Award-winning Chelsea garden rebuilt at equine sanctuary

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"Donkeys Matter" has won the People's Choice Award at the Chelsea Flower Show.
“Donkeys Matter” won the People’s Choice Award and a silver medal in the judges’ awards at the Chelsea Flower Show.
© The Donkey Sanctuary

The award-winning garden created for an international equine welfare charity has “come home” to The Donkey Sanctuary and is free to visitors.

The ‘Donkeys Matter’ Artisan Garden scooped the coveted ‘People’s Choice Award’ and a silver medal in the judges’ awards at the prestigious RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London in May. The garden, which has been skilfully reconstructed at the Sidmouth sanctuary, was designed to showcase the charity’s international work and celebrate 50 years of transforming the lives of donkeys and mules.

Using water as its central theme, the artisan garden encapsulates the interdependency between people and their working donkeys. It demonstrates how owning a donkey means access to clean, fresh water for some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the world.

The Donkey Sanctuary’s presence at the world-renowned show introduced the work of the charity to a whole new audience. Returning the garden to the charity’s international headquarters in Sidmouth, which in 2018 attracted 350,000 visitors, will help to deliver the organisation’s wider message to even more visitors, and bring joy to thousands more people.

Harley and Skooby in the ‘Why Donkeys Matter’ garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, with Mark Kerr, Donkey Welfare Adviser, and Tom Davies, Guardian owner.
Harley and Skooby in the ‘Why Donkeys Matter’ garden at the Chelsea Flower Show, with Mark Kerr, Donkey Welfare Adviser, and Tom Davies, Guardian owner. © The Donkey Sanctuary

A key garden design feature is a path traversing from bottom left to top right representing the many journeys donkeys carry out on behalf of communities to support their livelihoods. The garden also includes a shelter and a well with a dripping bucket.

In places such as Namibia, Lamu, Somaliland and Ethiopia, donkeys are used to collect water for entire communities. A donkey will often collect 40 to 60 litres of water at one time. The simple act of a donkey carrying water reduces the time required to access it, freeing children to get an education and women to be economically active.

The planting of the ‘Donkeys Matter’ garden suggests the dry Mediterranean climate, including Mediterranean Sea Holly (Eryngium bourgatii), Iris ‘Langport Wren’ and Lavender ‘Hidcote’ (Lavandula angustifolia). The colour palette is claret, purple and silver, with bright, vibrant flowers bringing beauty and colour to the garden’s harsh surroundings. The trees in the space are Pine ‘Glauca’ (Pinus parviflora) and Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens).

It was created by North Devon designers Annie Prebensen and Christina Williams, and made possible by a generous supporter of The Donkey Sanctuary, whose wish was that the charity should have a garden at the prestigious show that would help raise its profile and take its message to a wider diverse audience in its 50th anniversary year.

Joanna Lumley with Harley at The Donkey Sanctuary's ‘Donkeys Matter’ garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London.
Joanna Lumley with Harley at The Donkey Sanctuary’s ‘Donkeys Matter’ garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London. © RHS / Luke MacGregor

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