Bio-based building material for Chelsea garden

Award-winning landscape company Bowles & Wyer who are building the ‘Florence Nightingale Garden – A Celebration of Modern Nursing’  at the September 2021 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, will be unveiling an innovative bio-based building material to create an imagined hospital garden.

The garden, sponsored by the Burdett Trust for Nursing and designed by Robert Myers, is inspired by Nightingale’s pioneering views on nursing and comes at a time when the global spotlight is centred on health and well-being.

The bio-based timber being used on the show garden is a 21st century representation of key materials that Nightingale advocated for hospital construction in her work promoting the benefits of hospital environment on patient recovery.

A 60ft timber pergola will stretch the length of the garden and enclose it on three sides to form the central feature of the courtyard garden. It has been built using cross-laminated timber (CLT) – an engineered wood that has become known as the ‘concrete of the future’ due to its potential as an eco-friendly alternative to traditional building materials.  It is the first time that Bowles & Wyer has worked with CLT and it will be the first time it has featured on this scale at RHS Chelsea.

The low-impact, non-toxic timber, made from honey-coloured Douglas Fir, has been constructed in modular parts and is ready to be transported to the showground in September. Pre-cambered rods and tubes will support the timber, reducing the need for steel to a bare minimum and allowing for easy relocation at the end of the show.

The garden design also features a reflecting pool to reference Nightingale’s insights into drainage and cleanliness with plants symbolising her own pressed flower collection as well as those with strong medicinal properties.

An installation at the front of the garden will display the recently redesigned Nightingale Nurse badge, denoting both her legacy and her ability to inspire the next generation of nurses.

Dan Riddleston, Managing Director at Bowles & Wyer, said: “The irony that a worldwide pandemic should be the reason a garden celebrating the founder of modern-day nursing was cancelled in 2020, is not lost on us. Having progressed so far with the development of this garden in the last year we are now delighted to have the opportunity to finally bring it to the Chelsea showground. 
There is a lovely synergy between the modern materials and techniques we are using to build the garden and Florence Nightingale’s own advocacy of modern materials to ensure healthy environments in the hospitals she inspired.”

Dan points out that they are constantly looking at ways to reduce carbon footprint, particularly at Chelsea where the gardens are often transitory, and the use of CLT means that the pergola can be constructed very quickly, will require minimal transport and will create very little waste:  “Added to that, the trees used in the production of CLT actually absorb carbon, thereby off-setting the carbon produced through its manufacture,” he said.

Designer Robert Myers explained that he and Dan had spent many months developing the garden before the show was originally cancelled and that it was exciting that they will finally see it come to life on Main Avenue in September at the rescheduled show: “Having Bowles & Wyer on board has taken a huge amount of pressure off allowing me to really enjoy the process.  Dan is renowned in the industry for producing work of the highest standard and is brilliant at handling any of the challenges that Chelsea throws at him.  Work to date has progressed with assiduous care and attention  and I’m certain the garden will be built to the highest standard,” he said.

With sustainability central to the build, Bowles & Wyer have worked hard to find specialists to meet the brief and are working with a number of suppliers including CLT expert Jim Johnstone of ConstruktCLT Ltd.

Image credit: © Bowles & Wyer; Garden design middle image: ©Robert Myers