A modern manor house garden for a changing climate

As the Flood Re: Flood Resilient Garden goes on display at Chelsea Flower Show this week, the concept design for when it is relocated to its forever home at Howbery Park has been unveiled. The garden, which will be opened to visitors in Oxfordshire next spring, subject to planning permission, has been designed to inspire visitors to create rich, resilient spaces, and exemplify the RHS’s commitment to the sustainability of its show gardens.

Environmental designer Dr Ed Barsley and celebrity gardener Naomi Slade created the beautiful and relatable space at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show to demonstrate how domestic gardens can recover quickly after periods of heavy rainfall. In its new setting, the garden will continue to showcase resilient design by adeptly fusing the grand setting of Howbery with the necessities of a changing world.

At Howbery Business Park, the garden will take the place of an old orangery, long since dismantled. Nowadays, it’s home to the Manor House Café, which is open to the public. The FloodRe: Flood Resilient Garden will offer a tranquil new outdoor environment next to the café, and will be open free of charge for members of the public to visit.

From the café, visitors will take a central path of stepping stones past dense, green, lush planting to a patio area. They will be surrounded by species that like wet feet, but the garden will also accommodate plants enjoying freer drainage, thanks to its changing levels.

Rainwater from rooftops and the pergola will cascade down rain chains into a series of recycled tanks, doubling as an ornamental pond. The water will be channelled through a swale, adorned with bog planting, into a large feature pond and soak away. There will be minimal hard landscaping to encourage water to absorb directly into the ground and refill the garden’s water features.

Designed to slow the flow of the water to our watercourses, flood resilient gardens have the added benefit of reducing the risk of flooding elsewhere. And with one in four houses in the UK now at risk, they are set to become ever more important for our communities.

This is a familiar theme for Howbery Park’s owners, HR Wallingford, a world-leading research organisation which helps people live and work sustainably with water. Since 1952, HR Wallingford has blended old and new at Howbery. It houses its enormous laboratories on site and runs the site as a business park, yet the vista from its sweeping lawns still offers the feeling of stepping back in time.

Andy Brown, director at HR Wallingford said: “I’m sure the FloodRe: Flood Resilient Garden at Howbery Park will inspire everyone who visits. We are also looking forward to applying leading-edge techniques to help advance the science of climate resilient gardens.”

Dr Ed Barsley said: “The garden for the Chelsea Flower Show was designed at a residential scale. Through its reimagination at Howbery Park, we can see that the principles embedded in the design are scalable, and can be tailored to suit a variety of different contexts.”

Andy Bord, CEO at sponsors FloodRe added: “We are thrilled that our Flood Resilient Garden will find its forever home at Howbery Park. The garden will not only be a beautiful space for everyone to enjoy for years to come but will offer a tangible example of how to create a beautiful outside space that is also flood resilient.”