visionary planting – a recap of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012


{The interview below is a re-post from six years ago, when I interviewed garden designer John Warland about his ambitious World Vision garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show. John’s experimental approach has frequently been to highlight global and environmental issues through his design, and 2018 is no exception, with John and fellow designer Karen Welman having won a Gold Medal for their irreverent Pearlfisher Show Garden, which highlights the impact of plastic  waste on our oceans. Read on for more about the inspiring World Vision project.}


Today I am excited to share an interview with John Warland, one half of the award-winning design duo FlemonsWarland, who have teamed up with World Vision for their debut at RHS Chelsea Flower Show this week. Using bold design and clever planting, the pair articulate the strong ethical and ecological values at the core of the World Vision message.

You and I met when we both worked for Intrepid Travel, and garden design seems quite a departure from that. Can you tell me something about how the seeds of FlemonsWarland were sown?

I have created gardens for years prior to the halcyon days of working for Intrepid. It has been a quietly simmering passion, and I managed to create a couple of works whilst simultaneously working for Intrepid. Myself and Sim Flemons met at Capel Manor college around 8 years ago on a Foundation Design course. Just as I was about to leave to work in Morocco as a guide, I came up with an idea for a conceptual garden (The Fallen, a work that highlights endangered British wild flowers using headstones). I approached Sim to help actualise the idea, and four Gold medals [at RHS Hampton Court] later the rest is, as they say, history. I have left Intrepid to follow my creative dreams and see where they take us.

Your Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is sponsored by World Vision. How do you feel the space you’ve created embodies the charity’s values?

Children are at the heart of everything World Vision does, so we actually have a time capsule under the central pool containing memories from our recent trip to Bolivia to meet our sponsored child, Ronald. There will be a little piece of Ronald and Bolivia with us in the heart of SW1. The main concept of the garden is based around the “ripple effect” and to try to empower people to believe that through a simple act of kindness, a ripple is created, with no logical end. By sponsoring a child, this in turn also benefits his family, community and, ultimately, entire countries. We are using a labyrinthine path as a place for visitors to walk and contemplate the world at large, escape modern life and find their own moment of reflection. The majestic tree ferns signify the sense of safety and enclosure offered by World Vision to the most vulnerable children, and the garden as a whole reflects key messages of nurture & growth

Why did you choose to focus on Bolivia specifically as a ‘theme’ for your Chelsea garden?

Bolivia is where our sponsored child Ronald lives, high in the Andes at over 4000m in altitude. The money we provide his family with contributes to the provison of a greenhouse, so they no longer need to trek 8 miles to the nearest market for simple vegetables. The balanced diet helps improve child health, and concentration levels in school, allowing Ronald to enjoy life in all its fullness.

You feature a type of lupin, Lupinus Mutablilis, which is grown in the Andes to produce the tarwi bean. As a novice gardener, I’d never thought of the lupin as a crop before. Would you recommend readers to try this one at home or on their allotments?

Traditionally, lupins are considered toxic, so gardeners & chefs stay well clear from them! However, this crop can be prepared to produce an edible bean with up to 50% protein, offering a perfect meat replacement option in remote locations. As designers it offers a beautiful aesthetic, but to families living in Bolivia it is a vital food source, also known as the lost crop of the Incas.

We will be giving out the tarwi bean seeds at Chelsea or you can order them online with money from each order going towards World Vision. Please note that the bean needs to be prepared correctly with soaking etc prior to any consumption!

How does travel and a ‘world vision’ in general inform your design ethos?

I have been lucky to travel extensively, and this has contributed to an enormous visual memory bank that I have retained for future design reference. I take a huge amount of photos of architecture & modern art when I travel, so that I can draw from these influences when the right forum is offered. Travel most definitely does of course broaden the mind, and the exposure to different ways of solving similar design problems across the globe does help ensure you always question design rules, and to keep an open mind regarding the perceived “right way” of approaching a space. Different cultures look at things in such polar ways, every trip leads to a refreshing perspective on design or life in general.

You’ve already mentioned the tree ferns that you’ve used in the World Vision garden. How long do you spend planning, preparing and growing for a garden such as this one?

The trees we are using are up to 100 years old, so they have been spending their life getting ready for their 15 minutes of fame! We had to scour nurseries across the UK & Europe to find suitable specimens, and after the show they will be relocated to the Lost Gardens of Heligan together with the time capsule, providing a fitting legacy to the work for generations to come. In effect starting its own ripple effect.

What’s next for you guys?

A glass or two of Pimm’s sounds like a good idea right now, but give us four weeks and we will be unleashing another garden at RHS Hampton Court. We also have to go and visit our recent installation in Chaumont Sur Loire, whilst maybe doing a few ad lib street art installations. With the ideas bubbling over, it is just great to expunge these ideas from my soul…and silly as it sounds, if we are to create something at Chelsea next year, we really should start planning it now. In my dreams, I would love to come back with World Vision for something even more beautiful & thought provoking to help reinforce their awareness within UK public consciousness…watch this space!

Be sure to visit John and Sim’s beautiful and compelling garden if you are at Chelsea this week, and if you are inspired to do so, you can sponsor a child through World Vision, and help a family like Ronald’s by visiting

All photos courtesy of John Warland.


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