The Bruntwood Experiment – RHS Tatton

Exploiting nooks, crannies and undisturbed corners, pioneer plants have gradually colonised parts of our cityscapes. Frequently overlooked, but offering potential benefits to the environment within which they survive and thrive.

‘The Bruntwood Experiment’ considered how resilient urban plants could be utilised to green our cities, support biodiversity, and combat climate change. Could the alternative and accessible approach to horticultural also be a means of bringing people together and enhancing health and happiness?

A social and horticultural experiment, Bruntwood’s RHS Tatton garden lab took the circular form of petri dish to explore and monitor visitor’s reactions as they were intentionally overwhelmed by over 1,000 suspended ‘wild’ yet beautiful adaptive plant species. Exploiting colonisers’ natural resilience, a swaying wave of pendant vegetation was created to draw appreciation of plants usually classed as weeds.

Increased urban density squeezes the space available for planting and trees, limiting their ability to offset the urban heat island effect and ameliorate the impacts of climate change. A reduction in vegetation also impacts our health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally. The ‘experiment’ consequently explored new ways to counteract such effects and support urban wild-life, through greening of balconies, courtyards, playgrounds and carparks with suspended plants. Our thinking drew inspiration from the Japanese floral art of Kokedama (a kind of floating bonsai), where a densely compacted rootball is wrapped in moss and suspended from a ceiling to create an unimaginable floating garden (string garden).

The garden’s concept, naturally meant the process from design to build was experimental. The huge task of hanging over 1,000 plants from a cylindrical frame created an industrious new working community focussed on this horticultural trial. This included a team from Planit-IE, horticulture students at Reaseheath College, staff from Contractor Hultons Landscapes and our client Bruntwood; all coming together through a process of building the garden.

As a Year Out Student working on the Bruntwood Experiment, the RHS Tatton Flower Show garden gave me the opportunity to see a concept spring to life. Involvement in the garden’s construction, and the translation of knowledge from drawings to physical materials, was a challenging and satisfying task. We had no idea how it was all going to come together and it was great to see everyone inspired and mesmerised throughout the course of the show.

The collaborative and experimental process embodied by Bruntwood’s garden addressed the physical and social challenges we face in our ever-changing urban environments. It is hoped this pioneering experiment at Tatton will, over time, help breakdown the stigma around certain plant species and evoke innovative ways of incorporating plants within urban spaces. Our aim was also to highlight the importance of greening our environments; enabling plants to bestow their natural benefits on our environment, health and future wellbeing.

Planit-IE designed The Bruntwood experiment for RHS Tatton headline sponsor, Bruntwood. The circular Cobra granite seat was provided by Hardscape and Hultons Landscapes Ltd contributed the planting and implemented the scheme. Staff from all companies created and suspended the plants alongside students from Reaseheath College, who also helped members of the public make their own hanging plants during the show.

Written by Emma Thompson, Landscape Year Out Student