First Scottish Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 17 Years

Scottish-born garden and planting designer Jane Porter will present a garden inspired by Scotland in the new Container Garden category at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022 in partnership with Qualis Taxation Services.

Image credit:  Paul Samuel White

Porter’s first show garden at the world-renowned horticulture festival will feature plants that thrive across the Highlands and Islands in 12 reclaimed whisky casks which were taken apart and put back together to form unique, sculptural planters, against a backdrop of a dry-stone slate wall constructed to look like a glen between mountains. The vertical slate of the dry stone wall was hand-picked from the disused Craiglea Slate Quarry at the Logiealmond Estate in Perthshire, Scotland. The estate wants to encourage use of the stone and kindly donated the stone.

Still Garden illustration by Jane Porter

Inspired by remote areas of Scotland, Porter has designed a garden that brings a sense of the wild to a tiny urban space. She explains, “The last two years have made us all appreciate whatever outside space we have access to. 83% of people in the UK live in cities and many of them, if they have outside space, will have something small. These spaces have to work hard for us. Places to get sunlight, fresh air, and greenery. Lots of us work at home now and a regular break outside can really help with stress and concentration. Container gardening lets us choose our soil meaning we can grow plants from places that inspire us, regardless of where we live.”

Porter, who assisted Nigel Dunnett on a large scale planting project at Hospitalfield, Arbroath, in 2019, brings to Chelsea her 3 x 4m ‘Still Garden’, the first Scottish garden at the show for 17 years. The design evokes Scotland through the native plant selections and textures in the planting. Fluffy and spray-like forms bring to mind misty glens and seafoam to create an atmosphere that is immersive, secluded, and still.

Sorbus aucuparia 

There are 33 plants species used in the garden and statement plants are a specimen multi-stemmed Sorbus aucuparia with frothy blossom and a Gunnera manicata – with its huge leaf forms that contrast with needle-like heathers and feathery ferns. 12 whisky barrels, reconstructed to make new sculptural planters, are packed with bold foliage textures and soft mounds in a palette dominated with greens and whites (in botanical terms ‘alba’ means white and is also Gaelic for Scotland) with dabs of pinks in the heathers and thistles. Rusty, orange tones, and glints of copper are inspired by the stills in the Digitalis parviflora, Cinnamon fern, and Dryopteris erythrosora and relate to the central pond – a repurposed copper gin distilling pot which made its way to Chelsea from Orkney.

Dryopteris erythrosora

Elibles in the garden include juniper and angelica which are gin botanicals, and sea kale and blueberries which are grown across Scotland.

Porter has a keen interest in arts and heritage sites and this project celebrates tradition with a modern take and has managed to include five heritage crafts from the textile design through to the dry-stone walling and the carpentry in the planter construction. The seat cushions are made by contemporary kilt maker Acme Atelier of Moray, Scotland, in line with her practice of creating new items with heritage techniques and deadstock or vintage materials. Rather than weaving wool into a Harris tweed, Andrea Chappell has used the wool to create a moss-like texture for the cushion covers. Andrea is also hand-making a kilt for Porter to wear during the show, inspired by the garden’s themes and incorporating three heritage crafts that are on the ‘endangered crafts’ list – kilt making, block printing, and letterpress printing.

The Still Garden not only encourages reuse and repurposing of materials, and highlights the skill of heritage craftspeople, but also addresses the gender pay gap present at Chelsea Flower Show. Porter explains, “Volunteering at Chelsea over the years has boosted my career and I wanted to offer this same opportunity to other people at the start of their horticultural careers. It was important to me that these were paid positions to make the opportunity accessible for people, especially if they have to pay for childcare. Over the years I have noticed that a lot of the planting is done by women, who are often volunteers. I’ve organised my build to ensure I can pay my planting team. Speaking with other horticultural professionals I’ve found there’s a strong feeling that if you’re good enough to be at Chelsea, you’re good enough to be paid.”

Jane working on the Yeo Valley Garden designed by Tom Massey at Chelsea 2021. Image credit: Petra Sturgeon

Do let us know if you are visiting or watching the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year from 24th – 28th May 2022, and make sure to offer Jane Porter some support as she flies the flag for Scotland!

You can keep up with Jane Porter on Instagram at @plantyjane.

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