This month should have seen the return of Robert Myers, one of the UK’s leading garden designers, to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show with a Main Avenue garden to mark the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. Cancelled due to the pandemic, the garden would have celebrated not only a remarkable nurse and social reformer, but also a woman with a love of botany and an understanding of the therapeutic value of gardens and green spaces.
A little known fact, Nightingale was a lover of the great outdoors and an avid collector of pressed flowers. When she was only 13, she began an exploration of plants with famous botanist Margaret Stovin, resulting in a fascinating and beautiful collection of over 100 pressed flowers gathered from the Derbyshire countryside. Two hundred years on, her insights into the importance of fresh air, sunlight and green space, still form a blueprint for hospital gardens today.
Inspired by this, the Florence Nightingale Garden at RHS Chelsea would have featured flowers found in her childhood collection, including peonies and ferns, alongside plants with medicinal properties which would have been used at the same time that she was using herbal treatments to look after troops in the Crimea, as well as other vibrant plants to emphasise the importance of gardens for health and recovery. Her favourite flower – the Foxglove – was to have been included and images from her original pressed flower collection printed on the surrounding walls.
The hope, from sponsor The Burdett Trust for Nursing, is that the garden will return to RHS Chelsea next year, with the pandemic behind us, and when a celebration of modern-day nursing will be more pertinent than ever.
In the meantime, as we wait out the crisis in our own gardens, we should still celebrate the restorative power of nature – whether it be a view of a garden from a patient’s bed, the smallest pressed flower or the wide-open countryside.
Pressed flower images published courtesy of the Florence Nightingale Museum – Registered Charity 299576’