Muscular Dystrophy UK – Forest Bathing Garden

A garden offering an immersive forest bathing experience featuring more than fifty birch trees underplanted with 4,000 richly textured plants.

Muscular Dystrophy UK - Forest Bathing Garden RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024

Fully funded by grant-making charity Project Giving Back, the garden is designed by the 2017 RHS ’Young Designer of the Year’, Ula Maria.

Ula Maria is garden and landscape designer based in London and has an innate connection with nature originating from her childhood spent in her family’s countryside home, surrounded by rural Lithuanian landscape – wildflower meadows, pine forests, wild streams, and rivers.

Forest bathing, otherwise known as Shinrin-yoku, is an ancient Japanese practice of spending time in the forest and soaking up its atmosphere through the senses. At Chelsea, the garden seeks to create a sheltered space for its visitors – to give comfort and clarity, reconnect with oneself and nature, or accommodate conversation with others.

Visitors will access the garden through an accessible path that follows a slow-moving naturalised water stream. At the heart of the garden is a central meeting hub with informal seating and sculptural knapped flint walls that will provide a sheltered space for people to meet. The random knapped flint pattern was chosen by Ula due to its beautiful texture and form that is reminiscent of muscle cells.

A key feature of the garden is a large bungaroosh-style wall, which will be made using modular steelwork sections filled with a mix of reclaimed and recycled materials such as large stone blocks, slate tiles, and bricks. This building technique was chosen to showcase how a beautiful and contemporary-looking garden structure can be created using a variety of reclaimed materials. Chelsea veterans, Crocus will be managing the build.

Designer Ula Maria said: “This garden is all about connections: whether to oneself, nature, or others. It is meant to serve as a sanctuary whilst offering an immersive forest bathing experience. It is my hope that this garden will increase awareness of how places that are inspired by the people who inhabit them can have a meaningful effect on communities such as Muscular Dystrophy UK”.

After the show, the garden will be relocated to the public garden space at the new Institute of Developmental & Regenerative Medicine at the University of Oxford. There it will be a permanent place of refuge for patients during treatment and new trials, as well as clinicians, scientists and researchers and with access to the general public too.

Catherine Woodhead, Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK said: “Thanks to the generous sponsorship from Project Giving Back, we are absolutely delighted to have a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2024. We want more people to know about Muscular Dystrophy and what it’s like to live with a muscle-wasting or weakening condition. Part of the challenge of a diagnosis is that no one has heard of it, you know no-one living with it and you have to explain it to everyone from family, friends, teachers, colleagues and even GPs. This opportunity will change that. It will allow us to reach people who have never heard of the condition, give our community a voice and raise awareness of the work of the charity”.