inspired by the CAMFED garden at Chelsea...
I already knew that my interest in creating gardens has changed markedly over the recent few years but it came home to me powerfully when I visited the Chelsea Flower Show this week.
I’ve been visiting Chelsea for nearly 30 years and in the past was thrilled by the amazing design and lovely planting of the gardens on Main Avenue. This year I felt differently (and last, now that I’m thinking about it) and moved by something poles apart.
Before my interest was in creating a garden that looked good and enhanced the clients’ home. I wanted them to enjoy it of course, but I didn’t have much idea of helping them engage with it and really take ownership in order to enhance their personal wellbeing.
Now, following my own life experiences, and my work as a therapist, my purpose is less conventional and I’m interested in supporting people to have a relationship with their garden - offering the advice and mentoring they need to grow a place which nourishes them both emotionally and physically; a place that has an atmosphere of engagement to it, as well as offers all the beauty we associate with a garden. I’m also passionate about empowering women to live their best lives - to have space for themselves to do what makes them thrive.
And this change came home to me again powerfully as I walked around Chelsea. Now it isn’t the incredibly expensive, refined gardens with stunning hard-landscaping detail, huge trees and gloss that touch me. Though I absolutely see the tremendous level of achievement and passion that has gone into creating them, with great expertise, hours of work and commitment from those involved, they leave me feeling rather cold - I experience them as an object of beauty to be looked at and admired rather than engaged with and enjoyed.
Now there’s nothing wrong with enjoying beauty for its own sake, and I am moved by experiencing art like most people, but I know that gardens can be much more and that isn’t enough for me anymore.
These days the show gardens that move me and make my heart sing are those that exemplify people having a relationship with a garden that sustains and nurtures them - the gardens that demonstrate how people live and engage with their precious outdoor space.
The Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED) garden, one of the Chelsea ‘Space to Grow Gardens’ is a case in point and I loved it. I am still thinking about and trying to get hold of what has captured my excitement so much several days later.
It was inspired by a meeting between garden designer, Jilayne Rickards and a young business woman, Beauty Gombana, in Zimbabwe in 2018..
Beauty was orphaned at 14, educated with CAMFED’s support and went on to agricultural college. Three years later she is running her own cutting edge farm supporting her family, providing food for her community and offering employment opportunities.
With ongoing support from the charity the CAMFED alumnae are growing ‘climate-smart’ agricultural businesses. Using solar energy to power their pumps and other equipment, and clever sustainable farming practices, these women are making a difference within communities that are far from the national grid and would, not, otherwise be able to access power.
The garden depicts a typical Camfed classroom, faithfully constructed in rendered concrete clockwork with concrete roof and floors, and with outdoor blackboard, colourful wall hanging and table for learning, surrounded by a beautiful and productive edible garden where crops are grown using a permaculture system built of recycled materials that includes a space to store rain and grey water to see them through times of drought.
The banana and papaya trees, sweet potato, Vitamin A fortified maize and iron-enriched beans( to name but a few) as exhibited here provide vital nutrition for school children (and their mothers) and enable them to study effectively.
I love this garden both for its incredibly powerful message about the importance of educating women in Africa and for the depiction of sustainable, subsistence farming and love. It reminds me of my own experience when I visited a Masai village in Kenya earlier this year and saw how living conditions in in Africa can be brutal for myself.
Crop growing is not possible in the Masai because it would attract dangerous animals to the village but conversations with our guide, a young Masai man, about how his own secondary education (which allowed him to train as a guide) had been paid for by his mother’s earnings and how he, himself, now funds that of his sisters so they can make their own way and make a real difference to their lives and those of their families really touched and impressed me.
Seeing the wonderful CAMFED garden yesterday I was touched, inspired and reminded of all of this, and about my own belief about gardens, that they are a place in which we can sustain ourselves, both physically and emotionally, and that they make a difference.
The garden demonstrates this and more. Here in Britain, we are lucky enough that, for many of us, our efforts at growing are for pleasure and satisfaction as well as nutrition. Our issues are different. Here we struggle with overwhelm and busyness, mental health challenges, too muchness and lack of fitness. AND our gardens can still support us in a way that is vital for our wellbeing.
The CAMFED garden was designed by Jilayne Rickards. For more information about the Campaign for Female Education visit the CAMFED WEBSITE. Use the hashtag #SeeGrowth for even more pictures and thoughts about this garden on Instagram.