May 26, 2024

The healing power of horticulture for survivors of torture is to be celebrated at this year’s Chelsea flower show in a garden also promoting the work of a charity at the forefront of challenging the government’s Rwanda deportation plans.

The garden, one of the most politically themed yet to appear at the annual event, will be relocated afterwards so it can be used as part of the therapy work undertaken by the human rights charity Freedom from Torture (FFT).

Materials used include plants that are themselves survivors – able to thrive and remain beautiful in hostile conditions – and which are planted in ways designed to stimulate happier memories of homelands. A communal bread oven is aimed at bringing people together to share stories.

FFT, which warned during the court challenge to the Rwanda plan that torture survivors would struggle to disclose their experiences because of the “breakneck speed” of the policy, intends to use the garden as a platform to reach a new audience. Last month the charity condemned a major operation to detain asylum seekers across the UK, weeks earlier than expected, in preparation for their deportation to Rwanda.

One of 15 charity gardens at this year’s flower show, the project grew out of a collaboration between FFT and two award-winning horticultural designers: John Warland and Emma O’Connell.

A recipe book inspired by the garden will be launched at the show featuring recipes from survivors of torture, celebrity chefs and others. They include Prue Leith, Nigel Slater, Delia Smith, Tom Kerridge, Angela Hartnett and Olia Hercules. An introduction has been written by Joanna Lumley.

The garden itself will grow edible and medicinal produce intended to be harvested and used by those taking part in the therapy programmes by the charity on a one-to-one basis, in a family or in groups.

Survivors who have been part of the gardening group have given their stories as research for the garden and will be among those using it after its relocation.

Tanya, one of the group and a native of Zimbabwe who grew up on a farm, said: “I think nature speaks to us and has got natural healing things in it.

“I love nature and it helped me come out of all the things I was submerged in.”

Warland, a six-time Royal Horticultural Society gold medal-winning conceptual artist, said the main inspiration for the garden was through seeing the horticultural therapy in practice.

He said: “It’s a garden of memories after speaking to the survivors. They were nostalgic for their homelands, whether it’s the flora, the food. It’s why giving them a space evocative of happier places, happier times helps ground them in their newer places of abode.”

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Warland and O’Connell chose to use what she described as “plants that are truly survivors of the horticultural world”: plants that are drought tolerant and adapted to low-fertility soils. It also uses drifts of the Nigella sativa plant, linking back to the culinary cultures of survivors they spoke to.

Other aspects include water channels, seating for individuals or groups and the deliberate omission of any straight lines.

Along with the other charity gardens at Chelsea, the entry is being funded by Project Giving Back, a grant-giving organisation that first started supporting gardens at Chelsea in 2022. It was founded by two private individuals “who are passionate about giving good causes”, according to the Royal Horticultural Society, the charity organising the show.

After this month’s show, the garden will be immediately rebuilt at FFT’s premises in Finsbury Park, north London.

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