Chelsea can boost councils' skills

Local authority parks departments can improve skills and raise their profiles through exhibiting at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, according to a Leeds parks manager.

"It is really scary for local authorities but they should at least have a look because it is a great way of engaging your staff," Leeds City Council parks and countryside recreation partnerships manager Martin Walker told HW. "The skills required to grow plants for Chelsea are transferable. We all know the pressures on the industry in developing skills and this is a year-long project that has to be delivered."

Walker is part of the Leeds City Council team involved in creating the HESCO Garden, sponsored by civil engineering firm HESCO Bastion. The garden focuses on the concept of flood alleviation and how individual gardeners and councils can help combat the problem.

It features steel-mesh gabions from HESCO, which are densely planted with ivy to create living walls, as well as depressed rain gardens planted with moisture-tolerant Iris and Hosta.

"Chelsea is an international showcase and whether you are trying to deliver a message, like us, or go for the cutting-edge 'wow factor', there is a place for both," added Walker. "The show is just as important for the industry because there are lots of gardeners and parks staff who will take ideas back home. There is no reason why a rain garden shouldn't appear in a park."

In addition to growing the plants for the garden, creating the design and carrying out the construction, Leeds City Council is also using its Chelsea garden as a way of engaging with children.

From this week, the local authority's rangers will be going into schools to tell pupils and teachers about the garden and invite them to take part in a postcard competition. The winner will visit Chelsea and see the finished show garden.

Walker explained: "Because this is such a strong theme in terms of its environmental impact, we wanted to give schools the chance to get involved."

- See vox pop on p19 for more on involving children in gardening.

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