International Year of Light Gardens at the RHS Tatton flower show

4 August 2015

Of all the contributions light makes to life and society on our planet, surely none can be more fundamental than photosynthesis, the process by which plants derive the energy for life itself from sunlight.

International Year of Light Gardens at the RHS Tatton flower show

What better place to celebrate light than in a garden; even better if those gardens also draw on ideas from light based technologies to tell their story. This is exactly what the Royal Horticultural Society have done, in bringing International Year of Light themed gardens to their Flower Show in Tatton Park, Cheshire, and I was privileged to have a sneak preview on press day and meet the designers.

The three Year of Light gardens each drew on different aspects of light for their inspiration. “Reflecting Photonics”, designed by Helen Elks-Smith and Kate Hart, drew inspiration from research into optical fibres by the University of Southampton. A “wave-form” path illustrated how light refracts along fibres, while fluorescent rods represented the fibres in a marvellous display of colour and light, creating a mystical glow even in the most overcast of light. Brighter sunshine brought subtle colours in the “diffraction tubes”. The planting complemented the technological elements beautifully, and researchers from the University of Southampton were on hand to explain the technology which the garden represented; a great outreach opportunity.

The “Light Catcher” (by Sharon Hockenhull) in the garden of the same name both collects light metaphorically into the central reflecting pool, and rain quite literally. The wonderful purple and white colours of the plants provided a different spectacle in different lighting conditions, and the ball sculptures added reflections and highlights to great effect.

“Quantum of Light” (Leon Davis) represented the energy from a particle collision event in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Different coloured plants radiated out recreating the “energy flash”, and a variety of natural and sculptural spherical elements gave a great sense of the particles involved.

I was amazed at just how much work had gone into the gardens, with 15 days set up, and the attention to detail, needing to be millimetre perfect.  As I visited, the RHS judges had just been, and the designers then had an anxious wait before the medals were announced the next morning. Gardens are judged individually against a set of criteria to determine the medal they receive, with near-perfection required for a gold medal

The gardens were well received by the media, judges and public alike, even getting a visit from Coronation Street star Samia Ghadie.  And the day after I visited, the results were in -all three IYOL gardens received Gold medals, with “Light Catcher” winning the award for best Year of Light garden, and “Reflecting Photonics” later winning the prestigious “RHS People's Choice Large Garden” award, voted on by visitors.

All three gardens were a novel and inspirational way of bringing the role of light to greater attention, and their medals are very well deserved. Congratulations to all the designers, advisors and support teams for their fantastic contributions!

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