Burmese and skin-themed garden to be unveiled in first for Chelsea

This year’s RHS Chelsea Flower show is to feature a garden themed around the story of a UK based charity helping healthcare workers in the country Burma, also known as Myanmar, to treat people with painful and debilitating skin conditions.

In a first for the world-famous event held from Tues 21 to Sat 25 May 2024, Dermatologists and specialist nurses will be welcoming visitors to the Burma Skincare Initiative ‘Spirit of Partnership Garden’ during the week.

The charity, co-founded by Chris Griffiths OBE, emeritus professor at The University of Manchester, is an innovative global partnership providing research, education, and clinical services to dermatologists working in one of the world’s poorest health care systems.

Currently fewer than 50 dermatologists and three dermatology centres serve 55 million people in the impoverished country.

It is also the first time a Burmese garden has featured at Chelsea and in another first, it is a debut design by someone not in the profession.

The designer, the charity and the sponsors behind the first Burmese and skin-themed garden at the world’s most famous flower show say it’s a unique opportunity to put Burma and skin health in the spotlight.

Professor Griffiths said: “Skin disease has a major impact on a person’s quality of life and mental health and can impose severe limitations on their ability to work. In Myanmar, we met many people, including hundreds of children in orphanages, with skin diseases.

Their suffering and resilience motivated us to improve access to skincare in the country through partnerships between international and local dermatology communities and industry.”

Co-founder, Dr Su Lwin, a Burmese-born dermatology registrar and honorary lecturer at St John’s Institute of Dermatology and King’s College London, added: “My beautiful country faces many challenges. We are focussed on creating opportunities in education and research for our colleagues in Myanmar so that together, we may achieve our vision of equal access to quality skin care for its people. I am absolutely thrilled that through the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, we are able to put Myanmar and skin health on the world stage. This is also the first time a garden at Chelsea tells the story of skin disease, and the importance of partnership in its management, and we hope people love it.”

Garden designer Helen Olney, working with landscaper Conquest Creative Spaces, has juggled her day job, to create her Chelsea debut.

She said: “The garden is full of texture, including timber from a Thames jetty, crumbling red bricks and weathered stone with moss and lichen. Along with plants such as Acer davidii and Betula utilis (Himalayan birch), they represent skin disease.

All the plants are found in Burma and grow happily in the UK and many have value for wildlife. The planting is naturalistic in a palette of greens, lilacs, yellows and whites. The diversity of Myanmar is shown through different planting zones and features. That includes the part-ruined ‘stupa’, a spiritual structure found across Myanmar, which symbolise the challenging environments in which the BSI work.

A stilt house, above a water lily pool, indicates the sanctuary the charity provides. Seating is inspired by a letter in the Burmese alphabet meaning ‘coming together’. This is how this garden came about, and how the charity works,” added Helen.

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