Hampton Court Palace flower show highlights the plight of refugees
UNHCR's 'Border Control' garden uses horticulture to draw attention to the risks that refugees face on dangerous journeys to safety from war and persecution.
LONDON, United Kingdom – Visitors to the world’s biggest flower show at Hampton Court Palace in early July had a surprise. Amid the roses and rhododendrons at the Royal Horticultural Society show was a striking installation dedicated to refugees, surrounded by razor wire and rubble.
UNHCR’s ‘Border Control’ garden, created by garden designers Tom Massey and John Ward, used horticulture to draw attention to the risks that refugees faced on dangerous journeys to reach shelter and questions the humanity of closing borders to those fleeing for their lives.
‘Border Control’ plays on gardeners’ zeal to separate native and non-native plants as a metaphor for the refugee crisis. At its centre lies a traditional English gazebo and wildflower meadow of buttercups and cowslip, while in the waste land beyond the moat are dying pomegranate trees, wilting poppies and acanthus.
“Accounts of refugees fleeing brutal conflicts, violence and persecution to find shelter inspired the design of our garden."
A towering wire fence and turnstile gate manned by a security guard created an intimidating approach. Around the garden lay items collected by UNHCR staff on the beaches of Lesvos: life jackets, children’s shoes and lost toys – evidence of dangerous journeys and lives in transit.
The designers, who use British native plants to represent residents and non-native plants to represent refugees, said: “Accounts of refugees fleeing brutal conflicts, violence and persecution to find shelter inspired the design of our garden. It’s staggering to think that over 1 million people were so desperate they put themselves at the mercy of smugglers to cross the Mediterranean last year. So many thousands didn’t make it.”
Six young refugees were involved in the planting of the garden. The group, from Community Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, meet regularly for gardening sessions that are considered a fun and therapeutic way of getting involved in their community. One of the gardeners was 18-year-old student Josi, who was just 15 when he fled Eritrea.
“I think the garden is very beautiful,” he said. “It has a special meaning for me because it represents something I’ve been through. I came from Eritrea. I crossed the border to Ethiopia, from there to Sudan, Libya, Italy and France. The journey took me around five months and I was very scared. I was lucky to make it but a lot of people I travelled with died on the journey here. It’s not enough to tell people in words. Hopefully seeing the garden people will understand more how difficult it is.”
“The refugee crisis is a terrible situation and RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is a powerful platform to raise awareness of the suffering of so many."
Josi and his friends are not the first refugee gardeners at Hampton Court. One of the palace’s key architects was Daniel Marot, a Huguenot who fled France in 1685 and sought refuge in England. Marot designed the gardens at Hampton Court and much of its furniture.
The garden was awarded a gold medal by RHS judges and won the category of best conceptual garden. RHS Shows Manager Dave Green said, “The refugee crisis is a terrible situation and RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show is a powerful platform to raise awareness of the suffering of so many. I hope the garden makes a difference to peoples’ perceptions and reinforces the idea that there are people all over the world who are in desperate need of help and support.”
Up to 150,000 people visit Hampton Court Flower Show, which this year ran from 5 to 10 July. ‘Border Control’ will raise awareness and funds for UNHCR’s global campaign ‘Nobody Left Outside’, which aims to provide shelter for 2 million refugees by 2018.