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Why chalk streams matter

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Fiona Stephenson Fiona Stephenson | 16:30 UK time, Tuesday, 5 July 2011

When WWF contacted me about creating a chalk stream garden for their 50th anniversary, I have to admit I was not completely sure what or where a chalk stream could be found... so I went about researching chalk streams and their habitats. The journey has been fascinating, inspiring and very educational.

Why we care about chalk streams show garden

Why we care about chalk streams show garden

Most people when they think of WWF tend to think of their work in far flung places across the globe, but the whole message with this garden; entitled Why We Care About Chalk Streams, is to highlight the work WWF does on their doorstep with water conservation in the UK and to highlight how we can all be mindful of our water use.

I took my inspiration from the River Itchen and River Kennet which are fine examples of chalk streams found in the south east of England. They both have 'gin clear' like sparkling water with amazing water meadows around them where natural orchids and iris flowers can be found to create beautiful natural settings. The 'twist' in the story comes from inspiration around Ian Gill's 'Embrace' sculpture. I imagined giant drops of water held aloft in 6' high metal blades of grass.

It is a daunting challenge to create a show garden that will evoke the feeling of a beautiful chalk stream in three weeks. Never one to shrink from a challenge, I decided to follow the advice of Winnie The Pooh "Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they're things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you." So I went to the Itchen a few times to allow the serenity, patterns and feeling to be absorbed, to notice them in detail and trust that a suitable methodology would emerge.

Why we care about chalk streams - plughole

A giant plughole inspires visitors to think about how we use water

I imagined a twist in perspective, diminishing the scale of the stream itself and exaggerating the scale of the threat to them; water taken out of aquifers. A giant plug to represents the problem of using too much water and spheres of various sizes represent volumes of water being diverted from streams. The stream curves, flowing through the centre of the garden creating the movement you feel when looking at a real one.

The biggest challenge is to create the feeling of  a natural and clear stream on level ground with moving water. We hope there will be a noticeable flow in our chalk stream.

Now that it is finished I am happy with the look of it. To me it is feeling natural and gentle. I hope it looks as if it has been there for years as opposed to a couple of weeks!

A rammed earth wall representing the chalk aquifers that filter rainwater

The rammed earth wall represents chalk aquifers that filter rainwater

The garden features a chalk stream as a centrepiece and includes a bridge and viewing platform constructed from reclaimed timber and a granite WWF Panda feature.

Plants typically found around chalk streams or in alkaline soil such as meadowsweet and water crowfoot intermingle with oversized naturalistic and exaggerated planting to create a larger than life feel. The plug serves as a very stark reminder that we need to conserve water where possible.

If people leave the garden understanding what a chalk stream is and having a better understanding of how we all need to conserve water - I'll be very happy.

Celebrating the WWF's 50th year anniversary, Fiona Stephenson's show garden; Why we care about chalk streams was awarded a Silver-Gilt Flora at this year's RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show 2011.

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