Uplifting garden designed to inspire conversations about life and loss

Company: McWilliam Studio
  • Gavin McWilliam and Andrew Wilson of McWilliam Studio

The designers behind the Memoria & GreenAcres Transcendence Garden at this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023 have revealed further details behind its inspiring and uplifting message ahead of this year’s prestigious event.

Designed by Gavin McWilliam and Andrew Wilson of McWilliam Studio, the garden is centred around opening up positive conversations about the end of life, encouraging people to discuss the often hard-to-broach topic of death and share their dying wishes with loved ones.

The garden will provide a spiritual, uplifting, and inspiring space for reflection and contemplation to help the bereaved feel a sense of calm during their grieving process, immersing visitors in the healing power of nature through thoughtful design, beautiful planting schemes and clever use of water and light.

Sponsored by Darwin Alternatives, its design is influenced by McWilliam’s and Wilson’s personal experiences of loss, as well as drawing on the important services that Memoria and GreenAcres offer to grieving families.

Located on plot 320 on Main Avenue, the Memoria & GreenAcres Transcendence Garden will be the first show garden to greet guests upon arrival through the main entrance to the show ground, which opens its gates to the public from Tuesday 23rd to Saturday 27th May 2023.

The garden design

Working closely with Memoria & GreenAcres, who offer leading cemetery and ceremonial services, McWilliam and Wilson have incorporated the garden’s key themes into every aspect of its design. Channelling their own personal experiences of loss, the duo have created a truly thoughtful space that invites visitors to feel a sense of peace, while celebrating life at the same time.

Instantly impressive, the garden boasts tall, multi-stemmed Gleditsia tricanthos trees, which McWilliam and Wilson chose for their elegant, characterful branching structure and light canopy, creating a calming dappled shade below. The height of the canopy is designed to emphasise upward movement, while drawing the focal point to the aperture in the pavilion structure.  

A thoughtful combination of shrubs, ferns, groundcover and perennials envelope visitors in nature and beauty as they enter the garden, before arriving at a shallow film of moving water, creating a sense of peaceful movement.

Limestone is used throughout, with some rough and textured, to reflect that life isn’t always as simple or straightforward as one might expect. The central pathway provides a clear focus within the garden, but McWilliam and Wilson have also cleverly incorporated less obvious ways of moving through the space to signify that the pathway of life isn’t always clearly set out.

The cantilevered pavilion brings showstopping drama to the garden. Designed to be minimalist and pure, a central skylight opens a view to the sky and the cloudscape above, drawing the eye upward and delivering a dynamic light pattern to contrast the shadow of the canopy.

Below the canopy itself, the designers have selected plants to create a transitory quality, featuring elegant, muted colour palettes with bright flecks dotted throughout to represent the brighter points in life. Planting is randomised in billowing clumps, set within gravel and occasional paving. As with the limestone, some textured plants, such as Bergenia, Acanthus and Vitex, have been included to reflect the unpredictability of life.

Gavin McWilliam said: “Many associate traditional memorial landscapes as very grey, heavy, and negative spaces, often lacking in spirituality, beauty and opportunity to celebrate life. We wanted to create somewhere that is as calm and tranquil as it is inspiring and uplifting, offering somewhere to reflect and remember as well as a place to have open and honest discussions around death and dying with your loved ones.

“To achieve this, we have incorporated a range of contrasting plants, shrubs and trees of varying heights, textures and colours, while playing with lighting, and infrastructural elements to reflect that life features both beautiful moments and more difficult times, often leading us down unexpected paths.”

Jane Kirkup, GreenAcres Group, added: “Loss and grief is something that all of us will experience in our lifetimes, and we believe that encouraging open conversations around the subject is incredibly important.  We know too well that open and honest conversations about death and dying can be difficult, but we hope that the garden will help people to connect and to have those conversations with loved ones earlier rather than later.”

For more information, visit www.transcendence.garden

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