are Euphorbia deflexa, Euphobria palustris ‘Walenburg’s Glorie’ and Euphorbia pasteurii; Digitalis obscura and digitalis Illumination ‘Chelsea Gold’; Geranium pyrenaicum ‘Summer Snow’ (whose flowers are the size of your thumbnail) and Geranium sylvaticum ‘Album’ which is 4-5 times bigger. We are also very excited about using dwarf Angelica pachycarpa (not seen before at Chelsea) with Angelica archangelica. We’re also teaming unrelated plants such as Heuchera ‘Paris’ with Digitalis Illumination ‘Raspberry’ and Silene dioica ‘Firefly’ with Paeonia ‘Kansas’ which are a similar colour and form but differ in size.
“Having seen the scientists at work I’m so impressed by them and their progress. Hopefully they’ll love the garden when they visit the show.”