Gardening as an art form? Juliet Sargeant makes the case

Juliet Sargeant is the first black designer in the Chelsea Flower Show's history and her debut garden is a dark metaphor for modern slavery.
The bright flowers and doors lead to a dark centre, which is a metaphor for modern slavery. (Sarah Cuttle/Royal Horticultural Society)

London's Chelsea Flower Show is an annual event that's been held for over a century. This year, the longstanding tradition saw its first black designer — and she won gold.

Juliet Sargeant​'s winning garden is called The Modern Slavery Garden and serves as a metaphor for those kept captive and forced to work, something she learned is happening in towns and cities across the U.K. 

"I just thought, well, [modern slavery] is here, hidden behind the closed doors of these houses," she tells Shad.

That thought inspired Sargeant's design. Though Sargeant's garden starts out as a beautiful display of colour alongside brightly painted doors, as you reach the centre of her design the colours fade, the inside of the doors are black and the ground covered in charcoal.

The Modern Slavery Garden, designed by Juliet Sargeant. (Sarah Cuttle/Royal Horticultural Society)

The message and impact of Sargeant's design goes beyond how we typically see gardens. In fact, Sargeant argues that not only is gardening an art form, but it has even more to offer than other disciplines. 

"It involves using colour in the way that painting does, but then it involves three-dimensional forms, as sculpture does," she says. "You're also creating spaces, as an architect does, and then on top of all that, you have the fourth dimension of time ... and then thrown into that heady mix is also what nature does."       

As for the issue of diversity in gardening, Sargeant says the gap didn't occur to her until she started teaching classes in the subject and noticed she didn't have a single black student. However, with her win at the Chelsea Flower Show and remarks on gardening moving beyond "middle class white people with double barreled last names" she says she's glad to have sparked an overdue conversation.


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