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Cleve West returns to RHS Chelsea Flower Show after 7 years away to shine a spotlight on the work of Centrepoint

Multi-award-winning garden designer Cleve West returns to RHS Chelsea Flower Show after seven years away, to create The Centrepoint Garden, which explores the notion of home and celebrates the charity’s work in supporting young people facing homelessness.

Cleve’s innovative and thought-provoking design offers a metaphor for the challenges faced by young people when their world becomes uprooted and fragmented and highlights how Centrepoint offers a healing process, supporting and nurturing young people, to enable them to grow and realise their potential.

Cleve, who has won 6 RHS Gold Medals and is the only designer to have ever won back-to-back RHS Best in Show awards, is passionate about supporting and raising awareness of the valuable work provided by the Charity. 

Design inspiration

At the heart of the garden is the footprint of a demolished Victorian house. All that remains is the Hearth, acting as a symbol for family life providing warmth, light, food and protection.

The dramatic, newly fallen Silver Birch which straddles the garden, provides a metaphor for being uprooted and displaced. Silver Birch is a symbol for new beginnings and protection in Celtic mythology, acknowledging Centrepoint’s commitment to nurturing young people facing homelessness. The huge specimen was salvaged by Crocus, the Garden’s construction team, from a reservoir development project.

The Garden’s damaged stone and tile path together with random left-over materials from the original house, provide literal and metaphorical references to the homelessness theme. Ironically, the debris will provide valuable habitat for wildlife.

Choice of planting

Within the garden Cleve has used a hierarchy of native and ornamental trees and shrubs, such as Betula pendula, Acer pseudoplatanus, corylus avellana, Crataegus monogyna, Euonymous europaeus and the ubiquitous self-seeding Buddleia davidii. There are also hints of the original house and garden in a number of ornamental shurbs, such as the Cordyline australis, and even an escaped houseplant, Yucca Elephantipes.

As well as hundreds of herbaceous perennials provided by leading wholesale nursery Hortus Loci, Cleve has used a wide selection of wildflowers or ‘so called weeds’ including Aliaria petiola (Jack by the Hedge), Bellis perennis (Common Daisy), Chelidonium majus (Greater Celandine), Gallium aparine (Sticky Willy/Cleavers), Galium odoratum (Woodruff), Geranium robertianum  (Herb Robert) and Lamium maculatum (Spotted Dead Nettle). The planting highlights how nature will ultimately reclaim and heal the scars of a neglected site, much like Centrepoint who help and support young people who may feel abandoned by society.

Artistic features

The garden features a series of individually designed bird boxes providing a further reference to habitats. The bird boxes have been crafted by Cleve’s friend, wood sculptor Johnny Woodford.  Throughout the Show the boxes will be sealed, making them inaccessible to avoid birds nesting in them, but also acting as a poignant symbol of the lack of housing available for young people. 

The garden’s boundary is typical of the hoarding seen around development sites. It portrays formal topiary forms, familiar to most gardeners and serving as an interesting contrast to the wilder planting style within the space.

The hoarding was hand painted by Cleve, who adopted a pointillistic style of painting as used by neo-impressionists such as George Seurat and Paul Signat. Cleve used 120,000 dots within the design, echoing the number of young homeless people in the UK today.

Challenging Pre-conceptions

The garden aims to highlight how, in time, nature will take over and begin to heal scars. What at first glance may appear to be a dysfunctional and fragmented space is in fact a thriving, natural and evolving habitat

This positive message helps to underline not only the important role a garden plays in making a house a home, but also that a broken home is not the end. Centrepoint offer a healing process, supporting and nurturing young people, to help them grow and realise their potential.

 Talking about the design Cleve West said: “I much admire the work that Centrepoint does in supporting homeless young people rebuild their lives and I was keen to create a garden which shines a light on that valuable work.  I also like the idea that gardens may play an important part in future Centrepoint services for homeless young people.

This design celebrates growth, nurture and diversity. While our use of rubble piles, reused materials and so-called ‘weeds’, might challenge pre-conceptions of what constitutes perfection in planting and design, our intention with this garden is not merely to flout convention but widen our appreciation of nature and broaden the definition of what comes under the umbrella of horticultural excellence.

“Not everyone will like the garden, but as long as people are talking about it and the work of Centrepoint, then we will have achieved our goal.

Seyi Obakin, chief executive of Centrepoint, said: “We are extremely grateful to Project Giving Back for their generosity in gifting us with this Show Garden, which will help us shine a light on the homeless young people who need us at this crucial time. 

“Cleve has worked closely with the Charity to create this incredibly evocative design to put the spotlight on our work. We want to inspire visitors of RHS Chelsea to support Centrepoint and help us to grow awareness of the challenges young vulnerable people face. 

“The Centrepoint Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show provides an unprecedented opportunity for Centrepoint to reach new audiences inclined towards nurturing, through their love of gardening.”

The Centrepoint Garden may not be pretty – but neither is youth homelessness

  • 129,000 young people faced homelessness in the UK last year – the highest number Centrepoint has recorded
  • 1 in 50 young people in England faced homelessness last year
  • 1 in 5 young people are struggling to move on from hostels because of unaffordable housing and landlords worried about renting to people with experiences of homelessness
  • Around two-thirds of homeless young people need support from Centrepoint following a family breakdown