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Debbie's RHS Chelsea Flower Show Update

Debbie Hoods, Head of Philanthropy and Partnerships at the charity, is leading the work on our garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Here she explains more about the garden and how preparations are going.

I’ve never been much of a gardener but when the opportunity came for us to apply to grant-making charity Project Giving Back to have a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower show, I was excited to be involved. 

Project Giving Back is a small group of philanthropists that are passionate about horticulture. After the pandemic, they wanted to give charities, like ours, the chance to have a garden at the most famous horticultural event in the world to help replace some of the lost funding bought about by lockdowns. 

The inspiration for our garden

We were introduced to Ula Maria, our fantastic award winning garden designer, by one of our key supporters and in January 2023, having got through to the shortlist for funding, we were invited to pitch. We wanted to create a garden that would benefit the whole muscle wasting and weakening community; those facing diagnosis, families, clinicians, healthcare professionals and scientists.  

We shared stories with Ula and she was immediately inspired by Martin Hywood’s diagnosis story. Martin shared how, after hearing his diagnosis, he felt so alone, even though his wife was nearby. He contemplated how his life would change. Ula quickly came back with her initial concept, a garden based on the ancient Japanese practice of forest bathing which promotes the benefits of being in nature. Her idea was to create an accessible space that made the most of the forest and all of the mental and physical health benefits it brings.  

Since then, the preparations to make the garden a reality and to build it into our charitable work have been non-stop. We want more people to know about Muscular Dystrophy and what it’s like to live with a muscle-wasting or weakening condition. Part of the challenge of a diagnosis is that no one has heard of it, you know no-one living with it and you have to explain it to everyone from family, friends, teachers, colleagues and even GPs. This opportunity at the Chelsea Flower Show will change that. It will allow us to reach people who have never heard of the condition, give our community a voice and raise awareness of the work of the charity. Over 160,000 people visit the show each year and millions watch the coverage on the BBC, so this is a huge opportunity for us all. 

Bringing the garden to life  

In the past few weeks, I’ve been working on a variety of different aspects of the garden – arranging transport to take the trees from the Chelsea Flower Show once it’s finished to Oxford (where the garden will eventually end up), working with an artist to create a beautiful picture we can use to represent the garden, booking events so we can engage key audiences during show week and working with the marketing team to ensure that we are sharing news with all of you when things really start to get going throughout March.

I’ve also been on a couple of ‘field trips’ with our garden designer. In February, we visited the tree nursey which is providing the 50 silver birch trees that will be on our garden to create the forest bathing theme. The nursery had laid out the trees as they will be at the show – it was incredible to see it come to life!  Ula and I also visited the Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine at the University of Oxford to discuss the relocation plans for the garden. It will be a public garden for everyone to visit and scientists who are working on research to find treatments and cures, will get to see it out of the window as they work.  

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