14 April 2022

Bea’s rain garden set to make a splash at RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Year-In-Practice student Bea Tann is busy preparing for this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show, where she will showcase a woodland-inspired container garden, designed to thrive in wet conditions.

Landscape Architecture Student Bea Tann
Bea Tann is set to showcase her planting design skills at the world famous Chelsea Flower Show

Bea, who is currently undertaking her Year-In-Practice at Planit-IE in Manchester, is one of only five designers chosen to exhibit at the prestigious horticultural show, in the new ‘Container Garden’ category.

The Enchanted Rain Garden will feature robust, woodland planting, capable of thriving in the increasingly stormy weather conditions, which result from climate change.

Having originally been accepted to exhibit at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show in 2020 – subsequently cancelled due to the pandemic – Bea was inspired to re-apply for a place at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show thanks to an email from the Department of Landscape Architecture.

Bea said: “I was so thrilled when I found out I had been accepted to showcase my container garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show! I'm feeling nervous, but mostly excited for the show!”

She spoke to us about the process so far, as well as how the first three years of her degree have helped to transform her confidence and realise her love of planting design.

What inspired you to apply for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show?

In 2020 I applied for the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show Long Border Competition, alongside two other students. Despite being successful with our application and completing hours of planning, the show was unfortunately cancelled due to the pandemic.

We were devastated at the amount of work we had put in to have nothing to show for it. I think I was put off doing an RHS show garden for a while.

However, after visiting the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for my first time last September, I was re-inspired and reminded why I was so excited by the idea of designing for an RHS show the first time around.

Shortly after this an email was circulated by the Department of Landscape Architecture about applying for a mentored container garden for Chelsea Flower Show in 2022.

It felt like the perfect opportunity, particularly because the nature of the no-dig container garden category made it achievable for somebody at my level.

The way that the course is set out means that you build planting knowledge in a really manageable way.

Bea Tann

MLA Landscape Architecture

An Enchanted Rain Garden by Landscape Architecture student Bea Tann

The Enchanted Rain Garden

This garden draws on the enchanting power of rain to create a small haven of woodland wonder within an urban space.

Inspired by a rainy garden in Manchester, this container garden is designed to thrive in wet conditions, influenced by UK forests whose lush foliage is energised and born out of the regularity of rainy weather.

It features robust, deep green planting with waxy textures that glisten when wet, as well as ferns which hold raindrops in the soft spaces between their leaves.

Rough stone reclaimed planters speak back to the ancient forest’s true naturalistic form whilst also creating an ideal surface on which to grow moss, itself an integral part of the woodland ecosystem.

A rain collection barrel also allows the storage and re-use of valuable rain water in the absence of wet weather. The overall narrative and design of this garden evokes the spirit of the UK’s northern cities, harnessing the magic of a rainy environment whilst talking more practically to the growing regularity of stormy weather we face as a result of climate change. 

How has the knowledge you have gained during your degree helped you with the design and planning for RHS Chelsea Flower Show?

When I joined the course straight out of Sixth Form, I had next to no plant knowledge and felt unsure if I would enjoy the planting design element of Landscape Architecture.

From the very first planting module, my world was opened up to the possibilities in planting design and I felt really inspired by all of the planting lectures.

As the course progressed my confidence grew with each planting module and by the end of third year, I realised my real love for planting design.

The way that the course is set out means that you build planting knowledge in a really manageable way. By the end of the three years it was crazy to think about how much I'd learnt since coming into the course with no plant knowledge.

What are you most looking forward to in terms of seeing your design realised?

I’m really looking forward to talking to people about my design and about container gardening in general.

It's an exciting new category at Chelsea, so I’m also looking forward to seeing which direction the other exhibitors in the category have chosen to take their container gardens.

I think it’s a great category because of how transferable container garden designs are; they can inspire people with any kind of outdoor space, particularly those renting properties, who are looking for a way to improve their outdoor space without digging or making any permanent changes.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

In terms of design challenges, I’m using reclaimed stone troughs as my containers, which made it difficult to design the space before I had confirmed exactly which troughs I would be using. Often with reclaimed materials, what is available is what you get.

I started with a rough idea of the dimensions I wanted for each container, but as soon as I went to choose them from the reclamation yard, I was found myself more concerned by the individual form and character of particular troughs than their dimensions.

I ended up completely changing the layout to accommodate for the specific troughs that I picked.

It really showed me the value of in-person visits when choosing materials like this. The idea I initially had in mind of using smooth stone troughs completely changed when I visited the reclamation yard on a rainy day and was mesmerised by the moss on the uneven surfaces of the much ‘rougher’ looking troughs.

As for other challenges, I’m mid way through my year out at Planit-IE, so it has been difficult to balance organising everything for Chelsea on quite a short time scale, while also working full time for the first time in my life.

I don’t think this would be something I would usually consider taking on alongside doing a year out, but because of all the time lost with covid, I was eager not to wait any longer and luckily lots of the skills that I gained in the first half of my year out ended up really coming in handy with my Chelsea application.

It also helps that my colleagues at Planit are really pleased for me and happy to give advice!

Anything else you’d like to add?

If anyone is thinking of applying for any similar opportunities, definitely go for it!

The guidance that I received when applying for my Chatsworth border from Sally O'Halloran and Amy Langron has stuck with me and I found myself following a lot of the advice I received back then when designing my Chelsea container garden.

I really surprised myself when I was accepted to the show. The application process alone was a really valuable experience, so I would definitely recommend any Landscape Architecture students to apply in future.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from 24 - 28 May 2022.

Recent MA Landscape Architecture graduate, Ann Treneman will also feature in the Container Garden Category, with her design, Wild Kitchen Garden.