Samaritans’ Listening Garden, created by garden designer and Samaritans volunteer Darren Hawkes, was awarded a Silver-Gilt medal today as it was unveiled at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023.
The conceptual garden has been designed to depict the challenging journey many people take when they reach out to Samaritans and the comfort and sanctuary they find when speaking to a listening volunteer. It has been created using materials that have been reclaimed from demolition sites or salvaged from scrap yards to tell the story of ‘crisis to hope’. Many of the 2,000 plants in the garden are central to the garden’s narrative and have been chosen for their architectural form and varied colour and texture.
As the garden was unveiled to the press on Monday 22 May, HRH The Princess of Wales made a surprise visit to the garden, ahead of the official royal visit, accompanied by a small group of school children. The Samaritans’ Listening Garden was one of only three show gardens visited by the Princess of Wales and children from 10 schools taking part in the RHS Campaign for School Gardening. During the visit, the children learnt about sharing feelings, listening and finding a safe space to be heard, as they took a tour of the garden with Darren Hawkes.
As part of the royal visit on Monday afternoon, Samaritans CEO, Julie Bentley, welcomed HM The King onto the garden. In his role as Prince of Wales, The King had been a patron of Samaritans since 1999 and as he toured the garden with Darren Hawkes he was interested to hear how Darren’s work as a Samaritans listening volunteer had inspired the design of the garden.
Darren Hawkes said: “It was a tremendous thrill to create this garden for Samaritans. My ambition for the garden was always to encourage conversations about mental health and to create an understanding of the importance of listening to someone struggling to cope or at risk of suicide. Ultimately, I wanted the garden to be a place of hope and sanctuary and a reflection of the life-saving work Samaritans undertake every day.”
It is the first time that Samaritans has staged a show garden at RHS Chelsea. Julie Bentley, CEO of Samaritans said: “I am so pleased that Darren’s vision and tenacity, and the hard work of the entire team involved in creating the garden, has been recognised with such a prestigious medal.
We know listening can save lives, and we are hugely grateful to Darren and to Project Giving Back for giving us this unique platform to remind visitors that Samaritans is needed now more than ever before. This year marks 70 years since Chad Varah took the first call on what was to become the Samaritans helpline. The garden is a wonderful tribute to everyone who has supported us over the past 70 years, and I hope visitors to the show this week might take a moment to think about how they can also play a role to help those struggling to cope.”
After the show, planting and other elements of the garden will be relocated to Samaritans branches across the UK, including in Cornwall. In addition, any build materials not able to be repurposed will re-enter the recycling process from where they were originally sourced.
Speaking about the relocation Darren said: “I am delighted that elements of the garden will have a long-life outside of RHS Chelsea. Having spent the last six months working as a Samaritans listening volunteer in Cornwall, it’s great that branches in the region have been chosen for the relocation project. I hope the planting will be a welcoming and uplifting sight to visitors and volunteers alike.”
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