The Flood Resilient Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show 2024

Guest blog by Dr Ed Barsley and Naomi Slade

Photo by Dr Ed Barsley and Naomi Slade

What is the Flood Resilient Garden?

Designed by Dr Ed Barsley and Naomi Slade and sponsored by Flood Re, The Flood Resilient Garden combines beauty with purpose through its intentional design. Showcasing at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show in the Sanctuary Gardens, the garden adapts to the challenges of heavy rainfall including surface water flooding. Methods used in this garden can be applied in your own outdoor space and provide an essential way of helping mitigate the impact of flooding.

The Flood Resilient Garden is a real-life example of how we can adapt our spaces to improve flood resilience. With over 5 million homes at risk of flooding in the UK, it is a very real issue! This is likely to increase with climate change and more extreme weather events. By slowing the flow of water collectively, we can help reduce the impact of heavy rainfall for individuals and communities.

Our Rainwater were thrilled to collaborate on this project, alongside several other organisations that have made this possible. Our team provided technical expertise assisting in the creation process to help simulate a real garden experience in relation to rainwater capture and tank release. 

How does the Flood Resilient Garden work?

There are lots of interconnected and stand-alone design features that help slow the flow of rainwater and even store some of it. Many of these can be implemented in your own outdoor spaces, depending on size and budget. Here are just a few: 

Dense planting & choosing appropriate plants 

These plants slow the flow of water whilst capturing it for use later on. Plants have been placed in the garden thoughtfully, ensuring they will thrive in their chosen environment. This is achieved by picking those that are able to cope with various soil conditions as the UK experiences heavy rainfall alongside drought periods. More on the plant species further down!

The swale & water tanks

The swale channels rainwater down the garden into the pond and large tanks, slowing the flow of water. The tanks are not only ornamental but serve the purpose of capturing excess water that can be discharged prior to more rain.

Slopes for drainage

Highlighted by the fruit tree, slopes can be used for drainage to direct water into areas of plants that are well adapted to to varying water conditions.

Water butts & gutters 

Harvesting rainwater reduces the amount of water rushing into your outdoor spaces helping to alleviate the impact of heavy rainfall. Extra wide guttering can be used to enable it to cope with higher volumes of water without overflowing.

You can find the full list of features on Flood Re’s website, with their interactive garden – 

What species of plants can be found in the garden?

The Flood Resilient Garden is packed full of plant species that are not only functional but full of lush greens and pops of colour. Every plant in the garden has been thought out with function in mind, ensuring it will thrive! Here are just a few:

Quince Tree

The quince trees large canopy slows the flow of water through its large canopy. This has been positioned on a mound as fruit trees dislike boggy ground. Water runs off the mound, providing well-drained soil for the fruit tree to flourish in. It’s strong, deep roots provide good anchorage whilst tolerating both temporary wet and drought conditions. 


Ferns are versatile, perfect for damp and shady areas as well as those fairly well drained. 

Pollarded Willow 

Ideal at lower levels of a garden, these resilient plants work well in areas that may be more moist. Not only are they versatile, they’re also attractive! 

Slowing the Flow

At Our Rainwater, we’re all about slowing the flow and creating a more sustainable future for our water resources. The Flood Resilient Garden does a fantastic job of this, particularly with rainwater harvesting in mind – something that we can all take part in providing there is space! Here are just a few benefits of capturing the rain:

Slowing the flow & protecting a natural resource 

Capturing rainwater helps reduce the volume of water entering our drainage systems and outdoor spaces, helping to reduce the impact of surface water flooding and sewage spills into our waterways. Harvesting this precious resource means we can also use captured rain instead of mains supplies, helping conserve water sources and save energy. 

Plants love rainwater! 

Rainwater is much better for plants in comparison to tap water. Rainwater is soft, slightly acidic and does not have chemicals from treatment. It is also a fantastic source of nitrogen compounds, perfect for plant growth.

Save money

If you are on a water meter, capturing rainwater for use in your outdoor spaces may save you money on your monthly bill. Overtime, this will add up to hundreds of litres of water that would otherwise be coming from your chargeable water supply. Rainwater can be used to water your gardens, plants and even for cleaning outdoor areas of your car. 

Limiting stormwater runoff

When storm water isn’t absorbed into the ground, it stays on the surface, sweeping metals, pesticides, and fertilisers into water catchment areas. This has negative impacts including harmful algae blooms, toxins in our waterways and sea life as well as illnesses in humans and livestock.

What’s next for the Flood Resilient Garden?

From Spring 2025, the Flood Resilient Garden will be open to the public at Howbery Park in Oxfordshire. This will enable many to enjoy the garden and be inspired by all of its features.