Project Manager, Honor Reekie guides us through the highly anticipated, 2024 RHS Chelsea National Garden Scheme Garden

At the forefront of the build of National Garden Scheme garden for RHS Chelsea, but to date we know surpringly little about Tom Stuart-Smith’s talented project manager, Honor Reekie. Until now…

Honor Reekie, Tom Stuart-Smith and George Plumptre of the National Garden Scheme
Honor Reekie, Tom Stuart-Smith & George Plumptre (©Jiaji Wu)

Landscape architect, Honor Reekie is making her mark at the RHS Chelsea, working to bring the highly anticipated Tom Stuart-Smith design for the National Garden Scheme garden to life. “I hope the garden will have an amazing feeling when you walk onto it. The soft light under the canopies of the trees, all very humble, earthy and reclaimed”, describes Reekie.

This garden is special. Not only will it be relocated to Maggie’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge to provide much-needed sanctuary for people living with cancer, but it’s also a truly uplifting tribute to the generosity and spirit of garden owners who open their gardens for the NGS ever since it was founded in 1927. Incidentally, that includes, Reekie’s very own boss, Tom Stuart-Smith – who has opened his own garden for the NGS for 30 years.

Reekie initially studied Fine Art Painting at City & Guilds of London Art School. Whilst at art school, she worked on intriguing projects about people’s perceptions of landscapes, which led to her wanting to learn more about the practicalities of landscape design. She enrolled at Edinburgh University and gained her Masters in Landscape Architecture. At that point, there was no doubt where she was heading next.

“If you’re a landscape architect you know about Tom Stuart Smith. His work is so diverse, styles exacting to the place, which I found really interesting”, she explained. Pretty much an immediate fit, Reekie joined the Stuart-Smith design team in 2019, after the briefest of internships (two weeks!). Her work to date for the prestigious design studio has been focused on remedial landscapes, working on (amongst others) rewilding and forest garden projects for Knepp.

“Most of my career has all be about ‘giving it a go’, and I landed doing something I love”, said Reekie. “Tom is a fantastic boss. Really fun to work with and leaves you with a lot of space to learn.”

The 20 strong Tom Stuart-Smith studio are reportedly a very close knit, friendly and supportive team, so much so that they cook and eat together using produce that grown in the Serge Hill vegetable plot.

RHS Chelsea 2024

Reekie’s experience of RHS Chelsea to date consisted of, “some planting” for Stuart-Smith’s 2019 RHS Bridgewater garden on the ‘triangle’, but “nothing quite like this”, she laughed.

The task at hand is to help bring the National Garden Scheme to an even wider audience by creating a beautiful garden that reflects the unique character of the NGS and the 3500 garden owners who open their gardens in support of the scheme. As with much of Stuart-Smith’s work the garden will showcase a juxtaposition and contrast; simplicity and complexity; the modern and the romantic, forging a connection between people and place.

In terms of her role for the project, “It’s a Tom Stuart Smith design and plan. My role for Chelsea is to fine tune, source materials, oversee the building, project manage the various collaborations to the small details”, explained Reekie.

Stuart-Smith has explained that this won’t be a floral tribute garden, rather a sincere, calm woodland garden “on the cusp of transitioning from spring to summer”. Drifts of gentle, principally drought tolerant, foliage plants will be planted throughout an open hazel coppice to give a sense of calm and connection to nature. The five statuesque hazel trees, form a unifying canopy over the whole garden. Describing the garden, Stuart-Smith has said: “I really do think when you first see this garden your heartbeat will go down. It’s about the calm you feel when you enter a woodland.”

The hazels are the stars of the show, but an artist at heart, Reekie has also sourced an additional tree for garden, which sounds intriguing. “I found this amazing tree. About thirty years ago the nursery (Solitaire in Belgium) experimented in growing sculptural trees by growing several trees in one pot. The trees grow and compete, and they then cut out the weaker tree, leaving this strangely, sculptural larger tree. It’s a wonderful looking thing.”

Build it and they will come…

Bringing the unique, generous character of garden owners to life for Chelsea is a challenge. Especially so, considering crowds totalling 150,000 plus where realistically, visitors have just a matter of seconds to view the gardens.

The team has managed to draw together a myriad of profound contributions, from NGS owners, artisans, the best growers and even the Stuart-Smith family – all of which, make this garden sing.

“I love sourcing things”, explains Reekie. “I live to find new information and bringing a new stance on a project which is what I have loved about RHS Chelsea because I have been able to wrack my brains, travelling the country to find things for the garden”. Stuart-Smith fully credits Reekie with the idea to have NGS garden owners contribute to the garden with their own, home-grown plants.

“What I really wanted for the garden was that you could identify that that Blechnum spicant for example, came from a community garden in Leeds and that plant from Kent”, explained Reekie. “I really wanted to somehow encapsulate that this RHS Chelsea show garden has plants that came from either a small cottage garden, or a large estate. There are no restrictions on your garden to open for the NGS – as long as you love it and garden it”.

Reekie sent out a list of plants (or similar) they wanted for the garden to the garden owners, which has resulted in twelve NGS gardens supplying plants for the garden. Plant donations, received at Serge Hill in October 2023 ranged from neatly potted, to Dutch crates filled with plants to, cherished large clumps. “It was wonderful. We had people coming with their car filled, whilst others came with a few prized, but welcome cenolophium denudatum”, explained Reekie.

“Sadly, the build of the Maggie’s in Cambridge doesn’t start on site until another year. As we can’t really keep herbaceous perennials in pots, on that scale, for that length of time, the plants will be sold at a plant sale”, explained Reekie. A (probably very popular) Chelsea plant sale for the NGS, will be held on the 1st of June at Chilworth Manor – bookings for the sale are now open.

Personalised, old charm & all things reclaimed

Brimming with inspiring touches, Reekie and team have been busy. “A lot of time and effort has gone into finding the details”, she explained. “Everything is reclaimed which is charming and then there’s the cleft oak hut, which I would basically like to live in”, sighs Reekie.

Designed by architect Ben Stuart-Smith, son of garden designer Tom Stuart-Smith, the beautiful cleft oak structure, with timber shingles has been put together by furniture maker and woodworker Fenton Scott-Fielder. Kate Stuart-Smith’s (sister to Tom Stuart-Smith) provided the timber to line the building’s interior. “The planed beech on the inside has a beautiful tactile finish, with almost mid century clean, contemporary lines”, explains Reekie.

Inside the oak hut, a selection of old tools are on display that have been rescued and restored by the Hertfordshire based, horticultural charity, the Sunnyside Rural Trust, founded for young people and adults with learning disabilities. The gutter and down-pipes are hand thrown by potter Potter, Robert Silver and are based on traditional Sicilian terracotta guttering.

“A lot of the Maggie centres are used for art therapy for patients and their families, and we wanted the garden to have that therapeutic element” added Reekie. Artist, Tyga Helme has been commission to paint the garden during show week and her work auctioned to raise additional funds for the NGS and Maggie’s.

Maggie’s is one of the major NGS’s beneficiary charities and the relocation of the RHS Chelsea garden completes the story of the scheme’s main charitable aims; to support gardens in healthcare settings and to open affordable green space for the benefit of everyone’s health and wellbeing.

“We are all really looking forward to handing over the garden to Maggie’s in 2026”, ends Reekie, an event which is promising to be not only a reunion of all the contributing NGS owners and the team , but also very much a celebration of the NGS, Maggie’s Centres and this beautiful, poignant 2024 RHS Chelsea show garden.

The National Garden Scheme RHS Chelsea garden has been fully funded by Project Giving Back, and is being built by Crocus.