May 18, 2009 / 1:45 PM / 10 years ago

Crunch becomes munch at UK's Chelsea Flower Show

LONDON (Reuters) - A doorstep “money trap” catches visitors’ loose change, a toy speed boat evokes memories of more prosperous times, and home grown vegetables show how the credit crunch has become credit munch at Britain’s Chelsea Flower Show.

British television presenter James May poses in his "Paradise in Plasticine" garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in London May 17, 2009. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

A series of recession-inspired garden designs at the world’s most famous flower show on the banks of London’s river Thames includes an “off-shore garden” — featuring a moat with toy boats, and a “banker’s garden” — where the owner can spend any redundant time trying his luck rolling giant wooden dice.

They are meant as a light-hearted take on the global economic downturn, but they highlight an underlying trend.

As the “Credit Munch” garden designers say: “The current economic situation offers the perfect incentive to get into the garden or allotment and grow your own fruit and veg.”

While economic growth and consumer spending are on the slide, Britain’s 5 billion pound ($7.5 billion) gardening industry is bucking the trend, with more — and younger — people saying they want to spend time and money on gardening.

“People are cutting back on more expensive away-from-home leisure activities and material goods, and investing more in their homes and gardens,” said Gill Ormrod, of the Horticultural Trade Association, which published data on Monday showing garden center sales up 42 percent in April compared with a year ago.

And Chelsea — the launchpad of the British summer social season, where some 150,000 visitors sip champagne and rub shoulders with royals and celebrities — is using every trick it can to reach out to eager new gardeners:

A virtually naked model bathes luxuriously in a bed of rose petals offing “a dream-like escape from an unpredictable and difficult everyday world” and the “perfume garden” offers passers-by a scent of royal luxury dating back to the 16th century makers of Queen Elizabeth I’s perfumes.

Those who already know hard times — the homeless who live on Britain’s streets and criminals and ex-offenders from its jails — are using Chelsea to show how working with nature can blossom into a better future.

“The Key” garden — planted and designed by prisoners and homeless people — features a pathway littered with keys to symbolize opportunities to “open new doors.”

Ex-convict Dean Stalham, who wrote a poem displayed across wooden sculptures in the garden, said it showed how the Chelsea Flower Show — which shuts its gates for an exclusive afternoon viewing by Queen Elizabeth on Monday before opening to the public for four days from Tuesday — can overcome social divides.

“The beauty of this garden is its simplicity,” he told Reuters. It’s been created by a band of people who have stepped up into society from the underworld — there are no airs and graces here.”

Editing by Steve Addison

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