Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Homelessness Hits The Chelsea Flower Show

Set in the midst of the 86th Chelsea Garden Show is a fascinating and thought-provoking social experiment. The Garden Show is the pinnacle of the horticultural social scene boasting such attendees as the Queen and various celebrities on Opening Day.

The surprise entry at this year’s show is The Key – a major garden developed through a collaboration between a government agency working with the homeless, prisoners and the Eden Project. The Key is a worthy contender for Best In Show.

Paul Stone, the designer, member of Architecture sans Frontieres--U.K., developed it with Places of Change, a capital improvement programme. This programme was funded by government agencies seeking to improve services for people who are homeless or otherwise disenfranchised. Stone wanted the garden to symbolize the journey anyone could find themselves taking in these challenging economic times.

The garden is laid out with the intention of making the viewer experience the feeling a homeless/disenfranchised person feels trying to survive in the world today. When one enters the garden, they are overwhelmed with a feeling of foreboding. It is overgrown and decaying, with narrow winding obstacle paths. It is meant to show the hardship of working through life on the outside.

Take a close look at this bench!

There are brambles and thorns and poisonous plants in the garden. They reflect the difficult journey that prisoners must take. Mid-way are huge reclaimed timber pieces set into the ground much like totem poles. They are the storywall. Painted on them is a poem on homelessness done by a homeless person. They welcome you to the back area of the garden.

At the back it turns into a large, open, welcoming social space with a big table and chairs. There is a feeling of inclusion, abundance and bounty. There are vegetables growing and herbs in a shelf unit with a car's windshield as a protective roof.

Old keys are scattered all over the garden floor. They represent the key into society and a return to the real world.

Ninety per cent of the plants were grown from seed by the homeless. They also built the garden physically on site, dug the holes and made the structures. The garden is completely sustainable, the materials are from recycled sources and it will be broken down and reused afterwards.

Will it be prize worthy? There are many who think so.

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