The Sadler’s Wells East Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show
May 1, 2023
East London-based planting designer Alexa Ryan-Mills has created a garden for this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show inspired by Sadler’s Wells East, Sadler’s Wells’ fourth venue due to open at Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2024.
The Sadler’s Wells East Garden features in the All About Plants category at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which runs from 23 – 27 May 2023.
Sadler’s Wells East includes a 550-seat theatre and will be home to Sadler’s Wells’ Hip Hop Theatre Academy and Choreographic School. It will have a large open foyer featuring a community performance space. The venue is part of the East Bank development alongside the V&A, BBC, UAL’s London College of Fashion and UCL.
The Sadler’s Wells East Garden celebrates the next generation of dancers and appreciators of dance in this corner of the capital. The garden is inspired by dance and east London. Its planting echoes the layers, patterns and shapes of dance and consists of characterful trees and shrubs, which cut beautiful figures among colourful perennials and annuals. The trees Alexa Ryan-Mills has chosen for the garden are Chionanthus retusus (Chinese fringe tree), Styrax obassia (Fragrant snowbell) and Acer monspessulanum (Montpellier maple).
A mural by Bro Ben features hip hop dancers and Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Jonzi D, Artistic Director of Breakin’ Convention and a foremost advocate of UK hip hop. Jonzi D will lead the Hip Hop Theatre Academy at Sadler’s Wells East.
The manufacturing heritage of east London inspires the garden’s design and materials: reclaimed or sustainably sourced brick, timber and metal. A bent steel sculpture wends around the garden, framing different views of the planting as visitors walk, sit and even dance around the space. Its profile hints at the saw-tooth rooflines of local warehouses and factories of the industrial revolution – and of the new Sadler’s Wells East building, designed by O’Donnell + Tuomey.
The garden is funded by Project Giving Back, a unique grant-making charity that provides funding for gardens for good causes at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. It was launched in May 2021 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating effect on UK charitable fundraising.
I’ve lived in east London for 10 years, so I’m really excited about bringing a piece of Sadler’s Wells East to Chelsea in May. The plants are very much the stars of the show here. They echo dance – particularly hip hop – through their diverse shapes and form and how they scramble, ripple and seed about. The vision for the space is one of colour, texture and energy.
We’ve included some lesser-known plants – including some beautiful trees – that I’m sure will start up conversations at the garden, where visitors can learn about and support Sadler’s Wells East. I’m really looking forward to making the design a reality and highlighting how Sadler’s Wells is growing dance in east London and further afield
Alexa Ryan-Mills, designer of The Sadler’s Wells East Garden
It is thrilling that our new venue has inspired a garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2023. The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is a great platform to raise awareness of Sadler’s Wells East and the opportunities it presents, both for people in east London and the UK’s dance ecology, supporting artists and growing the next generation of talent. The garden is stunning, and I am very grateful to Project Giving Back for sponsoring this opportunity.
Sir Alistair Spalding CBE, Sadler’s Wells’ Artistic Director and Chief Executive
After the show, School 21 in Stratford will receive plants and materials from the garden for their own outside space. As a Sadler’s Wells Associate School, School 21 works closely with Sadler’s Wells to help embed arts-inspired activities into the school day. Together, they create more opportunities for students to watch, explore and learn through dance, drawing on Sadler’s Wells’ diverse artistic programme.
RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs from 23 to 27 May 2023 at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.