Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Chelsea Flower Show: Furzey learning disability garden wins gold

Furzey Gardens display
Image caption The Furzey Gardens designer said the display won despite rhododendrons being "considered wildly out of fashion by the horticultural elite"

It was Furzey Gardens first ever entry at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show and they clinched the top prize.

But their display was a garden with a difference - it was created entirely by a team of young adults with learning disabilities.

The group - who receive horticultural training and residential care at the gardens in Minstead in the New Forest - have worked on the preparations since last year.

With a budget of only £60,000, all from fundraising - a fraction of what is spent on some displays - they created their project with no high-tech growing methods such as fridges or warm-rooms.

At the heart of it is a wooden sculpture called The Lantern, which was dismantled and relocated from Hampshire to London for the show.

The team said the aim was to "recreate the essence of Furzey, its intrinsic peace and tranquillity".

But they also wanted to bring a message of warning that vital projects such as these are under threat due to council cuts across the country.

'Marginalised people'

Jonathan Lenaerts, one of the gardeners, said: "We've worked at it really hard in the past year and I've done quite a lot of watering."

Fellow gardener Philip Norris said ahead of the opening: "It's excellent. I've got a really good feeling about it."

Chris Beardshaw, who designed the exhibit with the group, said: "It's so important that the skills of the people who've been building this garden are recognised and celebrated.

Image caption Philip Norris and the others on the project helped move the display to London

"To be honest, we didn't really think that it was a garden that was going to win a gold medal, because years ago, there used to be rhododendrons at Chelsea Flower Show, but they are considered wildly out of fashion by the horticultural elite.

"It's just fantastic that perhaps a section of society who are largely ignored and marginalised have brought a section of plants that are marginalised back into Chelsea.

"I'm so proud of everybody who's been involved and just so proud to have played a small part in it."

The trainees are part of the Minstead Training Project, a charity which helps young people with learning difficulties to develop skills, take on on new challenges and build confidence.

Reverend Tim Selwood, from Furzey Gardens, said: "We've done this to celebrate and highlight what can be achieved by people with learning disabilities with the appropriate support and funding.

"They can be up there with the best of them."

But he added: "Hampshire County Council are having to cut 400 day places in Hampshire this year.

"The short-term policy of cutting funding to people with moderate learning disabilities is going to result in long-term cost for society.

"We want to get that message over."

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