The first ever Christian theme garden will be opened on 25th May. The Salvation Army, with the support of the UK’s fastest growing builders’ merchant, Buildbase, is taking centre-stage at this world-famous Royal Horticulture Society Chelsea Flower Show held at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, London.
Entitled “From Darkness to Light”, it is a garden with a message. Julian Dowle, the award winning designer with 25 years of experience exhibiting at Chelsea, takes visitors on a journey from darkness through to light by the use of dark and light planting.
The colour palette of the flowers used goes through from black, purple, and then red - representing darkness - to gold, silver and white signifying 'light’. The garden plays host to a wooden sculpture entitled ‘Nurture’. “Nurture” is a key focal point for ‘darkness’ but its position on the axis between the dark and light planting draws the visitor to enter the ‘light’ via a bridge over a pool of cleansing water, delivered by three bubble glass jets, symbolic of the Holy Trinity.
The Salvation Army is the largest provider of social welfare in the UK after the government. It runs more than 800 local church and community centres as well as over 85 residential centres for homeless people, the elderly and families, plus running substance misuse centres and a very successful Family Tracing Service. The Salvation Army is helping people from darkness to light every day. The garden is a visual representation of The Salvation Army's evangelical mission to put Christian belief into action, its enthusiasm in community work, and to transform people’s lives from despair to hope.
The Salvation Army decided to create the garden because of concerns that Christianity is becoming sidelined in many people’s lives. A poll recently showed that householders feel closest to God when they are in their gardens.
Apart from this floral representation of good and evil to encourage gardeners to lead more Christian lives, Salvationists have made good use of the opportunity to evangelise visitors attending the flower show.
A bandstand was build by trainees from The Salvation Army's Hadleigh Training Centre along with trainer John Swann specialised in landscaping, building and general estate management and centre manager Beverley Egan. Small groups of musicians from the Salvation Army will play music on the garden for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening each day.
Moreover, Trainer John Swann will be at the garden on Monday 24th May to talk about how The Salvation Army and the Hadleigh Training Centre was part of his journey back from a place of darkness and depression to one of light and hope. John came to Hadleigh several years ago when his confidence was rock bottom. He had once owned his own motor business, but a serious road accident ruined his health and left him unemployed. The offer of a 12-week course at Hadleigh was a turning point for John, as the staff there encouraged him to learn new skills and regain confidence in his own abilities.
One of the Hadleigh trainees, Natalie Lucas, will also be there to talk about her experience of being involved in the Chelsea show garden.
A four week Bible study resources service is available on the Salvation Army website featuring four main themes of light, water, soil and fruit. It uses an analogy that faith is like a fruit, and the most essential factors in nurturing faith are light, water and soil. With the help of corresponding scriptures, the essentials of Christian faith are clearly explained.
A service will take place on the afternoon of 24th May when the garden becomes the first in the flower show’s history to be blessed. It will be attended by the Royal Horticultural Society’s president, Sir Richard Carew Pole, and the leader of the Salvation Army in Britain, Commissioner Alex Hughes. Other exhibitors are being encouraged to stop work as a mark of respect during the service at the garden
The Salvation Army relies on donations from the general public to fund many of its projects. This is the first time the Christian church has sowed its seeds on such a grand scale at the Show. To mark this event, a new rose will be unveiled at the Chelsea Flower Show. Rosa “Salvation” is specially bred by Harkness Roses for The Salvation Army. The Salvation Army will receive 30% of the proceeds from sales of the new plant sold through the charity and 10% of sales sold through Harkness Roses. This income will fund the valuable work The Salvation Army does at grass roots levels in communities in the UK and across the globe.
Julian Dowle, the designer and a Catholic, who has an ambition to create a church garden, is glad that he can use his gifts as a gardener in a positive way. He believes that God should be seen in all the best places, “I hope visitors will be influenced by this garden. It’s an encouragement to come closer to God.”
Buildbase, which has adopted the Salvation Army as the charity of the year, has provided everything for the garden construction except the plants. This includes sustainable timber for the bandstand, all hard landscaping, bricks, paving, walling, fencing, cobbles, aggregates, base materials, turf and even the topsoil.
"We're delighted that Buildbase has adopted us as charity of the year and are very grateful for the company’s sponsorship of the garden," commented Captain Dean Pallant of The Salvation Army. "We hope that our partnership will help to bring hope to many more people in need."