The Transcendence Garden explores the theme of grief at RHS Chelsea

King and Queen arrive at the Chelsea Flower Show

RHS Chelsea rarely disappoints, and this year was no different as designers and horticulturalists from across the world gathered to revel at this year’s show gardens.

Themes ranged from building mental health and well-being to embracing nature and the UK’s changing climate.

One show garden that explored a poignant yet salient theme this year was the Silver-Gilt-winning Memoria & GreenAcres Transcendence Garden.

Designed by award-winning designers Gavin McWilliam and Andrew Wilson, the garden was created to be a calm, uplifting, spiritual and inspiring space, reflecting the cross-cultural and emotional shared experience at the end of life.

Honest and open conversations about the end of life can be difficult and are often shied away from but the Transcendence Garden aims to help people connect and enter into those conversations earlier rather than later.

Everyone’s experience of bereavement is very personal. So, how did the designers ensure the garden evoked positivity universally?

“Bereavement is something that everybody will experience at some point in their lives, it’s completely cross-cultural, so it’s important that was translated in the design itself,” Gavin exclusively told

“We want people to feel a sense of calm in the garden, immersing visitors in the healing power of nature, so to achieve that we needed to create something that was contemplative, elegant and beautiful.

“While the garden of course features many different plant species, we also wanted to play with elements such as light and shadow, different textures, and the movement of water to create somewhere that would translate to all individual experiences and cultures.”

The designers chose the tall, multi-stemmed Gleditsia tricanthos trees because of their elegant branching structure and light canopy to create calming and dappled shade below.

Even the height of the canopy itself was taken into consideration when choosing the trees, with the canopy designed to draw a focal point to the aperture in the pavilion structure.

Gavin continued: “For the boundary wall and pathway, we purposefully selected a mix of rough, textured and smooth limestone to reflect that life isn’t always as simple or straightforward as one might expect.

“As well as the central pathway, we also incorporated less obvious ways of moving through the space to signify that the pathway of life isn’t always clearly set out.

“Perhaps the real showstopper for me is the pavilion structure itself. We designed it to be minimalist and pure, with a central skylight that opens a view to the sky and the cloudscape above, while a gentle film of cascading water creates movement.

“Stood in that spot, it truly is a space where anybody can appreciate a few moments of quiet reflection and contemplation.”

Memorial gardens and designs focussed around bereavement can traditionally feel grey, heavy and even negative which is something Gavin and Andrew wanted to step away from.

Gavin said these landscapes can sometimes lack spirituality and beauty, missing an opportunity to celebrate life.

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What were the designers hoping people would experience when they entered the garden?

“We wanted to create somewhere that is as calm and tranquil as it is inspiring and uplifting, offering space to reflect and remember,” Gavin said.

However, the “ultimate” aim was to create a space that evoked a sense of calmness and stillness where people could “quietly contemplate life and loss”, reflect on the life of a loved one or simply take a moment to be in nature.

Some of the planting elements include muted colour with bright flecks of colour interspersed to reflect the bright moments in life.

Plants with vertical interest and flower transparency aim to capture light, movement and density.

The designers have also shared how people at home can create a garden that’s both spiritual and uplifting. So, where should they start?

“Everybody’s outdoor space is different so how to create somewhere that is both spiritual and uplifting will vary tremendously from garden to garden,” according to Gavin.

“We were able to design a garden that worked within the precise parameters of the plot on site, so we could consider everything from lighting to surrounding trees, and so on.”

However, there are some “important elements” to consider when it comes to creating somewhere that is both spiritual and uplifting.

The designer said the “most important” aspect is lighting which means looking at where the sunlight falls at different times throughout the day and considering when you are likely to be spending time in the space, and why.

Certain trees, for example, can create dappled shade in the afternoon which could be ideal for a more reflective moment.

An early morning sunrise hitting the patio could provide energy while enjoying a morning cup of coffee.

Textures, heights and colour palettes should also be considered, according to the experts.

Adding a water feature can also have a huge impact as it can be calming and inspiring while creating a gentle sound and movement for the senses.

The Memoria & GreenAcres Transcendence Garden is a Silver Gilt medal winner and was designed by Gavin McWilliam and Andrew Wilson. The garden was built by The Outdoor Room and sponsored by Darwin Alternative Investment Management Ltd.

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