Chelsea Flower Show Garden takes root at University of Bristol Botanic Garden

Guangzhou Garden Bristol – Grant Associates

A Gold medal winning RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden, designed by two landscape architects from Grant Associates, has been rebuilt at the University of Bristol’s Botanic Garden after being gifted to Bristol by the city of Guangzhou.

Bristol has been twinned with Guangzhou since 2001. The Guangzhou China: Guangzhou Garden was formally opened by the University’s Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Evelyn Welch on 1 May 2024. 

The garden’s designers, Director Peter Chmiel and Associate Director Chin Jong Chen from Grant Associates gave a short talk about the garden at the unveiling, while the Bristol Chinese Students’ and Scholars’ Association also joined the opening, alongside the University’s Botanic Garden Curator, Nicholas Wray, who explained about the use of the new planting and how the garden has been adapted to its new Bristol home.

(L to R) Nicholas Wray, Curator of University of Bristol Botanic Garden, with Peter Chmiel and Chin Chen of Grant Associates

The original, highly-ambitious Guangzhou Garden design took inspiration from the city of Guangzhou by showcasing numerous planting species and aquatic designs that were perfect for the first autumnal show in Chelsea’s 108-year history. Including one of the largest volumes of water ever to feature in a Chelsea show garden, the Chinese-inspired garden paid homage to Guangzhou’s philosophy which gives equal consideration to the needs of people and wildlife through sustainable city planning strategies, reconnecting people and nature in a mutually beneficial relationship.

“We are thrilled that our 2021 RHS Chelsea Gold Medal and Best In Show garden has been reimagined and given a new home at the University of Bristol Botanical Garden. It is fantastic that the core concepts and sustainability values of the design have been maintained but reimagined by the use of a planting mix that is purely native to China. We are also delighted to see that all the laminated bamboo structures, lovingly crafted by Xylotek, have been thoughtfully integrated and carefully treated to maximise their lifespan. We hope the Guangzhou Garden will become a loved and cherished addition to the fabulous existing gardens and plant collections at the University of Bristol.”

Peter Chmiel and Chin Chen from Grant Associates

The garden highlights the benefits of responsible city planning, and the sustainable use of natural resources, particularly water, and how planners must work in harmony with nature to better connect people with the natural world. With a focus on climate change, it’s an eco-garden with an aim to make a difference. Inspired by the holistic landscape stewardship programme of environmental planners in Guangzhou, the garden features a pool of water, trees, shrubs, shelters, green foliage, and moisture loving perennials including plants in the ginger family.

Staff at the Botanic Garden have been propagating plants from the garden’s extensive Chinese plant collections and networking with other botanical collections and specialists’ nurseries to create a planting design that reflects the appearance of the luxuriance of the sub-tropical flora of Guangzhou. This will include the largest evergreen hardy plant that can be cultivated outside in the UK, Delavay’s Magnolia, Magnolia delavayi, as well as other trees that will form a canopy and provide shade, including the Handkerchief or Dove tree Davidia involucrata, listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (ICUN) as a ‘red data’ species. 

The Guangzhou Garden also contains a fossil tree, the Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboidesan unusual conifer that is deciduous with soft feathery green foliage that turns bronze in autumn.  The tree is planted as a street tree in Bristol and can be seen in the central reservation on the A4018, heading North to Old Crow roundabout in Westbury-on-Trym, and large specimens can be seen as street trees on Lower Ashley Road. This tree is associated with water, but can survive in dry soils too.

The relationship between Bristol and Guangzhou was cemented in 2001 when a sister city agreement was signed, and then further strengthened in 2013 through the signing of a new Bilateral Agreement between the two city governments.  Both agreements were facilitated by the Bristol & West of England China Bureau.  Throughout this time cultural exchanges, gifts, and ceremonies have strengthened the bond, and, in 2021, the city of Guangzhou gifted to the citizens of Bristol their multi award-winning RHS Chelsea Flower Show Garden.

About Damian Holmes 3288 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at

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