Refugee garden wins Silver-Gilt at Chelsea

The Lemon Tree Trust Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018

The first refugee garden to appear at the Chelsea Flower Show has won an RHS Silver-Gilt Medal. Designed by first-time Chelsea garden designer Tom Massey, the garden highlights the hidden beauty of refugee camps and is inspired by the resilience, determination, and ingenuity of refugees living in Domiz camp in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The garden was visited by HM The Queen and the Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday 21 May ahead of the Gala Preview evening. Today, on opening day of the show, it is attracting incredible attention from visitors who are being overwhelmingly positive about its story and inspiration. The garden’s story will be shown on the BBC TWO at 8pm on Tuesday evening.

Tom Massey says, “I am really proud of the Lemon Tree Trust Garden. It has been a fantastic journey and a huge team effort. The most important thing is that the garden celebrates all the incredible refugee gardeners I met and was inspired by.”

Lemon Tree Trust founder Stephanie Hunt says, “Being part of the Chelsea Flower Show has given us a chance to elevate the amazing stories of these refugees and pay tribute to their creativity and ingenuity to create gardens out of so little. What is shown time and time again is that gardening is not just a ‘nice to have’; it is a fundamental human desire – to grow food and to seek solace in cultivating a patch of ground. We are thrilled that Tom’s wonderful design, created with input from the refugees, has translated into this beautiful garden and our thanks go to everyone involved.”

For the millions of people living in refugee camps, gardening and growing plants can be a critically important way to connect with where they have come from and provide some hope and solace for those living in harsh conditions. Domiz, one of the largest camps in Northern Iraq, is home to 26,000 predominantly Syrian refugees. The Lemon Tree Trust has been working there since 2015, supporting gardening initiatives as a way to restore dignity, purpose, and cultural identity. It helps bring people together through the provision of seeds and plants, garden competitions, and education centres.

The Lemon Tree Trust Garden draws inspiration from the gardens that people have created in Domiz, using materials that are available in the camp, such as concrete and steel, made beautiful with techniques such as polishing, casting, and crafting into patterns and intricate Islamic inspired designs. An ‘innovation wall’ is filled with everyday objects such as tin cans and plastic bottles used as containers for vertical planting, ideal for gardening in limited spaces. Colourful and textural drought-tolerant planting softens the hard materials. Valuable edible crops include vegetables, herbs, and trees laden with fruit such as lemons, pomegranates, and figs, all of which are commonly used in Middle Eastern cooking. Channels of water radiating from the brimming Islamic inspired fountain at the centre of the garden provide a peaceful and cooling atmosphere, while representing the importance of grey water reuse in the camps and the many improvised fountains refugees have built in their own gardens.

During the evolution of the garden from design plans to Chelsea’s Main Avenue, Tom Massey visited Domiz to experience the camp at first-hand. He says: “I was continually amazed by the ability of the camp’s residents to create gardens in such a harsh environment and with very limited resources. Building this garden at Chelsea links their stories with gardeners across the world and I feel honoured to have been given this chance to help tell their story to a global audience.”

Vote for the Lemon Tree Trust Garden in the BBC People’s Choice vote which opens on Wednesday 22 May at 9pm

To find out more about the Lemon Tree Trust or to make a donation, visit

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