From Chelsea to Glasgow, see the award-winning garden relocated to the Royal Hospital for Children

Susan Begg, left with Nicola SempleSusan Begg, left with Nicola Semple
Susan Begg, left with Nicola Semple
By relocating their Chelsea Flower Show garden to the Royal Hospital for Children Glasgow, Susan Begg and Nicola Semple have created a place for patients and families to enjoy, writes Helen Cross

It’s not every day a garden designed by an award-winning international garden design studio is relocated north of the border, with the goal of having

a long-lasting legacy beyond the short-lived bubble of the glitz and glamour, which surrounds the world’s most iconic gardening event, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Susan Begg and Nicola Semple, the designers behind Semple Begg have however delivered just that. With studios in Scotland and Switzerland Semple Begg, who are celebrating 10 years working together, designed the Teapot Trust Elsewhere Garden, which scooped a gold medal at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2023.

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The garden has now been relocated to the Royal Hospital for Children Glasgow and is a space where patients, their families and staff can escape to, away from the clinical settings of the hospital.

The Teapot Trust Elsewhere Garden at the Royal Hospital for Children GlasgowThe Teapot Trust Elsewhere Garden at the Royal Hospital for Children Glasgow
The Teapot Trust Elsewhere Garden at the Royal Hospital for Children Glasgow

The area of the hospital grounds was selected as it was as far away from the hospital as logistically possibly, while still being close to the playground and the already established trees, giving the garden an instant maturity.

Throughout there is discreet seating which has been positioned to draw people into the garden, providing a space to sit, reflect and provide inspiration for young patients and their families at RHCG, a national centre of excellence, supporting children from across Scotland. It has the highest visitor numbers of any hospital in Europe. The garden will also be a home for outdoor art therapy provided by Teapot Trust – a children’s health charity that has partnered with RHCG long-term, with plans for a purpose-built art therapy studio in the future.

Supported by Project Giving Back, the grant-making charity that funds gardens for good causes at RHS Chelsea, Semple Begg wanted the design of the garden to capture the imagining of a child’s mind set free from the burden of chronic illness, mirroring the freedom and escape that art therapy gifts young patients. Plant choices were inspired by children’s books and films, such as Wonka, Oz and Wonderland, where colour is vivid and shape and form are exaggerated, creating a fantasy theme.

Speaking to Susan and Nicola in the garden, you quickly realise they have created a sanctuary, a far cry from the intensity, stress and pain associated with what so often goes on within a hospital.

The Teapot Trust Elsewhere Garden at the Royal Hospital for Children Glasgow provides sanctuary for patients and their familiesThe Teapot Trust Elsewhere Garden at the Royal Hospital for Children Glasgow provides sanctuary for patients and their families
The Teapot Trust Elsewhere Garden at the Royal Hospital for Children Glasgow provides sanctuary for patients and their families

There is a gentle breeze as the sun shines on my visit and the sound of bees buzz as they weave through the blasts of colour dotted throughout the tranquil space on the edge of the hospital grounds. I can understand how worries and concerns could quickly disappear, having spent only a few moments in this new space. The mark of a good design.

Having been friends for almost 20 years, Susan and Nicola believe their close friendship is the cornerstone to their successful working relationship. They pour their heart and soul into designs, whether it’s for the recent Dior Cruise 2025 show at Drummond Castle in Perthshire, the RHS Community Garden they designed for the Friends of Barshaw Park in Paisley in 2022 or the private gardens they design from the east coast of Scotland to the hills of Switzerland.

Sitting in the Elsewhere Garden looking back and commenting on the relocation Nicola is excited: “To bring a Chelsea gold medal winning garden back to Glasgow is something we are immensely proud of. It’s a huge privilege to lead a public project which will have a long-lasting impact and a powerful legacy.”

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Susan continues: “Following focus groups with children and families, patient groups and medical staff, the garden was redesigned for a larger plot at the hospital. It includes year-round colour, wide wheelchair-friendly pathways, and peaceful seating offering respite from the clinical environment.

“Retaining the spirit of the original garden, Snorky and Grizzly – two trees with an unusual form that make them look like friendly monsters – stand as the guardians of this beautiful inclusive space, which we hope will grow into something very special over time.”

Nicola adds: “Over the last few years there has been a huge drive for designers and show organisers to consider how sustainable show gardens are, and to take into consideration what will happen to the garden when the curtain comes down and visitors go home. It has become increasingly important for designers to create a garden that will provide a legacy, providing people with access to green spaces who need it the most to help their mental and physical health and wellbeing and to educate and inspire.”

This significant step change means charities, schools and community groups benefit from spectacular show-stopping gardens, which previously they could only have dreamed of having access to. Semple Begg have played their part to ensure this has happened here in Scotland for the Teapot Trust and the RHCG.

The Teapot Trust Elsewhere Garden alone has been a work in progress since 2021 for Semple Begg, while also juggling other projects for clients including one recent prestigious piece of work, the planting design and courtyard dressing for the historical Dior Cruise 2025 Show at Drummond Castle in the heart of Perthshire. Another once in a lifetime opportunity which allowed them to showcase their design work to a global audience.

Semple Begg were contacted by Dior on the strength of their previous work. As one of the few women at the top of the fashion world, whenever possible, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior’s creative director, aims to give a creative platform to local, female talent.The Dior project involved the temporary planting of nearly 10,000 plants within the listed gardens and grounds with the design pitched to echo the drama and cultural significance of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s collection.

Susan reflected, “Working for Dior, being part of the multi-talented team of artisans and creatives that helped Maria Grazia bring her creative to vision to Drummond Castle was incredible.“She’s a legend and it’s the first Dior show in Scotland since 1955. People all around the world are watching, so you bring everything you’ve got. You live and breathe the project, every plant, every detail. It’s a hard one to come from down, I think we’re both still dreaming about it.”

Reflecting on the success of the last 10 years, Nicola says, “It’s very rare to find someone who shares the same sensibility and creative values, someone whose judgement you trust implicitly.“We are like quiet subconscious voices in the back of each other’s head guiding and encouraging each other to do better work, be adventurous, take calculated risks and keep trying new things.”

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Susan adds: “Having a studio in two countries gives us breadth of practical experience, geography and perspective that we feed into all our clients projects. It has opened our eyes to different approaches to managing the unpredictability of climate change, expanded our plant knowledge and ways of using materials in gardens.“We thrive working with multi-skilled teams on creatively challenging projects. Ultimately our aim is to make a difference to people’s quality of life, whether is in the private, public or commercial realm, in a way, which is kind to the environment and wildlife.”

I can’t not ask if they would consider doing another Chelsea Flower Show. There is a brief pause and a smile from both. Nicola adds: “Absolutely, in a flash. It is a huge honour to design a garden for Chelsea especially if it allows us to create a garden that will have a positive impact on others, like here at the RHCH.”

semplebegg.com

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