Tuesday, 5 March 2024
Tuesday, 5 March 2024

2024 RHS Chelsea Show to Feature ‘Muscular Dystrophy UK – Forest Bathing Garden’

MUSCULAR Dystrophy UK, the leading charity supporting more than 110,000 people living with one of over 60 muscle wasting and weakening conditions, is delighted to announce they will be unveiling a Show Garden at the 2024 RHS Chelsea Flower Show generously sponsored by unique grant-making charity Project Giving Back.

Designed by the RHS ’Young Designer of the Year’ (2017), Ula Maria, the ‘Muscular Dystrophy UK – Forest Bathing Garden’ will offer an accessible, immersive forest bathing experience to Muscular Dystrophy UK patients, their families, clinicians, and the wider community. Forest bathing, otherwise known as Shinrin-yoku, is an ancient Japanese practice of spending time in the forest and soaking up its atmosphere through the senses. The garden seeks to create a sheltered space for its visitors – to give comfort and clarity, reconnect with oneself and nature, or accommodate conversation with others.

It will be first displayed at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, from 20-25th May 2024, before being relocated to the public garden space at the new Institute of Developmental & Regenerative Medicine at the University of Oxford. There it will be a permanent place of refuge for Muscular Dystrophy patients during treatment and new trials, with access to the general public also being made available.

Design Brief Inspiration

The design process evolved from the personal experiences and stories that people from the Muscular Dystrophy UK community shared with Ula during their initial conversations. She was particularly inspired by Martin’s story, a 49-year-old man diagnosed in his 20s, who shared how he felt immediately after receiving his diagnosis. Martin said, “I remember returning to my car at the hospital, just sitting in silence contemplating how my life might change, with my wife sat next to me, wondering how it would impact my role as a husband and father.” Listening to Martin’s story, Ula hopes to create a garden that will showcase how an outdoor space can provide a safe, sanctuary-like environment to support patients in the future during their most challenging times and beyond.

The Design

Ula envisioned an ethereal, therapeutic and accessible garden that would create a sense of being immersed in nature, thus providing a juxtaposition to a clinical environment. Having read many medical studies about the positive physical and mental health effects of forest bathing, Ula’s vision is to create an experiential space, inspired by this ancient Japanese practice.

Visitors will access the garden through an accessible path that follows a slow-moving naturalised water stream running through the central garden axis and welcoming not only people but wildlife into the garden too.

At the heart of the garden is a central meeting hub with informal seating and sculptural knapped flint walls that will provide a sheltered space for people to meet. The random knapped flint pattern was chosen by Ula for the construction of the feature wall due to its beautiful texture and form that is reminiscent of muscle cells. It will become a vital visual aid to illustrate what Muscular Dystrophy is and the effect it has on one’s muscles to garden visitors.

A key feature of the garden is a large bungaroosh-style wall, which will be made using modular steelwork sections filled with a mix of reclaimed and recycled materials such as large stone blocks, slate tiles, and bricks. This building technique was chosen to showcase how a beautiful and contemporary-looking garden structure can be created using a variety of reclaimed materials. The hard material palette mostly consists of naturally occurring materials: stone, timber and clay, enhancing the experience of forest bathing.

2024 RHS Chelsea Show to Feature ‘Muscular Dystrophy UK – Forest Bathing Garden’
Ula Maria.

Designer Ula Maria said:

“This garden is all about connections: whether to oneself, nature, or others. It is meant to serve as a sanctuary whilst offering an immersive forest bathing experience. It is my hope that this garden will increase awareness of how places that are inspired by the people who inhabit them can have a meaningful effect on communities such as Muscular Dystrophy UK.”

Catherine Woodhead, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK said:

“Thanks to the generous sponsorship from Project Giving Back, we are absolutely delighted to have a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024. We want more people to know about Muscular Dystrophy and what it’s like to live with a muscle-wasting or weakening condition. Part of the challenge of a diagnosis is that no one has heard of it, you know no one living with it and you have to explain it to everyone from family, friends, teachers, colleagues and even GPs. This opportunity will change that. It will allow us to reach people who have never heard of the condition, give our community a voice and raise awareness of the work of the charity.”

Relocation journey to Oxford after the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

After the show, the ‘Muscular Dystrophy UK Forest Bathing Garden’ will be permanently relocated to the public garden space at the new Institute of Developmental & Regenerative Medicine at the University of Oxford to be enjoyed by people living with the conditions as well as clinicians, scientists and researchers.

It will serve as a crucial refuge for consultants and newly diagnosed patients, especially when they must deliver difficult news to patients and their families. Additionally, it will be used by patients attending appointments, participating in muscle groups, and engaging in clinical trials aimed at advancing treatments for muscle-wasting conditions. The open access to the garden will allow the charity to continue raising awareness of Muscular Dystrophy to the wider public as well as provide a long-lasting legacy for the charity’s work.

The ‘Muscular Dystrophy UK Forest Bathing Garden’ will have more than 50 birch trees planted in the garden to achieve a birch grove atmosphere, providing dappled shade and thus enhancing the experience of forest bathing. The birch trees will be underplanted with woodland edge-style plants, varying from deep shade corners to more open, sunnier woodland glades. The experience will be enriched by 4,000 plants, the majority of which have been selected for their beautiful foliage, creating a green tapestry that is rich in texture, with an occasional burst of colour.

Oxford holds a special significance for Muscular Dystrophy UK, as the charity has been supporting scientific research in the city for over five decades, including the pioneering work of Professor Dame Kay Davies who is a renowned geneticist and Vice President of the charity, dedicating two decades to the pursuit of effective cures and treatments.

Key Trees, Shrubs & Plants (A full plant list is available upon request)

Betula pendula (Silver Birch Trees) – Chosen to create a fully immersive and magical forest-bathing experience by providing a light, dappled canopy with its elegant, drooping branches.

Melica altissima ‘Alba’ (Siberian melic) – Graceful, ornamental grass that will create softness and continuity between sunny and shady spots of the garden.

Boehmeria platanifolia – Originates from China and Japan and is a non-stinging nettle relative which has impressive green foliage to bring texture and character into the garden.

Geranium sylvaticum ‘Mayflower’ – Part of the name derives from the Latin word sylvaticus which means ‘in woods and forests’ – chosen to bring a vivid mass of wild growing flowers in the design similar to that of an enchanting woodland.

Fragaria vesca (Wild strawberry) – Ula Maria’s signature is to infuse a discreet personal favourite from her childhood memories into each of her designs. The Fragaria vesca was chosen to ignite fond memories of picking wild strawberries from the meadows near her childhood home in rural Lithuania and is one of the edible plants available to visitors in the garden once relocated.


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