Homeless Link
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Towering plant colossus makes a stand for homeless people at Chelsea's biggest garden

A giant man made of hundreds of healing plants  is taking shape as part of the largest garden for the forthcoming RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2010.

More than 300 homeless and disadvantaged people from across the country are now preparing detailed plans for the “Places of Change” Garden, the biggest-ever show garden in the history of the world-famous event. Among the creative concepts already being developed is the towering “planted man” figure being made up of medicinal plants grown in the precise bodily regions to which they bring benefit. 

The novel idea was suggested by Lucy Fleming, a project worker at Stonham,  a supported housing provider.  The framework is now being devised and the plants are being researched, selected and grown.  Among the remedies proposed is St John’s Wort, sometimes used in the treatment of depression, to make up part of the figure’s head.

Lucy said: “All of my colleagues and clients at the services involved are really excited about appearing at the show.  We’re hoping our plant man looks really eye catching and that visitors to the garden learn something about which plants can help them live more healthily.”

Also  working on the garden’s Health zone are Herefordshire SHYPP, supported housing for young people project, whose clients have chosen the theme of toxic and healing plants for their design, and have recruited two herbalists  from London to work with ten young people,  to teach them about their own health, plants and their healing properties.    

Overseen by Paul Stone, the Eden Project garden designer and a multiple medal winner at Chelsea, the 590 square-metre garden will feature a network of themed zones all conveying the empowering nature of growing for life.  In addition to the health zone, other areas will feature food production, the senses, industry and the environment.

Paul Stone is working with Architecture Sans Frontieres-UK and Roderick James Architects on the masterplan.  The experienced designers are taking a holistic approach and are involving people from eight homeless centres in creating the framework.  In total, as many as 50 centres across the country will be involved in design, planting and building of the garden.

Paul Stone said: “The real work is now starting to happen.  We know it is fantastically ambitious to have so many hands on the project and in particular the design.  The exciting thing is to empower so many people.  The stage is there for them to express themselves in all kinds of creative ways.

“Already there are some great ideas on the drawing board, including the planted man.   Experienced horticulturists from Eden are being assigned to the teams to help guide them through but essentially the garden is being designed by people who would never have taken on anything like this before.

 “As well as the separately designed zones and all the features and plants within them, a major structure on display will be the dramatic central spine of the garden, made up of 250 sentinel posts. These will require traditional carpentry skills and are very much part of the training and learning experience which is such an important element of this project.”

The Places of Change Garden is an ambitious collaboration between national housing and regeneration delivery agency, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), the Eden Project, national membership charity for frontline homelessness agencies Homeless Link, and Communities and Local Government (CLG).  This partnership builds on the success of the silver medal award-winning Key Garden at Chelsea in 2009, which saw collaboration from 20 homeless agencies and 200 homeless service users involved at all stages of the  garden’s development. The project aimed to give participants the chance to unlock their hidden potential, and many of the service users involved consistently reported a huge confidence boost, new skills, and renewed hope for their future.

The 2010 Garden is being funded by CLG and the HCA’s Places of Change programme – a £80m capital funding improvement programme that aims to bring about a step change in the way homeless services are perceived and challenge stereotypes around homelessness. Following on from the themes of The Key last year, the new garden is founded on the ideas of skills,  employment and enterprise.  All the people taking part are going to be guided and looked after in their activities.  The National Open College Network is going to assess and accredit their activity.  For the designers, this will not only mean being part of a unique project, it also means they will have an accredited qualification in garden design.

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