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Down to Earth: Gardens are for life, not for show




A garden doesn’t have to be fit for Chelsea Flower Show to be your happy place, writes Cambridge designer Robert Barker

Gardens don't have to be Chelsea-ready to be beautiful spaces, says Robert Barker (45746055)
Gardens don't have to be Chelsea-ready to be beautiful spaces, says Robert Barker (45746055)

As well as being lucky enough to design gardens for a living, from time to time I am asked to do the odd thing that is out of the ordinary. I am not just talking about creating show gardens, which can be a very odd experience and definitely out of the ordinary, but also being given opportunities I could never have imagined all those years ago when that nervous version of myself enrolled into studying garden design.

One opportunity that came up about four years ago was an invitation to judge a ‘best-kept front garden’ competition in a very nice road in central Cambridge. The residents of this road took great pride in keeping their front gardens to a certain standard and, as it was such a friendly community, decided to create a competition for everybody to get involved.

Of course, I accepted the invitation and on a grey May morning met with the ‘committee’ of residents before being left to my own devices to pick a third place, runner up and winning front garden. When I accepted, I had no idea how long the road was. There must have been 50 houses! I have to say, after seeing about 30 of these very similar front gardens, they started to blend into one.

Gardens don't have to be Chelsea-ready to be beautiful spaces, says Robert Barker (45746052)
Gardens don't have to be Chelsea-ready to be beautiful spaces, says Robert Barker (45746052)

Bearing in mind that the previous year I had showcased a garden of my own at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, my ego was at an all-time high and of course, in comparison to an important horticultural event, these front gardens looked a little sad. In honour of the commitment and hard work the residents had put into the competition, I tried to take the judging seriously and must have walked up and down that road about five times.

Gardens don't have to be Chelsea-ready to be beautiful spaces, says Robert Barker (45746058)
Gardens don't have to be Chelsea-ready to be beautiful spaces, says Robert Barker (45746058)

After each lap, however, the gardens that at first seemed to look sad slowly started to look charming. It was then that it dawned on me: these front gardens represent real lives. Real gardens aren’t manicured. They weren’t created to showcase groundbreaking design or display new garden trends. Instead, they are spaces which are lovingly cared for; spaces which represent home; spaces which showcase pride and effort. Who was I to criticize?

After a lot of thought, I chose the winners, shook lots of hands and made my way back to the car, exhausted but with a warmer heart. We have all been through a lot lately, and have needed our green spaces more than ever - so whatever your plot looks like, enjoy it. It’s real and it’s yours.

See robertbarkerdesign.com for more.


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