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Meet our RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden designer: Ula Maria

We sat down with our talented RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden designer, Ula Maria, to find out more about her story.

She discusses her background in landscape design, how she became our designer, and where she got her inspiration for our the Muscular Dystrophy UK- Forest Bathing Garden.

A connection to nature
I’ve always felt connected to nature. Growing up in rural Lithuania, I was surrounded by wildflower meadows, pine forests, wild streams and rivers. As a child, I wanted to become an architect, and when I discovered landscape architecture, it felt like the perfect combination of both – nature and built form.

I moved to England in 2008 after attending the School of Fine Arts back home. I studied at Birmingham City University, where I gained a BA (Hons) and masters degree in Landscape Architecture. When I completed my education, I worked for several years designing commercial outdoor spaces before applying for the RHS Young Designer of the Year award in 2017. Winning this allowed me to design my first show garden. This was the most freeing design experience. It pushed me to open my own studio later that year.

Becoming your RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden designer
I was contacted around two years ago by a mutual connection with Muscular Dystrophy UK about the possibility of working on the charity’s garden design. After looking at the incredible work the charity does and meeting some of the team, I knew I wanted to work on this project. I thought it would be a great opportunity to showcase the charity’s work and raise awareness of muscle wasting and weakening conditions. It has been such an amazing experience the whole way through.

My inspiration for the garden
My favourite gardens are centred around memories and connections, so I wanted to create a concept based on people’s experiences of living with a muscle wasting condition. People spoke about feeling confused, isolated, and lonely following their diagnosis, and suddenly having lots of medical appointments to attend.

This inspired me to create a sheltered, safe space where individuals and families could process their thoughts and come to terms with change. I wanted to create somewhere that would give comfort and clarity through nature, away from the clinical environments people in this community have to spend time in.

I remembered reading about the mental and physical benefits of forest bathing and thought this would be the perfect focus. Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, is a popular Japanese practice of spending time in the forest and soaking up its atmosphere through the senses. After months of planning and designing, I’m so excited about seeing this garden come to life. It will have more than 50 birch trees and 4,000 plants to create an immersive forest bathing experience accessible to everyone.

This garden is all about connections to yourself, nature, and others. I hope that people who visit the garden will get inspired by the concept of forest bathing and see how a garden like ours can make a positive impact on communities such as Muscular Dystrophy UK.

Thank you to Project Giving Back for funding our RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden. It will allow us to reach people who have never heard of muscle wasting and weakening conditions, raise awareness of the work of the charity and give our community a voice.

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