Students take on long border challenge at RHS Chatsworth

Students and staff at RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

Five students from the Department of Landscape are showcasing their skills in planting design to an audience of around 90,000, as they take part in the first ever Long Border Competition at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, which opens today (6 June 2018).

The students – both undergraduates and postgraduates – have created the 7 x 1.8m mixed borders to interpret the theme ‘Movement’.

The Long Border Competition provides the opportunity for plant enthusiasts from all backgrounds – including garden design professionals – to experience the design, planning and build of a horticultural exhibit in a show environment. Of the eight successful designs chosen by the RHS for the competition, Department of Landscape students are responsible for three.

2nd year undergraduate Russell Giblett has paired up with 3rd year undergraduate Alistair Mockett to create Rising Up, which commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Suffragette Movement securing the right to vote for women; postgraduates Bartolomeo Sasso and Liwen Zang’s design Caravan, represents a journey along the Silk Road, while 2nd year undergraduate Amber Norman has designed Elastic Motion, which portrays the movement of vertical elastic ropes in a computer simulation.

Judging took place on Tuesday afternoon and the medals were revealed early on Wednesday morning. Alistair and Russell were awarded Silver, while Amber, Bartolomeo and Liwen each won Bronze.

Amber Norman Russell Giblett
Alistair Mockett Liwen and Bart

Department of Landscape teacher Dr. Sally O’Halloran said “entering a prestigious competition like this for the first time shows such confidence from our students at this early stage in their career. They had the difficult job of sourcing plants that would flower for the show at the beginning of June, which was no easy task with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show designers competing for a similar plant palette.”

“Working to a limited budget of £500 they soon realised that they needed more funding and they sourced additional sponsorship from the Department of Landscape. This showed great initiative and this experience has taught them how to adapt quickly to any situation.”

The Long Border Competition takes its inspiration from the Long Borders at great gardens, including Haddon Hall, RHS Garden Wisley, Great Dixter and Hever Castle, as well as the pioneering work of Gertrude Jekyll. The other designs include Summer Breeze – a celebration of the British summer – by professional designer Kristian Reay and Splash, by Georgia Kralij, which is inspired by the ripples of a swimming pool on a hot day.

RHS Chatsworth Flower Show RHS Chatsworth Flower Show
RHS Chatsworth Flower Show RHS Chatsworth Flower Show

Russell Giblett said: “after volunteering at the Department of Landscape’s climate change garden in 2017, I dreamt of doing a garden at the RHS Chatsworth – not knowing that I would be returning a year later to design and build a long border! The competition has been a stage to learn and test ideas, to put forward a beautiful design that is also practical.”

“It’s been a challenge on combining heights, textures, colours, structure and form to create a unified whole, but an enjoyable one. Personally, it has influenced my future career aspirations, as I now want to go and work in a career to do with planting design. This has provided invaluable experience that I hope I can use later on in my career!"

Alistair Mockett said: “the competition is a chance to get your name out there, hopefully let a few people or the public remember you and it’s certainly a great thing to put on the CV! It’s a great stepping stone; If I want to design a flower show garden later on, then I’ve already had this experience, but without the pressure of a whole garden.”

“Our design is called Rising Up and is based on the suffragettes. The layout reflects the different political groups, with tall Juniperus representing the prominent figures of the Pankhurst trio in the centre. Around them, Gypsophilla swirls to double up like a dress, with each white flower representing a woman rising up and following these figures. The border has the colour scheme of purple, white and green – the colours worn in ribbons by the suffragettes. We also play with different textures, with the spiky forms of Eryngium and Echinops representing the violent protests, contrasting with softer forms like grasses and aquilegias.”

Amber Norman Dr Sally O'Halloran with the students at Chatsworth
Alistair Mockett and Russell Gilbert Alex, Vicki, Sophie and Amber

This, the second RHS Chatsworth Flower Show, follows the sell-out show in 2017. A pre-show economic impact assessment predicted it would generate approximately £7.07m for the local area.

Amber Norman said: “it was a big surprise to get chosen for the Long Border Competition but very exciting at the same time. It's been a huge amount of work, particularly being the only person doing it on my own, but everyone's been really helpful with everything, particularly during the set up. The most challenging part has been negotiating plant ordering and delivery. I never expected how much work was involved in that, especially considering our plots are only 7 x 1.8m. I think being able to pull this off on my own however will be really valuable in my future career, not just in planting but in the whole organisation of it all.”

Dr O’Halloran added: “As a teacher of planting design, I am thrilled to see them competing alongside professional designers. This first-hand experience cannot be taught in the studio. It will hopefully be the start of a journey that sees them producing innovative planting designs at a bigger scale and inspires them to go on to do a show garden in future years. Watch this space!”

More photos of the borders can be viewed on our Facebook page.


The students' designs are:

Elastic Motion

By Amber Norman

Inspired by the installation Notion Field by Cuppetelli and Mendoza, Elastic Motion portrays the movement of vertical elastic ropes in a computer simulation, and the curve of elastic forms. The Long Border shows the relationship between a human and computer bond, and between real and virtual, a theme that is particularly relevant in today’s technological world. The use of structure and shape in the planting, the change of its colour and texture, illustrates elastic’s curvature. As you walk along the border, the planting appears to move and elongate with you, giving a real sense of flow.


By Bartolomeo Sasso and Liwen Zhang

This dynamic display captures the essence of movement in three main components: time, space and perception. Time is depicted as the landscape changes, when flowers open and close at different times. For space, this tiny patch of land brings the visitor on a journey along the Silk Road – a short adventure from the Italian hills to the Chinese mountains. Elongated shapes of marigolds and cranesbills give the sense of speed, as do the blurred and wavy textures of Chinese fountain grass and tufted hair grass, which contrast with vertical sage.

Rising Up

By Russell Giblett and Alistair Mockett

This border commemorates 100 years since the Suffagette Movement achieved the right to vote for women. Like the suffagettes’ defiant uprising, figures of yew emerge through clouds of colour, standing strong and upright, coupled with repeated gypsophila swathes. The tiny white flowers twist dress-like around the Juniperus, hinting at femininity. Each delicate flower represents a woman rallying behind these influential political groups. Within the Suffagette Movement some engaged in violent protests, depicted by spiky, upright perennials creating intrigue, contrasting with graceful, feminine-like forms. The colour scheme is mostly purple, white and green – colours associated with the Suffagette Movement – presented in drifts of contrasting textures and shapes.