The Guardian's Ian Tucker writes about our Places of Change garden. Read on for the full article!
""The appeal of horticulture for me is that at the beginning you have a flat canvas, a barren bit of land that no one has got any interest in, but you get your heads together and create something," says Lee Emery.
Emery, a 28-year-old homeless man, is explaining the appeal of getting involved in the Eden Project's Place of Change garden at this year's Chelsea Flower Show. He is a resident at Look Ahead Housing and Care, a supported housing scheme, and is one of 45 homelessness organisations that are contributing to Eden's second year at the world famous flower show in SW3.
According to Howard Jones, director of human networks at Eden, building people's skills is at the heart of the Chelsea garden, which is financially supported by the government-funded Homes and Communities Agency, the Department of Communities and Local Government, and the London Employer Accord.
"When they asked if we wanted to come back, we decided we would if more people could benefit. By agreeing to let us turn an area that has never been used for the largest ever garden we are able to do that," he says.
So what about winning a gold? "Winning the silver last year made me realise how much recognition means to people who have never been rewarded by anything in their lives, so it would be wonderful to win a gold, but that's not the be-all and end-all of the project. It's first and foremost a skills programme," says Jones.
As Emery says: "This will look good on my CV, not many people get the privilege to design something at Chelsea."
Last year's garden, the Key, won a coveted silver medal. This year, the collaboration between the Cornwall-based Eden Project and homelessness umbrella group, Homeless Link, is creating Chelsea's biggest ever show garden, which at nearly 600 sq metres is more than twice the size of a normal plot, and will feature up to 10,000 plants.
In addition to the 400 homeless people taking part in the project, 100 prisoners from eight jails are also involved, including prisoners who attend an Eden Growing for Life project at Occombe farm in Devon.
Contributions include residents of three services in Kent, run by housing and care provider Stonham, preparing foliage for A Planted Man – a 10ft-high figure who will be covered with various medicinal plants attached to the body parts they are used to treat. The Salvation Army's Salisbury House in St Helens has been cultivating wild flowers for a meadow area in the Chelsea garden, and women at Stonham's Hull Women's Service have been growing plants and carving a totem pole sculpture."
These distinct elements will be used in a design that demonstrates how horticulture is at the centre of our lives, from food and industry, to enterprise and teamwork, says Eden's garden designer Paul Stone.
Stone believes that gardening reaches the parts that other activities have trouble reaching, such as building self-esteem and confidence in the people taking part.
"Having the opportunity to create new life is something we all aspire to, and that's what you do with horticulture. It's that god-like opportunity to plant a seed and see it grow into something nothing like that seed," he says. "It's also the opportunity to create a piece of art. And to enjoy the feeling of doing a good day's work – and these guys don't get that opportunity, if people won't employ them."
This year, 95% of the homeless participants will gain a qualification or certificate in subjects such as garden design, woodwork and volunteering, or in media skills such as video filming or web publishing by producing content for the garden's blog and internet site.