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The trees in our garden: RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2019

09 April 2019

Family Monsters Garden designer and idverde Landscape Architect Alistair Bayford looks at the trees being used in our garden at Chelsea and the symbolism of each species.

The trees in the Family Monsters Garden are very symbolic and carry a great deal of meaning within the garden’s concept. They represent the generations in our families. From the pioneer species surrounding the garden that represent our youth; to the statuesque Pinus nigra (Austrian pine tree) overlooking them all, that represents our older generation.

The trees have been purposely chosen to illustrate the journey of growth, so they all carry imperfections. Some have scars, some have stems that are bent and some twisted and this shows that they have grown on a different paths. In horticulture it demonstrates the journey of a habitat, from pioneer to climax vegetation and in our design it demonstrates the growth of a family unit and the ability to regenerate. It’s symbolic of the environmental factors that affect our families and that despite the challenges, with a little help, they can overcome these challenges. This is best shown by the scars on the birch, either by a natural unplanned event or by human intervention, the tree has the ability to heal its wounds.

The pioneer species are a mix of birch and hazel, comprising clear stem, multi-stem and coppiced specimens. Coppicing is a process within gardening in which we cut back shrubs or in this case trees to stimulate their growth – which has been reflected in some of our chosen trees. We have some stunning birch trees that will contrast with the corten (weathered) steel and under planting, with their characteristic white stems and textural qualities of the bark. The site we have within the show ground is also already framed by two birch trees so our garden will slot in very naturally in to the existing setting – as if planned!

“the tree has the ability to heal its wounds”

We’ve additionally selected some other fantastic tree specimens such as, the Betula nigra (river birch) multi-stems; Betula pendula (silver birch) standards; and, two Betula papyrifera ‘Kenaica’ (paper birch), which will set the garden alight with their white and brown contrasting bark patterns. Amongst the birch Corlyus avellana’s (hazel species) with darker brown bark tones, which have also been coppiced and will weave through the planting. These tree varieties are representative of being able to start again, to deal with the past, regrow and correct their imperfections through the process of the coppicing and the scars and indentations on their bark.

The pioneer species are all of different sizes and stages in their life, representing a family with young children and younger adults. They are overlooked by a Pinus nigra (Austrian pine tree), which is placed in the garden to hold the space and exhort a grande presence. It’s not the most beautiful of specimens but it does have lots of character. From it’s sharp spiny needles, to the sturdy flakes of gnarly bark with deep tracks running through it’s trunk, to the goody that is it’s pine cones (an absolute must in the selection of our pine) – this species has a story to tell. The Pine in our garden leans towards being the main leader of the family of trees – some may liken this to the older and wiser members of the family. As much of it’s characteristic has come from some of the environmental stresses that have been placed on it; but it’s still full of life and has plenty of stories to tell.


We can’t wait to reveal the full look of the Family Monsters Garden and how the trees  will add to the design at Chelsea. The trees are all sourced by our friends at Hillier Nurseries and I spent time with James Gormley and Tracey Russell selecting the stock on a fine spring day. Our trees will continue to grow under Hillier’s care until we are ready for them on site at Chelsea and they begin their journey up to us from Hampshire.

Read all the latest updates from our Family Monsters Garden here or get involved with the Family Monsters Project directly. Every family has its monsters, let’s face them together.