Scottish landscape architects win gold at Chelsea Flower Show with stunning garden

Scottish landscape architects Nicola Semple and Susan Begg have won gold at the Chelsea Flower Show after creating a stunning garden inspired by children’s art.

The pair’s Elsewhere garden has been sponsored by Teapot Trust, a Scottish children’s charity that uses art therapy to help youngsters suffering from chronic or long-term health conditions.

Their design process for the incredible garden began with one of the charity’s workshops, where Nicola and Susan were ‘blown away’ by the imaginary world the children created.

‘We were blown away by the imaginary worlds they created in their artworks, the art therapy literally took them “elsewhere”, said Susan.

‘Normal rules didn’t apply.

‘In art therapy, children use their imaginations and creativity to explore their fears and ultimately resolve them.

‘From these insights grew the Elsewhere Garden – a place where a child’s imagination blooms in response to the freedom gifted by art therapy.’

Elsewhere Garden

Elsewhere Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 20923 for the Teapot Trust.

The designers, who own Semple Begg Garden Design, used plants to paint a picture of what ‘elsewhere’ might look like – to give a glimpse inside a child’s imagination – and said the children inspired them to exaggerate colour in the garden.

Some of the children mentioned stairs leading into the sky while others described floating fridges filled with snacks.

From their initial conception to creating the full display took more than 18 months.

‘Some mentioned stairs leading into the sky, others floating fridges filled with snacks, almost all of the children mentioned a water feature of some kind, so we had to include water’, said Nicola.

‘We’ve used plants to paint a picture of what ‘elsewhere’ might look like.

‘A glimpse inside a child’s imagination where there are bright pockets reflective of joy in conquering fear such as our signature ‘Dolly Mixture’ stream, a ribbon of Candelabra primulas, and quieter, more dramatic, almost spooky areas around our Picea trees reflective of the spaces where fear can be safely explored.’

Elsewhere Garden by Semple Begg for the Teapot Trust at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023.

Susan’s husband and composer Michael Begg collaborated with audio visual artist Kathy Hinde to add sounds to the garden.

Michael explains he’s explored how to use complex recording equipment to ‘unearth hidden sounds’ and use these to ‘stimulate the imagination’.

He has developed a three tier soundscape for the garden -underground, just above ground and canopy – which visitors to the garden show can hear through headphones.

Michael, who described the soundscape as a sort of ‘horticultural silent disco’, said the noises include earthworms moving across sensitive paper, dancing grass and mutated birdsong.

Their pitch and texture will be altered in real time in response to sensors placed in the garden picking up metrics like cloud cover, moisture levels and wind speed.

Michael believes the use of environmental data in this way may be the first of its kind at the Chelsea Flower Show Garden.

Sound Artist Michael Begg

Sound Artist Michael Begg recording natural sounds in woodland for the Teapot Trust RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023 Elsewehere Garden by Semple Begg Design with girl, Ellen Dale

Following the show, the therapeutic garden will be painstakingly relocated to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow for others to enjoy.

Teapot Trust was co-founded by Dr Laura Young, an award-winning executive coach and social entrepreneur, and her husband John Young.

Project Giving Back (PGB) made the ‘Elsewhere garden possible with their pioneering grant scheme.

PGB occupy the space where ‘philanthropy and horticulture meet’ and have funded 42 Chelsea Flower show gardens since their creation three years ago.

Speaking about winning gold, Susan and Nicola said: ‘We are thrilled to have won Gold! The Teapot Trust Elsewhere Garden tells the story of the transformative power of art therapy, creativity and imagination.

‘The one thing we couldn’t have imagined is what a fantastic experience it would be. Our thanks to the whole team and to all who have supported the project.

‘Most of all to Project Giving Back – who made it all possible.’

Teapot Trust chief executive, Sarah Randall said: ‘Winning gold is a fantastic acknowledgement of the brilliance of Sempe Begg’s design in conveying the freedom gifted by art therapy.

‘The most important point is that we’ve never lost sight of the reason we created the Elsewhere Garden – to reach more children so that their lives can be transformed through the healing power of art therapy. For us, that’s gold.’

‘We are so grateful to Project Giving Back’s funding that has enabled this to happen, helping us reach more children and their families who will benefit from art therapy.’

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