Chelsea Flower Show: Prince Harry’s garden for Diana

"Harry knows as well as anyone what loss means. It’s what makes him understand that in others, their desire for belonging. I want the garden to reflect that and give space for thought"

Renowned landscape gardener Jinny Blom is studying plans for her Chelsea Flower Show garden. She points to some of the central features, in particular a rather beautiful floating stone in the middle of the garden. “It has a pattern cut into the stone, which is based on the idea of hearts and crowns,” she says. “It symbolises the Prince and, well, his loss really.”


The Prince she is talking about is Prince Harry and the loss she refers to is that of his mother, Princess Diana. “I think she is always there, present in him,” says Blom. “Harry knows as well as anyone what loss means. It’s what makes him understand that in others, their desire for belonging. I want the garden to reflect that and give space for thought.” Prince Harry commissioned Blom ten months ago to represent the work he does with Sentebale, his Lesotho-based charity that helps children who have suffered loss as well as terrible poverty. “One thing that’s important in life is shelter and a home,” says Blom. “Harry is someone who has lost those parental arms that we all need round us. He knows all about it, of course, that kids deserve to be loved and picked up.”

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Sentebale’s aim is to help disadvantaged children and give them hope and to see that their life is about living, not death.

“Sentebale’s an amazing charity and we all really want the garden to raise public awareness of it,” says Blom. “It supports children whose social structure for families has been destroyed almost completely. Harry set it up all by himself in his gap year when he was only 19. It’s such a laudable thing to do. I think he sees that if you put the seed of hope into someone, they can grow. So he has set up a great charity and hopefully the garden will be a real profile raiser.”

And does it also represent a memorial to his mother, Diana? “Absolutely,” Blom says. “I feel the spirit of his mother in this garden, which has private areas as well as public parts. The charity was set up in memory of his mother and is very much in the spirit of her. It’s the kind of thing she would have done and I’m sure it would have made her proud.”

Lesotho, a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa, has been devastated by poverty and the HIV/Aids epidemic.

“There’s a whole missing generation,” says Blom. “There are many children being looked after by their grandparents. Many of them have been affected. Some are deaf and blind and have HIV yet there they are, still smiling. I think that’s something the Prince really understands. For many of these children, an important layer of love is missing.

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“I think Harry, in particular, understands this. He wants the children to be sparks of life, to be de-stigmatised and to have joy in their lives. He’s at his happiest when he’s with these children charging around. He is great fun.”

The charity has also been set up in conjunction with Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, the younger brother of the current King Letsie. “There are many similarities between the Princes. Lesotho and the UK are both still kingdoms and neither Seeiso nor Harry will rule, so they’re devoting themselves to their country and their people through charitable work.”

It was last August when Blom was approached to design a garden for Prince Harry and Sentebale. “I wasn’t sure about it,” she says. “It’s so exhausting doing a garden for Chelsea.” However, she then went to Lesotho to see the landscape and also to experience the work the charity does there. “I found it very moving but also full of hope. I took about a million photographs so that I was aware of what I wanted to represent in the garden.”

What really surprised her was to discover how wet Lesotho’s climate is – it is similar to Wales. “It’s a verdant country and that took me aback. It’s very pastoral, full of willow trees and cattle and then, in terms of structures, these rather wonderful native rondavel traditional huts. It’s subsistence living and farming in a rather sophisticated landscape.’’

However, she’s concerned people will expect hers to be an “African” garden. “I know what people think of Africa. They assume it’s all dry and hot and full of lions and giraffes. But Lesotho is wet and cold! I have reflected that in the garden. There’s not any dry grass or African animals in sight.”

She fears people won’t “get it”. “I’m not sure if this is what the Royal Horticultural Society is expecting! But, there you go.”

She had a mixed reaction to the 2002 Chelsea Flower Show garden that she designed for Prince Charles. “He told me I’d be damned if I didn’t and damned if I did!” What does she mean by that? “I think Prince Charles can divide opinion. It was a ‘healing’ garden and I knew some people would understand that and some people wouldn’t and I was right.”

The garden she has designed for Prince Harry is much less likely to get bad reviews, but there is one similarity: the sheer amount of hard work it takes. “It’s exhausting,” says Blom. “I’m doing workouts three times a week for an hour and a half at a time just to be fit enough to do the lifting, carrying and planting.”

To put it into context, the garden, sponsored by B&Q, has five fully grown and in-leaf willow trees in it, all of which had to be transported from Germany. Blom has also grown 12,500 plants in order to ensure that 4,500 will be up to scratch. “It’s the plant Oscars,” she says. “Every plant has to be looking its best.”

Despite designing large rambling gardens in the Cotswolds and the Home Counties and wild estates in Scotland, Blom is no traditionalist. She trained as a psychologist specialising in mental health issues and changed career 16 years ago at the age of 36.

“It’s where my interest in healing plants came from,” she says. “It became part of my medical research and I found it very interesting.” In her Prince Charles garden out of the 139 species she planted, 129 can be found in most hedgerows.

“I was very proud of that! I liked the concept of the garden being about food, fuel and medicine. A garden at Chelsea gives the royals a clear platform for them to discuss their agenda.” She won a gold medal for her efforts. Would she like to win a medal for this garden? “Of course!” she fires back. She says Prince Harry has seen all the plans and is being kept informed at every stage about the garden and its progress. “He’s very enthusiastic. He’s very involved and, so far, has been very happy about everything I’m doing.”

What makes the garden special, in her eyes, is the sense that Prince Harry has a deep desire to see the children of Lesotho grow and prosper. “Just like a garden does, I guess. For him it’s trying to answer the question of how you re-create a sense of family in a generation of children who have no structure.

“He’s a wonderful young man. I don’t think that’s the way he’s portrayed by the media. He has real emotional intelligence, everything comes from his heart, just as it seemed to do for his mother. He has immense empathy and is a very intelligent, sentient, down-to-earth young man who is passionately interested in everything.”

She has shown him the model for the garden and has talked him through the principles behind it. “He is very excited about it. He trusts me. But, at the end of the day, he’s a soldier not a gardener.”

RHS Chelsea Flower Show is on Sunday to Friday on BB1 and Monday to Friday on BBC2


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