“Connected by EXANTE” – Nicholsons Lockhart Garratt at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022

By Victoria Sherbourne

Synonymous with freshly cut grass, blooming flowers and blossoming trees is the Chelsea Flower Show. This year, we are thrilled to be returning to the Show to build a considered and captivating garden named, “Connected by EXANTE,” for Finnish designer, Taina Suonio. Our passion is to lead on sustainability, not only in garden design but construction techniques too. As an ambassador for environmental conservation, it is no surprise to hear that when we opened Taina’s design pack, we were delighted to find an enchanting, green oasis.

Taina's RHS Chelsea Garden

Taina is considered a leading pioneer in Finland on green roofs. She believes they improve urban amenities and support the biodiversity of our natural environment. She lectures at various educational institutions and writes articles on horticulture, landscape design and environmental biology. Her style of garden design is predominantly a celebration of the ecological biodiversity-supporting beauty of the native wild. Not to mention, carefully selected areas of her gardens feature an abundance of blooms. Her talent and background provide the perfect pairing with Nicholsons Lockhart Garratt to bring our Chelsea dream to life.

“Connected” is a cool, calm woodland sanctuary providing a tranquil space for people to connect inside a fairy-tale, larger-than-life oak stump. Designed with a minimal interior, the main oak structure provides a Scandinavian feel serving as an office, studio, or relaxation space. Included in the structure is a water feature, a tank filled with rainwater harvested from the roof which gives the impression of a window. As green roofs are one of Taina’s specialities, the planting around the ceiling window echoes the forest plants around it, making it look as if the whole roof is planted.

The garden features native plants from Europe and Finland, including beech, wild crab apple, field maple and silver birch (the Finnish national tree), all underplanted with brambles, dog rose, elder and guelder rose. All are common plants that can be easily grown. “We need to think more carefully about what we plant, because of climate change and pest and diseases, and need to support natural biodiversity. We need to learn to appreciate the smaller details.” Cow parsley, Solomon’s seal, foxgloves, ferns, erythroniums and lily of the valley (Finland’s national flower), emulate a woodland walk, with duckboards leading to the oak building, echoing those that traditionally lead up to Finnish summer cottages.

Lily of the valley

The central feature

We have harnessed the skill and talent of co-worker Jonathan Blackburn, a friend of the Nicholsons Lockhart Garratt garden team over many years, to assist in the execution of the specialist oak feature in the centre of the garden. All plants have been carefully sourced from UK nurseries and the majority from our own nursery on our 23-acre site at North Aston in north Oxfordshire. With Taina’s strong planting palette and Jonathan’s joinery/carpentry talent, our sustainable build provides a truly calming woodland sanctuary, allowing us to enjoy the more subtle details of foliage shape and texture.

Taina Suonio

Jonathan Blackburn

Liz Nicholson, Managing Director, comments: “The Nicholsons Lockhart Garratt team are absolutely thrilled to be working with Tania on such a nature inspired garden. The design is visionary and representative of more natural spaces that we should value in this time of climate change.”

Following the show, the build will be donated to the gardens of UCLH cancer ward, providing patients with a tranquil space. This is a demonstration of the vision of EXANTE, the sponsor of the garden, and their ability to connect people.

Richard Holt, Senior Landscape Contracts Manager comments, “This garden is especially exciting for me as it reflects the sustainability and ‘gentle’ touch philosophy we hold dear at Nicholsons Lockhart Garratt. To be designed by such a well-respected, environmentally credible designer is a real testament to our company culture and values. The fact that the garden will live on at UCLH cancer ward is just fantastic and surmises the whole ethos of this project.”