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THE 

DOORSTEP LIBRARY GARDEN: WORDS TAKE YOU PLACES

 

RHS CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW 2023

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A GARDEN ABOUT READING AND RAINFORESTS
in support of the children's literacy charity Doorstep Library, and rainforest conservation

A window seat gently cushioned in cloud like upholstery is settled amongst ferns and delicate plants reminiscent of temperate and tropical rainforests. This is a calm spot for a parent and child to read to each other or a young child to sit cross legged piecing together the words of a new story with a Doorstep Library volunteer.   Our readers have left behind their rainforest book on the window seat, and the intimate balcony space has become populated with the layered greens of their imagination.    

As dusk falls gentle lighting illuminates the scene, highlighting green fronds, maps and translucent glass shelves.  Books and plants are set within sturdy but light timber structures built from a great Cedar of Lebanon....

 

This garden came to life just after the coronation of King Charles III;  but the tree was  planted outside a manor house in Wiltshire around the time Charles I took the throne  nearly 400 years ago. 

The garden was created for Doorstep Library through a collaboration between

designers, landscapers, artisans and passionate book experts 

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Garden Inspiration

Garden inspiration

 

Children's literacy is unexpectedly low in the UK.  A report in 2014 showed that 1 in 4 were leaving primary school still unable to read, with enormous impacts on their chances in life.   I had been a daydreamer as a  child, always lost in stories, so this report lingered in my thoughts.

Some years later,  a discussion with a client who wished to use tropical hardwoods for his project opened up the opportunity to delve into that subject.  Iroko and Balau were on trend in gardens, whilst on the other hand the conversations about tropical forest deforestation were becoming louder.  The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)  reports offered food for thought. Of the two species of Iroko imported from Africa to the UK, one, Milicia excelsa, although still common, was classed as "Near Threatened", and the other, Milicia regia, was one category worse off, classed as "Vulnerable", with unsustainable exploitation for timber and habitat loss leading to a decreasing population.  The same story was everywhere through the IUCN reports: whether it was  Ipe from the Amazon, Meranti or Balau from east Asia, or Teak, so easily available in the UK as furniture,  yet listed as endangered and as of two years ago, still decreasing.

These two lines of thought eventually joined up,  and the idea for the Doorstep Library Garden took shape.

Gini Denison-Pender,  Beautiful Wild Garden and  Landscape Design

Concept and garden design for the Doorstep Library Garden

Make a difference

This garden creates the sort of calm space where reflection is possible, with locally sourced materials, wonderful books and maps, and inspirational craftsmanship.

And it offers suggestions on how we as individuals can make a difference.

Image by Annelies Geneyn

There are ongoing studies on children's literacy, but one  answer which keeps emerging is that if we want children to learn to read, we have to read with them and ensure they have access to books at home.  Doorstep Library take a simple and direct approach,  away from the schoolroom. They turn up with bags of books either in person or online and read with children in their homes.  They help many children now but could help so many more with enough funding and more reading volunteers. The Doorstep Library Garden imagines an ideal outdoor spot for whiling away time with a book.

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Gardeners can take a simple and direct approach to rainforest conservation by choosing to use local sustainably sourced timber for their outdoor projects instead of tropical timbers, shipped across the world.  Our garden shows the beauty of ancient timber grown in the UK (felled for safety reasons), planed and sanded smooth to the touch. There are many options available, from durable tree species grown in the UK and Europe and certified by the FSC or PEFC,  fallen trees or timbers from specialist suppliers, like ours,  and reclaimed materials too. 

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Plants

All plants in the Doorstep Library Garden at RHS Chelsea 2023 have connections with rainforest ecosystems

Ferns and mosses of the temperate Atlantic coast rainforests of the UK and Pacific rainforests of the US are included for their varying shades of green and because they are hardy enough to survive in mild regions of the UK.   Also included are plants which come from the same families as tropical species,  although we have chosen for this space ones which are not too tender and will survive a mild winter with a bit of extra care: a good example are our Passiflora hybrids, closely related to the Passiflora (passion fruit) species of the tropical and subtropical forests of Brazil.  The Asplenium species below are plants of temperate rainforests related to tropical species too.

 

The dappled shade created by layering the plants in orangery style enclosures is ideal for the understorey species, while climbers like Passiflora can reach out for more sun.  The planting medium is a lightweight water retentive coir lightly mixed with peat free compost so that the soil does not become too heavy and water can easily drain away.   In a balcony situation the plants would need careful regular watering and once plants become too large for the space you would be ready for a swap with ground floor neighbours who can allow them to grow to full width and height! 

Temperate rainforest plants

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Adiantum pedatum

Asplenium scolopendrium.jpg

Asplenium scolopendrium

Asplenium trichomanes_edited.jpg

Asplenium trichomanes

Athryium filix-femina_edited.jpg

Athyrium filix-femina

Blechnum spicant.jpg

Blechnum spicant

Dryopteris felix mas.jpg

Dryopteris filix-mas

Rhytidiadelphus loreus.jpg

Rhytidiadelphus loreus

Thuidium tamariscinum.jpg

Thuidium tamariscinum

Tropical rainforest genera

Asplenium bulbiferum.jpg

Asplenium bulbiferum

Blechnum nudum.jpg

Blechnum nudum

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Cyathea cunninghamii

Pilea angustifolia.jpg

Pilea angulata subsp. petiolaris

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Dicksonia fibrosa

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Disporum longistylum

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Credit: Paul Barney, Edulis

Maianthemum tatsienense

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Passiflora hybrid

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