The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has announced a conservation and bee-inspired garden partnership with BBC Earth at the Chelsea Flower Show 2022, designed by Joe Swift.
Celebrating plants and pollinators, Joe Swift's BBC Studios Our Green Planet & RHS Bee Garden aims to inspire gardeners to play their part in balancing our ecosystems — one of Chelsea's key themes for 2022.
Horticulturist Joe Swift has designed the garden – which will sit proudly on Chelsea's Main Avenue – to share the same conservation principles as David Attenborough's TV series, The Green Planet, which led to a global digital impact campaign #OurGreenPlanet.
Joe told Country Living that the RHS-commissioned garden – which, as a special project, will be exempt from judging – is being created by a like-minded team: “We all share the principles of conservation and all the simple yet positive differences we can make in our own outdoor space.”
“The main inspiration came from a bee’s wing,” Joe told CL. “As a designer, I’m always looking for interesting shapes that relate to the narrative and can be turned into three-dimensional forms. I looked at the anatomy of a bee and the wing sat nicely on the page with some areas I could turn into seating, some into paved areas and others into water with soft planting all the way around.”
Design features: BBC Studios Our Green Planet & RHS Bee Garden
The stone centrepiece is a silhouette of a bee's wing in two complementary shades of pink
A water feature and pond, with specific areas of mud included for bees to make nests in
Bee houses designed to be cleaned out
The planting scheme, based on the RHS Plants for Pollinators list, is dominated by pollinating perennials, shrubs and herbs. “The RHS has used scientific evidence, extensive experience and the records of gardeners to create year-round flowering plants for its Plants for Pollinators list,” Joe explained.
“It is one of the best resources for gardeners to support pollinators. Collectively, if we all grow more of these plants in our gardens, community spaces, window boxes, allotments and schools, we can make a huge difference. I hope this garden both inspires and shows everyone just how easy it is to consider pollinators whilst making your garden a more beautiful space, too. It's a win-win.”
“It’s not difficult, pack it with plenty of nectar and pollen-rich plants across a long season, provide habitats and easy to access water and they’ll benefit, as will you as it makes for a more interesting and rich garden.”
Joe Swift's tips of creating a bee-friendly garden:
“Plant simple, open flowers and try to have something in flower from early to late in the year”
Leave patches of mud and soil around as many bees nest on the ground
Leave out a shallow dish of water for the insects to drink
Buy or make your own bee hotels
Use the RHS Plants for Pollinators list GO TO LIST
Joe’s lack of patience for “boring” gardens is well-known. Speaking to the BBC, he pointed out that he dislikes too much bare earth on show and what he calls "all lawn and no plant" gardens. Joe also prefers gardens where the height of the planting varies and all the interest is not below eye level, forcing you to constantly look down.
He's taking those ideas to his Chelsea bee garden this year, making sure the design is packed with various focal points for both practicality and pizzazz. “We’ve designed bee houses that are easily cleaned out which is important, a water feature and a pond," Joe told CL. "Some are for the bees and some are for the visitors and cameras – a bit of bling – this is Chelsea after all!”
The biggest challenge, Joe told us, is timing all the elements to peak at the same time for Chelsea. “It’s a real team effort. The hard landscaping has been made off site so is a jigsaw puzzle to put together. Then there’s all the perennials that must be in full flower, but I’m leaving that to the expert growers that make Chelsea what it is.”
Joe Swift's Chelsea pollinator plant list
Joe told Country Living that these are all the plants he’s growing for RHS Chelsea. He will make his final selection closer to the show.
Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis)
Allium Mount Everest
Blue Star (Amsonia tabernaemontana 'Blue Ice')
Italian Bugloss (Anchusa azurea 'Dropmore')
Greater masterwort (Astrantia maj. 'Abbey Road')
Greater masterwort Astrantia maj. 'Claret'
False indigo Baptisia 'Cherries Jubilee'
Camas (Camassia leichtlinii Alba)
Baltic parsley (Cenopholium denudatum)
Plume thistle (Cirsium 'Trevor’s blue wonder')
Tickseed (Coreopsis moonbeam sub Baptisia Vanilla Cream)
Blood carnation (Dianthus cruentus)
White foxglove (Digitalis purpurea 'Alba')
Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus)
Wallflower (Erysium ‘Bowles Mauve’)
Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Robbiae')
Canary spurge (Euphorbia mellifera)
Common fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Dusky cranesbill (Geranium phaeum Raven)
Cranesbill (Geranium Rozanne)
Avens (Geum 'Totally Tangerine')
Bowman’s Root (Gillenia trifolata)
Dame’s Rocket, purple (Hesperis matronalis)
Dame’s Rocket, white (Hesperis matronalis alba)
Iris 'Sultan's Palace' sub Action Front
Iris Harvest Moon sub Carnival Time
Iris sib. Tropic night
Widow flower (Knautia macedonica)
Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum)
New Zealand Satin Flower (Libertia grandiflora)
Lupin (Lupinus 'Towering Inferno')
Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria)
Sicilian Honey Garlic (Nectaroscordum siculum)
Giant Catmint (Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant')
Catmint (Nepeta 'Walker's Low')
Ornamental Oregano (Origanum herrenhausen)
Garden Sage (Salvia nem' Caradonna)
Autumn Moor Grass (Sesleria autumnalis)
Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
Common Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)
Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus)
What will happen to the garden and plants after RHS Chelsea?
Joe told Country Living that the entire BBC Studios Our Green Planet & RHS Bee Garden, except the pond and water feature, will be relocated to a London primary school, yet to be announced.
Who is Joe Swift?
Joe Swift was born in Newcastle-on-Tyne and has been gardening since he was a child. His first gardening memory, he told The Independent in 2009, was planting seeds and putting down paving stones at his primary school in Hampstead, North London.
After art college and playing in a band for a while, he decided to embrace his love of plants and, at the age of 25, took a course at The English Garden School in the Chelsea Physic Garden, West London.
Joe is the co-founder and design director of Modular, a garden design company creating bespoke gardens for private and commercial clients.
Garden fans love Joe’s easy confidence and flamboyant sartorial style and will be interested to learn that the BBC Two's Gardeners’ World presenter, RHS Chelsea Gold Medal winner, award-winning gardening writer and author actually comes from literary and performance royalty.
Joe's mother is the 82-year-old novelist Margaret Drabble, and his father was the late Clive Swift, a classically-trained actor who died in 2019 at the age of 82. Clive was well-known for playing Richard Bucket in the BBC sitcom Keeping Up Appearances.
Married with two teenage children, Joe now lives in Hackney, North London, and keeps hi family life out of the limelight. A lifelong Arsenal fan, he plays bass guitar, football and golf whenever he gets the chance, according to his website. With a home in France too, he likes cooking and travelling, and always tries to seek out a good garden when abroad.
“I've got a small garden in London and a larger garden in France that I've been working on. I love my garden in France,” Joe told Country Living in an interview in April this year.
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