“Bringing theatre into the garden”: Students design balcony garden with the Cloud Gardener for the RHS Urban Show

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Featured image: Man Met Rise

Manchester Metropolitan University students have teamed up with the ‘Cloud Gardener’ Jason Williams to design balcony gardens for the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Urban Show.

Four sustainably designed balcony gardens facing north, south, east and west are being created by students on Manchester Met’s innovative Rise programme in collaboration with the acclaimed gardener.

The balcony gardens will be showcased at the RHS Urban Show held at Manchester’s Mayfield Depot, running April 18th to 21st.

The hands-on experience has seen students play a leading role in the transformation of small urban spaces, from designing the space and selecting plants, to building the gardens. The opportunity is a chance to share their creativity with a national and international audience.

After four intensive design workshops held at Manchester Met, the students’ visit to plant nursery Irlam Nursery marked the halfway point of this project. The most recent design workshop drew 30 students, who joined Williams, as well as a production company who are filming the process.

The session began with a down-to-business introduction from Williams where he revealed each group will receive a budget of £500. This modest budget has been set to with the idea that all design choices should replicable by amateur gardeners.

Students shared their ‘planting lists’, considering whether the plants selected matched up to the client and their story. There was a rich mixture of plants, reflecting the stories of the people in mind, from Mediterranean plants to Chinese flowers, as well as herbs, spices, and vegetables.

Next up in Williams’ presentation focussed on “planting and theatre”. Williams challenged the teams to “bring theatre into the garden”. This lesson in garden design was partly inspired by Chelsea Flower Show gardens, and words such as ‘modernist’, ‘masculine’, and ‘functional’ were used to describe garden concepts.

This project explores how to create impressive gardens for new gardeners and those interested in gardening, for a fraction of the price. Arguably, the students involved have the most challenging job at the show.

Each group was composed of a mixture of students from various courses, from architecture to illustration, to graphic design, to finance. Each group had created initial designs for their garden, reflecting on the space designated for them and the client’s needs.

From adapting gardens for the elderly clients or families to implementing irrigation systems, the students offered impressively well-thought-out, creative designs. Each group had expert knowledge of their clients.

Williams shared his thoughts on the project so far: “We’re coming towards the end stage of this part of the project, and we’re now just finalising our designs.

“I’m spending time individually with each group and they are great at taking on board criticisms and learning how to receive that criticism and direct it into something positive that they can create real changes within their designs.”

He added: “What has been interesting to me is just how adaptable these students are, and how much work they’ve put in between each workshop. I am very hopeful about this project; it looks super promising!”

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Tara Morony

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