Inspired by Highlands & Islands

A GUERNSEY-RAISED garden designer is in the running for a new prize at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Garden and planting designer Jane Porter was born in Scotland but grew up in Guernsey and was educated at Ladies’ College.

In partnership with Guernsey company Qualis Taxation Services, her first show garden at the world-renowned horticulture festival, in the new Container Garden category, will feature plants that thrive across the Highlands and Islands in reclaimed whisky casks transformed into unique planters, against a backdrop of a dry-stone slate wall constructed to look like a glen between mountains.

Although her Chelsea design is inspired by Scotland, Jane’s biggest gardening inspiration is her aunt, Jane Rix, who lives in Guernsey. She has dedicated the garden to her and her moniker, Aunty Jane, even inspired her Instagram handle, @plantyjane.

‘My favourite memories of growing up in Guernsey are intertwined with spending time in Herm,’ said Jane.

‘I come back every year to see my family. I rarely miss the West Show. Last year we went coasteering – that was incredible. I love swimming in big waves at high tide at Vazon, crabbing with my kids at Portelet, going for cliff walks and spending time with friends I have known all my life. And, of course, the food.’

Her ‘Still Garden’ has been designed to bring a sense of the wilds to a tiny urban space and is the first Scottish garden at the show for 17 years.

‘The last two years have made us all appreciate whatever outside space we have access to,’ said Jane.

‘Eighty-three percent of people in the UK live in cities and many of them, if they have outside space, will have something small. These spaces have to work hard for us. Places to get sunlight, fresh air and greenery.

‘Lots of us work at home now and a regular break outside can really help with stress and concentration. Container gardening lets us choose our soil, meaning we can grow plants from places that inspire us, regardless of where we live.’

Still Garden illustration by Jane Porter. (30697839)

The design evokes Scotland through the native plant selections and textures in the planting. Fluffy and spray-like forms bring to mind misty glens and seafoam to create an atmosphere that is immersive, secluded and still.

Statement plants are a specimen multi-stemmed Sorbus aucuparia with frothy blossom and a Gunnera manicata,with its huge leaf forms that contrast with needle-like heathers and feathery ferns. Twelve whisky barrels, reconstructed to make new sculptural planters, are packed with bold foliage textures and soft mounds in a palette dominated with greens and whites (in botanical terms Alba means white and is also gaelic for Scotland) with dawbs of pinks in the heathers and thistles. Rusty orange tones relate to the central pond – a repurposed copper gin distilling pot.

The project celebrates tradition with a modern take and has managed to include five heritage crafts from the textile design through to the dry-stone walling and the carpentry in the planter construction.

The seat cushions are made by contemporary kilt maker Acme Atelier of Moray, Scotland in line with her practice of creating new items with heritage techniques and deadstock or vintage materials. Rather than weaving a Harris tweed, Andrea Chappell has used the wool to create a moss-like texture for the cushion covers. Andrea is also hand-making a kilt for Jane to wear during the show, inspired by the garden’s themes and incorporating three heritage crafts that are on the ‘endangered crafts’ list – kilt making, block printing and letterpress printing.

The Still Garden not only encourages reuse and repurposing of materials, and highlights the skill of heritage craftspeople, but also addresses the gender pay gap present at Chelsea Flower Show.

‘Volunteering at Chelsea over the years has boosted my career and I wanted to offer this same opportunity to other people at the start of their horticultural careers,’ explained Jane.

‘It was important to me that these were paid positions to make the opportunity accessible for people, especially if they have to pay for childcare. Over the years I have noticed that a lot of the planting is done by women, who are often volunteers. I’ve organised my build to ensure I can pay my planting team. Speaking with other horticultural professionals I’ve found there’s a strong feeling that if you’re good enough to be at Chelsea, you’re good enough to be paid.’

Jane has been designing gardens for five years. She retrained in horticulture in 2016 after a first career as an arts producer and now works on residential and public projects in London and Bristol, where she lives. She also provides online advice sessions to clients nationally.

She has a keen interest in arts and heritage sites and in 2019 she assisted Nigel Dunnett on a large-scale planting project at Hospitalfield, Arbroath. She also looks after two historic gardens for Bristol Museums and has been commissioned to design the planting for the newly refurbished Royal West of England Academy in Bristol.

Specialising in planting design, Jane sees Chelsea as the perfect opportunity to raise her profile and create new opportunities to work on larger scale projects, both public and residential.

  • RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022 takes place from 24 to 28 May.

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