Arit Anderson: Meet the tv gardener who wants her show garden to feel like a big hug

The Gardeners’ World presenter talks to Hannah Stephenson about her Chelsea show garden, which will be moved to a mental health unit afterwards.

Gardeners’ World presenter and designer Arit Anderson is no newcomer to the show garden circuit.

She won an RHS Fresh Talent award at the Chelsea Flower Show back in 2013, and a gold for her show garden at the RHS Hampton Court show in 2016, which highlighted climate change and the use of renewable energy.

“It was then I realised that show gardens aren’t sustainable,” says Anderson, when we catch up at the recent BBC Gardeners’ World Spring Fair at Beaulieu, Hampshire.

And this is why she agreed to take on the BBC One Show and RHS Garden Of Hope show garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in September. The garden will live on after the show, as it’s being transferred to the Rosewood Mother and Baby Unit in Kent, to provide a sanctuary and place of hope for new mothers with serious mental ill health and their babies.

“It’s not about medals – it’s more for the experience,” Anderson explains. “I’d been happily doing gardens in situ, so when the RHS asked me, I thought I had a get-out clause. I only wanted to do the show garden if it would be relocated.”

The unit in Dartford, Kent, is a real haven for the women there. Anderson, who was a holistic and wellbeing therapist before becoming a garden designer, hopes it will go some way to aid their wellbeing.

“The garden has been designed to give them much needed space. This year has been really difficult for a lot of people and has brought people closer to nature.”

The show garden, which she hopes will create the feeling of a big hug, features a steam bent wooden sculpture which flows through the space, as well as seating areas and a child’s swing.

She’s not going to have too many floriforous subjects, although dahlias will add pops of colour, but wants the garden to have a natural feel – with a number of trees, some turning with autumnal colours, and areas of dense, rich green planting at the front, becoming more colourful as you walk through it.

Natural artwork within the space will be designed by sculptor Charlie Whinney, a leader in using wood in innovative ways, as well as covered seating and safe places for the women who are struggling with perinatal mental ill health, to use at the NHS Trust.

“Plants will be inspired by an edible forest garden with dahlias – whose tubers are eaten in Mexico – and fruit trees, possibly with medlar and malus. I didn’t want to just set out an allotment, or put in too many traditional edibles,” adds Anderson.

Other plants she hopes to incorporate include Elaeagnus umbellata (autumn olive), corkscrew hazel and Selinum wallichianum, along with hops used as climbing plants, although plant availability will be key. She wants to include a mix of edible, medicinal and wildlife friendly subjects.

“Central to everything in it, is how I hope it will help those using it at Rosewood over the coming years. I want it to provide the women with hope and be a place to relax in and feel nurtured in, in the way that only being immersed in nature can nurture you.”

She’s positive about the show’s move to September, postponed from the traditional May event. “I quite like it moving. It’s definitely going to be a challenge but it will be interesting for people to see Chelsea with a different plant range, as autumnal plants will create a different vibe – and of course, we won’t have the Chelsea cough from the [pollen from the] plane trees.”

The one challenge will be holding plants back, if the summer has been hot, she reflects. “It’s far easier to warm plants up to bring them on. The challenge of September is if we’ve had a really hot summer, it much harder to cool them down. Many plants set for Chelsea may have had their peak by the end of August.”

Despite the obstacles, she believes Chelsea should be sending out a message. “We’ve got to really help people to value green space and look after it,” says Anderson. “This is our window of opportunity.”

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from September 21-26 in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, SW3. For more information and tickets, visit rhs.org.uk.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992