Donate now

The story behind the RNLI Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show

If the RNLI was a garden, what would it look like? Watch and read about the journey of the RNLI Garden at the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, from its sustainable design and creation to its lifesaving legacy.

A chance to flourish

The RNLI was among 12 other UK charities that were given the chance to promote their cause with a garden at the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

This unique horticultural opportunity was made possible by the generous support of Project Giving Back, which kindly funded all costs associated with the design and build of our show garden.

Taking on the lifesaving challenge

The RNLI Garden was brought to life by a dedicated team of people, all fuelled by passion, talent and kindness - the same qualities that have been powering our charity to save lives for almost 200 years.

Heading up that team was lifelong RNLI supporter and multi-award-winning Garden Designer and Plantsman, Chris Beardshaw.

Garden Designer Chris Beardshaw and RNLI Chief Executive Mark Dowie dressed in suits, standing on the Purbeck stone paving in the RNLI Garden at the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Design features include the Georgian pavilion and its beacon in the background and the calming green, blue and purple hues of the flowers and plants in the foreground.

Photo: RNLI/Al Kassim

Chris with RNLI Chief Executive Mark Dowie in the RNLI Garden at the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Celebrating our roots …

Chris designed our garden as a celebration of our 200-year lifesaving history and cutting-edge modernity.

The garden was calm, confident, and inspired inquisitiveness. It cleverly drew on our Georgian origins and married them with more contemporary design cues to reflect the forward-thinking organisation that we are today.

This combination echoed the RNLI’s sense of permanence, while offering a space to reflect on the breadth of our lifesaving work.

… and our people

An important part of the design process for Chris was to meet our volunteer lifeboat crew and our in-house team of boat builders.

‘It was really the foundation of the design,’ explains Chris. ‘To get into the minds of those behind what we are so familiar with - the lifeboats - and find out what makes them tick.’

Chris wanted the garden to capture the volunteer and familial ethos of the RNLI. The strong, reassuring sense of family that exists between our volunteers, staff and supporters alike.

The RNLI Garden at the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Photo shows the Georgian pavilion and its beacon in the background, and the calming green, blue and purple hues of the flowers and plants, with a terracotta urn in the foreground.

Photo: RNLI/Harrison Bates

The Gold Medal-winning RNLI Garden, designed by Chris Beardshaw, at the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show

The idea behind the Georgian pavilion and its beacon was to represent the RNLI as a safe haven for every one, and to recreate feelings of hope, relief and gratitude experienced by those we save.

Chris wanted visitors to the garden to ‘walk into this arcade and pavilion and feel enclosed, secure, as if you’re a part of something and that you belong in that space.’

In his design, Chris personified our lifeboat crews as a beacon - a ‘constant source of light’. To which one Portishead Crew Member said:

‘That would hit the nail on the head for a lot of people. To be able to see that beacon of light and know that they’re going home.’

In full bloom

It was amazing to see all the planning and hard work come together, producing a garden that celebrated our incredibly proud heritage, while also looking to our lifesaving future.

Special guests

We had some very special guests visiting and admiring our garden at the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Have a look through these photos and see whose famous faces you can spot!

Fisherman's Friends

The Fisherman’s Friends, a singing group from Port Isaac in Cornwall, performed some fantastic sea shanties in our garden. Here’s a short clip of them singing at the show.

A Gold Medal of a different kind

RNLI lifesavers have been awarded Medals for Gallantry for almost 200 years. But receiving a Gold Medal for horticulture in the Show Garden category of the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show was a first for the RNLI - and testament to all the mud, sweat and secateurs that Chris’s team put into it!

The RNLI Garden also came second in the BBC/RHS People’s Choice Award.

A gold medal certificate awarded to the RNLI from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2022.

Photo: RNLI

Creating a sustainable future

Ecological, environmentally friendly, wildlife friendly and sustainable solutions are inherent in all of Chris Beardshaw schemes as standard practice.

And sustainability was at the heart of the RNLI Garden at the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, from its design through to its creation and its ultimate deconstruction.

The skills, services and materials used to build the garden were locally sourced in and around Dorset where possible - being home to the RNLI Support Centre and All-weather Lifeboat Centre in Poole.

And the businesses we worked with were chosen for their ethical and sustainable ways of working and manufacturing processes. The businesses included:

  • Kelways Plants in Langport, Somerset, for lovingly growing the chosen plants;
  • James Gray specialist fabricators in Bournemouth, Dorset, for construction of the arcade and Georgian pavilion;
  • Lovell Stone Quarry in Swanage, Dorset, for the Purbeck stone used to make the paving and paths;
  • and Whichford Pottery in Warwickshire, for creating the large urns. Whichford Pottery has supplied flowerpots to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) for more than 35 years.

RNLI Garden plant list

For a full list of the beautiful plants that were in our garden at the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, download our list as a PDF:

List of plants in the RNLI Garden at the 2022 RHS Chelsea Flower Show (PDF 812KB)

A lifesaving legacy

The journey of our RNLI Garden didn’t end when the Chelsea Flower Show did - it went on to leave a lasting legacy.

The plants and flowers were sold in a plant sale at RNLI College in Poole, Dorset, raising over £15,000 in lifesaving funds for our charity.

The Whichford Pottery urns have a new home at the RNLI Support Centre in Poole.

The pavilion structure is now part of a collection of sculptures at Sculpture by the Lakes - one of the most beautiful sculpture parks nestled in 26 acres of Dorset countryside.

And the Purbeck stone that once paved the pathways in the RNLI Garden will be reused in a future lifeboat station rebuild.

Plant sale at the RNLI College following the Chelsea Flower Show

Photo: RNLI

The RNLI cares about sustainability. And sustainability principles are woven through our mission to save every one. See how we are working to create a sustainable future for all.

Sustainability at the RNLI