The M&G Garden, designed by Charlotte Harris and Hugo Bugg, has won a coveted Gold medal at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021. While the two designers have both won individual gold medals for Main Avenue gardens at Chelsea before, this is their first Chelsea Gold medal together.
The M&G Garden stands for the importance of beautiful and restorative green spaces in the places we need them the most – our towns and cities. The garden is imagined as a pocket park – a public space for people and wildlife to share and enjoy all the benefits of being in nature. Unusually for Chelsea, it is a shared public garden, imagined in an urban setting – challenging our usual notions of what a garden can be.
Over 50 people, from contractors to horticulturalists, have been involved in making the pocket park garden come to life. The garden includes a repurposed metal pipework sculpture of over 100 linear metres, three 12 metre high Nyssa sylvatica trees casting beautiful dappled light, re-used industrial sheet piling, reclaimed paving, and over 3,000 plants chosen for their tolerance to urban climate extremes. Following Chelsea Flower Show The M&G Garden will be relocated as a new, publicly accessible pocket park in the London Borough of Southwark. The designers, along with property developer Fabrix London and Bankside Open Spaces Trust are working in partnership to secure a suitable location.
Described as ‘pioneering design talents of their generation’ by the RHS, Charlotte and Hugo originally designed The M&G Garden prior to the coronavirus pandemic to explore how more shared gardens and green spaces could be injected into our growing towns and cities. Now, following the pandemic, the garden’s potential impact as vital lifeline is even more relevant, fulfilling a profound and innate need to connect with nature as well as providing the many climate, human and biodiversity benefits.
Charlotte Harris, co-designer of The M&G Garden, said: “We are so delighted to have been awarded a Gold medal for The M&G Garden. We worked with a really brilliant team to bring our idea alive and we would like to thank M&G and Crocus and everyone else involved for supporting our vision to tell this story about the power of beautiful, shared green spaces to transform our cities and towns – for people and wildlife everywhere.”
Hugo Bugg, co-designer of The M&G garden, said: “We are so thrilled to have won a Gold medal for this garden and for its message and purpose to live on as a real garden when it is relocated in Southwark. Injecting more green spaces into our cities and towns is absolutely vital – creating essential green infrastructure is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but as fundamental in our urban infrastructure as transport, power and water.”
Charlotte and Hugo, known for making gardens that tell stories that reflect the spirit of place, and have imagined an industrial past for the garden and show how found materials and unloved remnants can be transformed into something extraordinary and authentic. Wherever possible, the materials used to create the garden are reclaimed and re-used, including a sculpture of over 100 linear metres of repurposed metal pipes that encourage people to explore all the hidden corners of the space and connect with the imagined city’s industrial past.
Created in collaboration with the architecture and design studio Mcmullan Studio, the pipework sculpture takes visitors on a journey, framing views and defining different zones. The result is a sensory experience that reimagines an everyday object – steel pipes – into a beautiful and elegant part of the garden. The bronze-copper colours and matte and polished areas of the sculpture contrast with the naturalistic elements in the garden of plants, trees and water. Polishing also draws the eye to specific plants while the reflective surfaces make the whole space more dynamic and its greenery seem more abundant.
Speaking about the collaboration, Andrew Mcmullan of Mcmullan Design Studio, said: “The concrete jungle keeps expanding. By 2035, 2 billion more people will live in cities. Green spaces are pivotal to making modern city life, healthier, happier and more sustainable. This collaboration shows how important it is for landscape and buildings to be designed holistically. You can’t retrofit harmony.”
The M&G Garden features plants and trees chosen for their tolerance to urban climate extremes of wet winters and hot summers. These are interspersed with unusual and delicate planting to inject moments of ephemeral beauty. Structural planting includes the wild and naturalistic shapes and silvery leaves of Hippophae or sea buckthorn; bursts of colour from Nyssa sylvatica, or black gum tree; and the fragrant tubular flowers and red edible berries of Elaeagnus umbellata, or autumn olive. As well as reclaimed materials, tactile natural features provide added connection to the natural world. Water in the form of a naturalistic pool, surrounded by marginal planting, aids run-off and flood prevention and helps encourage and support wildlife.