Mark Rendell says we should launch a national garden competition
Wandering around the Eisteddfod Maes in Bala last year it struck me that the event provides a wonderful opportunity to showcase the best work of gardeners and garden designers across Wales. A ‘green pavilion’, along the lines of the Arts and Crafts Pavilion, could showcase creative garden designs and provide a focus for horticultural enterprises, and craftspeople.
A national garden design competition culminating in a winning design chosen at the Eisteddfod would be held. County-wide competitions would be open to anyone, according to an agreed theme. The leading three designs in each county could be selected via a county panel. These finalists could then attract a small seed-grant to work up their ideas and explore sponsorship.
The next stage would require an Adjudication Panel to select the final set, perhaps one per county, that would be built and shown at the Eisteddfod. Week-long voting at the event by visitors and via the web and television would result in the selection of the winning garden. All submissions in the competition could be uploaded onto a gallery page on the Eisteddfod website, providing a valuable showcase for all the garden designers and teams involved.
The second element of this proposal would be to identify a number of suitable outdoor spaces on the Maes that could be offered to designers and sponsors. These would include the entrance area to the Maes, processional spaces, a central ‘breathing space’ to rest and reflect, a play or fun space, and an interactive educational space.
Planning the entrance to the Maes provides an insight into how this proposal might work in practice. The space sets the scene for the Eisteddfod experience immediately beyond the ticket office. It is a greeting and meeting space and an ideal location to influence the mood and expectations of visitors. Details of the space (size, soil, access and so on) could be made available on the Eisteddfod website immediately after the layout had been agreed, with an invitation for sponsorship and garden design proposals.
An Adjudication Panel would select the winning design, according to criteria agreed beforehand. As this is possibly the most prominent outdoor space on the Maes – everybody has to pass it at least twice – it could also be a showcase for the Eisteddfod’s host county to provide a welcome and greeting statement expressed through the medium of flowers, shrubs, artwork and other garden features.
Alongside the final set of gardens selected from across the country, a ‘green pavilion’ could comprise stands representing garden design and horticultural professions in Wales and related businesses and organisations such as outdoor leisure and furniture companies, garden art suppliers and makers, hard landscaping materials and tools stockists, plant stockists, nurseries and garden centres, garden groups and societies, training schemes, college courses and scholarships, garden visitor attractions, outdoor play equipment and sensory gardens, school and community gardens, books and guides, to name but a few.
The August timing of the Eisteddfod means that a national horticutural event of this kind would not clash with other UK-wide gardening shows. Meanwhile, the intiative would result in many benefits for the Eisteddfod including:
- A promotional tool for the Eisteddfod, with sponsorship opportunities and new income streams, and attract a new constituency of visitors.
- Connect the Eisteddfod with the land, via gardens and development of outdoor spaces on the Maes.
- Provide high profile platform for garden organisations, garden designers and horticultural industries to demonstrate their work, products and services in Wales.
- Strengthen the garden design and horticultural sectors by providing a valuable opportunity to network, collaborate, market and promote their work.
- Provide an opportunity for articulating ideas around our national identity.
Bringing gardens to the Eisteddfod, and showcasing innovative work of the best that Wales has to offer, would be an entirely natural development in the evolution of the National Eisteddfod. Populating the event’s outdoor spaces with horticultural excellence would provide another means for articulating our relationship with the place we call ‘home’, with the wider landscape and, ultimately, with each other.