THE SMART METER GARDEN WITH MATTHEW CHILDS
We teamed up with award winning garden designer Matthew Childs to create the Smart Meter Garden, an installation at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival that aims to get visitors thinking about the climate emergency and the small steps we can take to help the environment such as getting a smart meter or planting a tree.
The meaning behind the garden
This is a garden where a perimeter of beautiful trees and stylised drifts of shade planting are visible. Abstract grassy mounds inspired by burial mounds symbolise generational use of, and responsibility for, the environment.
Visitors are invited to follow a winding path that leads to the centre of the garden. Here, benches face a large circular area of cracked black surface, in contrast to the vibrant, textural foliage that they have just passed. An engraving explains that by making changes now we can have an impact on the environment. Lights flash beneath the surface symbolising erratic energy use while mist seeps through the fissures symbolising CO2.
Slowly the surface floods with water, transforming the centre into a mirror. People are invited to reflect on our message: small actions, like planting a tree or getting a smart meter, will have a positive impact on the environment, as smart meters play an important role in the smart energy system which will help enable us to transition to a lower carbon future.
Best in show
We're thrilled that the smart meter garden has been awarded a gold medal and a Tudor Rose for 'Best in Show' at RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival.
Q&A with Matthew Childs
What are you trying to achieve with the installation?
It is important to me that my gardens have a strong message and touch emotions, this is key to the Smart Meter Garden. My installation gardens have often been my way of trying to make sense of complex issues in the world happening around me and the impact of climate change has been very much front of mind in recent years. Sometimes issues such as climate change can seem so large that individually we can feel helpless to make a difference. Bringing people together in this garden, setting out the problem in front of them, but allowing people to leave with a sense that if we all make small changes, collectively we can make a big difference is my aim for the garden.
What is the idea behind it?
The garden is inspired by a quote from philosopher and artist Rabindranath Tagore: 'The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life'. Planting trees and the benefit they have in terms of reducing CO2 in the atmosphere is our metaphor for getting a smart meter and how small individual changes can have a much wider reaching impact on the environment.
How will you create the structure?
It takes a very big team of very talented people to make my ideas a reality. I am in the very capable hands of Belderbos Landscapes our landscaping contractor who are leading the build. We then have Water Artisans, Moonlight Design and Surrey Iron Craft creating our centre piece of the garden; a dramatic 5 meter diameter water feature that will transform the atmosphere of the garden with magical effect (I hope!). Beautiful boulders are being supplied by CED stone and bespoke oak benches designed by Tom Raffield will weave in and out of the planting. Expect lots of contrasts from charred timber and black cracked surfaces against natural stone and wood.
How do you hope people will react to your garden?
I'm hoping the garden will provoke a range of emotions from shock and concern to calm reflection and a sense of feeling empowered. Some people will love the contemporary, experimental style of the garden. Others may not, but the important thing is not whether people like the garden, but that it makes visitors think and opens a dialogue around the climate emergency. I want people to leave the garden feeling there are achievable things we can do to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere.
Why is it important for you to create this project?
As someone who loves gardens and the natural environment I am passionate about protecting it now and for future generations. This garden has been a wonderful opportunity for me to personally understand more about climate change, it's causes and get behind an initiative which I feel has the potential to make a really positive contribution towards helping the environment.
Why do you think people should get a smart meter?
I believe the issue of climate change is an emergency situation and we should all be doing whatever we can to help. Getting a smart meter to me feels like a very easy thing to do with the potential of making a tangible positive impact. I believe it can only be a good thing if we are individually better informed on how we use energy in our homes. I can also see how better informing the people who plan our energy resource would result in a more efficient supply which integrates more renewable sources of energy.
Hi I'm Matt Childs and I'm the garden designer of this year's smart meter garden at the RHS Hampton Court Palace flower show.
So all of my installation gardens, it's really important to me that they touch emotions and they have a strong narrative and message to them, and it's no exception with this garden this year, we've got a very strong clear message behind it. Climate change has been very much on the agenda and I really feel that people feel quite helpless as to what they can do to make an impact and do something themselves. So in this garden, I want to set out the problem of climate change and CO2 emissions, and I want people to kind of really understand that this is an issue that we all need to solve, and I'm going to bring them together around the problem.
The inspiration for the garden came from one quote by famous philosopher Rabindranath Tagor and I paraphrase it but it's something along the lines of that 'He who plants trees knowing that you'll never sit in their shade has understood the meaning of life'. For me that's a really good metaphor for smart meters in that, just as a tree is really simple to plant and can have potentially really big impact for generations to come, so can smart meters in the sense that they give us the ability to be more informed and to help our environment.
Our main feature is in the centre of the garden and it's a big giant water feature. It'll start off as this big black cracked surface that people will all sit around which will start to flash with lights, and gassy vapour will start to come out symbolising CO2 emissions. Not really what you'd expect from a garden but then all of a sudden this whole centre will start to flood with water, creating this giant magical mirror, and reflected in it will be people and trees, and our whole analogy is if we all come together and take small steps then we can do something really important for the environment.
Plants are obviously a really key part to any garden and the stars of our show are trees. We’ve chosen some really special birch, so I’ve chosen one species of birch and we’re having a range of different cultivated varieties, and what I’m hoping to demonstrate at the show is that just within one tree range itself there’s so many different interesting characteristics; from the bark, to the form, to the size to the shape, and really want to inspire people to get planting trees in their own garden.
I’m really hoping that visitors to the show will experience a range of emotions when they see the garden. I want to take them on a journey in which the atmosphere really affects the way people feel at different points. So at first I’m hoping that there might be some shock and horror and caution, “Oh my gosh there really is a serious issue here with climate change and the environment”, but then I kind of want people to go away feeling as though there is a possible solution here. That if we all work together, we take small baby steps to do this, we can all collectively make a real impact.For me, creating this project has been a really wonderful opportunity because being a gardener and loving the natural environment, it’s something that I really value, and I’m really concerned about climate change and the potential that future generations won’t enjoy the wonderful natural resource that I am able to – so this garden has allowed me to understand more about the problem itself and become more enlightened, but it’s also allowed me the opportunity to be able to put together a garden where I can bring people together over an issue that I feel is really important, and get everybody to work together on a solution.
For me I really believe that climate change is an emergency situation and I think we have to all act now, and getting a smart meter makes complete sense to me in terms of us all being individually better informed about the energy we use, but also allowing our government and the people that plan our resources to be better informed, and if that’s the case all I can see is that we’ll have a more efficient energy supply, less CO2 going into the environment, more abilities to integrate more renewable energy and we can all make a real difference. So for me it’s just about having more knowledge rather than less.
Matthew is an award winning British garden designer whose approach is to tailor gardens to each client and produce very human outdoor spaces which have a strong narrative, are a reflection of the people who use them and the surroundings in which they sit. Matthew is a keen gardener and passionate about nature. He hopes visitors to the smart meter garden will be left feeling there are small achievable things we can all do to help reduce CO2 emissions and that collectively we can make a positive contribution to the environment. Find his work at www.matthewchildsdesign.co.uk