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First black Chelsea Flower Show designer highlights slavery

GREEN FINGERS: Award-winning gardener Juliet Sargeant [Photo credit: Nick Harvey/The Modern Slavery Garden]

MIDDLE CLAS white people with double-barrelled names dominate the world of garden design, the first black woman to create a garden for the Chelsea Flower Show has said.

Award-winning designer Juliet Sargeant is now urging the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) to do more to promote diversity within gardening.

With a garden highlighting the problem of modern slavery, Sargeant, who was born in Tanzania, has become the Chelsea Flower Show’s first black designer since the RHS event began in 103 years ago.

Sargeant, a former chairwoman of the Society of Garden Designers, said that while people from all sorts of backgrounds are interested in horticulture, those at the top of the industry tend to be “white middle class people”.

“There’s possibly a glut of double barrelled people within design,” she added.

A garden at the Chelsea Flower Show is being created by a black designer for the first time in its 103-year history.

Sargeant, who studied garden design at Middlesex University, said: “The RHS is trying to encourage young people into the industry because there is a widening skills gap. But I don’t think it has even occurred to anybody to think about diversity. I do think the RHS could do more to promote diversity.

“I don’t come across any other black garden designers when I’m out and about. But that doesn’t mean black people aren’t interested in gardening and design.

“I think they do not culturally feel part of the horticultural scene. And you need confidence, a network of contacts and a sponsor to pull off something like a Chelsea show garden.”

The centrepiece of Sargeant’s garden is an oak, which represents the one politician William Wilberforce sat beneath in 1787 when he resolved to push the abolition of slavery through Parliament. It also includes oak saplings that survivors of slavery, living in a safe house in Southampton, planted in their allotment. The garden is intended to celebrate Parliament passing the Modern Slavery Act last year but also highlight the estimated 13,000 people working as slaves in the UK.

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