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Humaira Ikram: 'Hands Off Mangrove is a really important Chelsea garden'

Published: May 20, 2022 at 8:30 am

Humaira Ikram explains the planting and ethos behind the Hands Off Mangrove garden, designed by Grow2Know

Garden designer and plantswoman Humaira Ikram is working on the garden 'Hands Off Mangrove' by Grow2Know and designed by Tayshan Hayden-Smith and Danny Clarke, who are making their debuts at RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The garden is inspired by the story of the Mangrove Nine defendants in the 1970s as well as the deforestation of Mangrove forests globally. Here she explains a little more about her work on the project.

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What are you working on with Grow2Know and the 'Hands Off Mangrove' garden?
I run a planting team and I work with designers who are doing Show Gardens at Chelsea Flower Show. I am collaborating with Grow2Know on their planting scheme. It’s going to be really exciting. We are also approaching which plants we use a bit differently this year: we're looking at what the nursery has already, rather than ordering things.

RHS / Luke MacGregor

Is working that way more of a challenge?
In 2017 I did a garden and it was a ten week turnaround and we had to go to the nursery and just pick stuff up and actually it was really exciting. I think it's a nice way of having a garden at Chelsea. It’s much more accessible.

Accessibility feels central to this garden too. It’s also going to have a life afterwards...
Absolutely. The garden is about the Mangrove Nine and mangroves globally, and because of that, initially I thought we might be making a mangrove, but that isn’t the brief for the garden. It has to be a UK, London-based garden that will grow here, with a nod to the Mangrove Nine story - which mainly comes in the form of a huge sculpture in the middle. We have to make sure the garden and all the plants we are choosing are going to be suitable for North Kensington, with a slight nod to the garden's theme.

Original designs of Hands off Mangrove RHS Chelsea garden

Can you choose a few examples of how you have managed to encapsulate those things?
London has an urban heat island, so we can grow lots of things that the rest of the country can't. The thing with the Mangrove Nine is that they were from parts of the world that were warmer and hotter. We’re going for things that have bigger textural leaves, so we’ve had a look at tetrapanax, which is a fantastic plant, I have it in my garden. The leaf can get up to 60-70 cm across so really feels from a different place. Then we are looking at things with colour, so even things like salvias, which you might have them in every cottage garden, but we are going to use them slightly differently. We are looking for wilder plants and big textural leaves to give it a multi-layered look.

Can you explain the sculpture a bit and how it fits with the garden?
It's being made by a man called Rob Olins and it's almost almost animalistic - a bit like a big spider, with nine legs. We want the sculpture to feel nestled, but on its own, so it’s still standing proud. So we are going to soften the edges of it with the planting and we had to think carefully about the trees in relation to the sculpture too. We’ve gone for pollarded willows, so they have quite a lot of stature, but also are tall and whippy at the top so hopefully that will work really rather nicely.

Will there be some edibles in there?
I try and put edibles in all my gardens. We’re going for slightly unusual shrubs such as aronias, which have choke berries, and don't sound very nice, but you get a nice tartness. I like to put them with rhubarb, but with all the annuals and vegetables, we will have to wait and see what we get next week.

This garden, Tayshan Hayden-Smith, Grow2Know, Danny Clarke: it feels like a big deal for them all to be at Chelsea. How does it feel to be involved with it?
I think it’s a really important garden, and when I first heard about it I wanted to work on it. It just makes sense as a garden, because it’s going somewhere else, so we’re going to be building something real. I think a lot of people who are in Kensington and Chelsea have never been to the Chelsea Flower Show, because it is not as accessible as it could be, so hopefully this will open up that avenue. Chelsea is one thing, and I really want to get the best medal for the garden, but really it’s about the message. As long as we get the social justice message across, that is what we’re looking for.

Where is the garden going?
It’s a community space, a square in Kensington and Chelsea. For me, how you build the next stage on is so important.

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How has it been working with Tayshan and Danny?
It’s been great. There’s a lot of people in the background to this garden – Cleve West has been involved – and it has been quite collaborative. That sits well with the ethos of the garden and where it’s going. Tayshan's sister came to get pictures, his kids came, his aunty is involved, and it feels like a proper family affair and a proper community garden.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show takes place 24-28 May 2022

Authors

Daisy Bowie-Sell is digital editor of Gardens Illustrated. She has previously worked as a journalist for publications including the Daily Telegraph, WhatsOnStage and Time Out London

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