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Press release

“Let’s aspire to fantastic urban spaces”: garden of ‘outdoor sitting rooms’ celebrating social pioneer Octavia Hill wins Silver-Gilt and inaugural RHS Children’s Choice Award at RHS Chelsea Flower show

The Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024
The Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024 | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

The Octavia Hill Garden by Blue Diamond with the National Trust has been awarded a Silver-Gilt Medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024.

The Main Avenue Show Garden, designed by Ann-Marie Powell Gardens, was created to celebrate the legacy of social pioneer and National Trust co-founder Octavia Hill.

Octavia campaigned for much of her life to save green space so that everyone, particularly those living in cities, could benefit from ‘the healthy gift of air and the joy of plants and flowers’. She once said: “Our lives are overcrowded, over-excited, over-strained. We all want quiet. We all want beauty. We all need space.

Unless we have it we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently.”

Two years in the making, the garden champions biodiversity, accessibility, environmentally-sustainable materials and techniques, and uses a series of ‘outdoor sitting rooms’ – an idea advocated by Octavia – to enable people and nature to connect.

The award comes after the garden received the inaugural RHS Children’s Choice Award. On Monday, a seedling from the Sycamore Gap tree, propagated by the Trust’s Plant Conservation Centre, was placed on the garden by Dame Judi Dench and 7-year-old Charlotte Crowe, a pupil from the closest Primary School to Sycamore Gap.

Garden designer Ann-Marie Powell said: “To say that I’m thrilled by this award would be a huge understatement! It’s been a mountain for the team to climb but the result, and the reaction of show visitors, has made every moment worthwhile.

“I hadn’t heard of Octavia before I started work on the garden, but I’m now in awe of what she achieved. We owe her such a debt. Seeing the smoggy streets, the density of city life and the closure of once-public spaces, she knew instinctively that people needed space, sky and beauty.

“I hope we can get more people talking and thinking about Octavia off the back of the garden. But I also hope we’ve shown what can be done – let's aspire to fantastic urban spaces that bring colour and joy to our lives, and boost the biodiversity around us. It is possible.”

Andy Jasper, Director of Gardens & Parklands, said: “We are over the moon to be recognised with this award. We wanted to show what Octavia Hill would be doing if she were alive today. We feel confident she would still be pushing for people to have ‘outdoor sitting rooms’ – gardens and green spaces where they can rest, play and enjoy the sight of things growing.

“Those things mattered in Octavia’s lifetime and they continue to matter in today’s world, more so than ever.

Her ideas don’t belong in the past, they are as relevant as they ever were. You only have to look at places like Castlefield Viaduct – our ‘garden in the sky’ in Manchester – and at the after-school club at Stoneford Community Garden in Dagenham, to see that Octavia’s ambitions still drive our work today.

“We’re hugely grateful to Ann-Marie Powell, the craftspeople, contractors and apprentices we’ve worked with, and Blue Diamond Garden Centres. Without them, this wonderful garden wouldn’t have been possible. And I’d like to thank National Trust supporters too, who enable us to keep doing the work that Octavia started over 130 years ago.”

Alan Roper, Blue Diamond Managing Director, said: “Blue Diamond's collaboration with the National Trust led to us originating the idea for this garden at RHS Chelsea. Ann-Marie Powell took our team on a design journey and her interpretation of Octavia's Hill's vision, for today's generation, is truly admirable.

“Our equal investment in this garden with the National Trust exemplifies our relationship by celebrating and reminding people of one of their founding members and allows my team the rewarding experience of being part of such a journey. It is a tremendous achievement for all concerned. I am extremely proud that we were able to realise this landmark garden celebrating the National Trust and their achievements.

“However, for Blue Diamond this journey is only just beginning. After RHS Chelsea, I want to ensure the legacy of the garden continues so it can be enjoyed and Octavia's ideals celebrated, for many years to come.

As such, it will be rebuilt in its entirety, at Bridgemere Show Gardens in Nantwich, Cheshire, where it will take pride of place alongside 15 other RHS Gold and Silver Gilt winning gardens dating back to 1989.”

Jim Teague, Head of Blue Diamond Production, said: "Everyone at Blue Diamond is incredibly proud of the collaboration with The National Trust, and winning a Silver-Gilt medal at Chelsea Flower Show is simply the icing on the cake!

“The whole team have been working very hard to make sure Chelsea is a success, and that the message and legacy that Octavia Hill left us through the National Trust is able to be conveyed to all our customers within our garden centres.

“Customers will be able to continue to visit our stores and buy a little piece of the show garden from our Chelsea Collection of plants."

Jill Kerr, Group Relationship Manager for Blue Diamond, said: "We are absolutely delighted with the Silver-Gilt Medal and would like to thank all at the already multi-award winning garden design practice, Ann-Marie Powell Gardens, led by designer Ann-Marie Powell, the team at The Landscaping Consultants, all the talented specialists and all those at the National Trust and Blue Diamond Garden Centres involved in this tremendous project. It really was a huge team effort!

“We hope the garden will inspire and encourage people to create gardens or areas for plants to flourish, to spend time outdoors in nature and in their gardens, to enjoy the many proven benefits. We should all take the opportunity to increase plant diversity and provide valuable food sources for pollinators and wildlife in whatever outdoor space we may have.

“Octavia Hill believed that ‘the healthy gift of air and the joy of plants and flowers’ were vital in everyone’s life' and I think this is a belief we should all live by.”