Emily Barnes is the People's Choice at RHS Chatsworth.



Words: Nicola Chapman

Images: Helen Rowan Photography


Emily Barnes is a mum of two from Chesterfield, and designer of the award-winning garden, ‘Elements of Sheffield’, that was recently on show at the 2019 RHS Chatsworth Flower Show.


Meeting Emily, you can’t help thinking that she has it all - she’s intelligent, obviously very talented, has two lovely children, a supportive husband and is doing her dream job. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing; it’s grit, determination, persistence and hard work that have helped Emily to achieve her dream.


We became aware of Emily’s amazing story through Facebook. Helen Rowan, whose photos regularly feature in S40 Local, had been invited by Emily to go up to the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show and take photos of her show garden. We contacted Helen, who put us in touch with Emily, and went to find out more about her exciting and inspiring achievement.

Just a year ago, Emily, who went to St Mary’s School and studied graphic design at Chesterfield College, visited the 2018 Chatsworth Flower Show, and was planning on her return to Nottingham Trent University to restart a course in Horticulture - having left her course at university eight years earlier after becoming pregnant and suffering an illness.

The opportunity to build her show garden at the RHS Chatsworth Flower Show was the result of winning BBC Radio Sheffield’s competition for amateur gardeners and designers to ‘represent the heritage of the local area’ with a garden design. The prize was sponsorship to build her garden, ‘Elements of Sheffield’, with the support of award-winning designer, Lee Bestall, from Bestall & Co with offices based at Renishaw Hall.



“It’s been an amazing year”, admitted Emily “a complete whirlwind. I returned to University in October 2018 as a mature student, having spent the previous eight years bringing up my young family.


“In mid-January, my mum made me aware of a competition for amateur gardeners on BBC Radio Sheffield, it was two weeks before the closing date and I worked day and night to complete and submit my design to ‘Represent the heritage of the local area’”.


Emily learned she had won the competition live on air, on the BBC Radio Sheffield breakfast show. “It was completely surreal! I was invited on to the show to talk about my design, as one of the shortlisted entrants, but I seemed to be the only person there, and they announced live that I was the winner!”


Emily explained, “I designed an urban domestic garden, to meet the brief I wanted to represent the importance and proximity of Sheffield to the Peak District. I did this in a number of ways… the historical context emphasised the importance of the Peak District to steel-making based in the city, the whole industry was facilitated by availability of iron ore, gritstone and water from Sheffield’s five rivers… I wanted to demonstrate this history alongside the present-day context and the importance of the Peak District to the people of Sheffield for leisure and relaxation (a parallel I draw to a well-designed garden).

“I wanted the garden design to reflect this relationship, and I depicted the urban landscape towards the front with a sculpture to depict the steel… moving towards a more naturalist garden at the rear to represent the Peak District. The steel frame was a large structure to incorporate into the 6x4m available space, but drew on a clever design trick, of using large pieces to give the impression of having more space.


“The front of the garden was sunk into a basin, as Sheffield city centre is in relation to the Peak District, another design trick for small gardens to give the impression of space.

“I used vibrant colours in the planting to symbolise the people, cultures and diverse communities of Sheffield.


“It was important that the garden encouraged wildlife, and I was thrilled that during the show the air was filled with the gentle buzzing of the bees, which also visited and enjoyed the creation!


“One of my design highlights was my moss water wall, inspired by something I’d noticed in nature whilst walking on the Monsal Trail, a piece of rock covered in moss with water pouring behind. I loved the sound and the textures. I recreated this in my garden, and it became a great talking point, particularly with other designers, who had never seen this done.

“The BBC sponsorship didn’t cover everything for the garden, so I had to source other forms of sponsorship, and have been overwhelmed at the response and support I’ve received.

“Local Artist Jason Heppenstall, the sculptor behind the ill-fated lion sculpture recently stolen from outside the Peacock pub in Barlow (now replaced by a dragon), produced the upcycled cutlery sculpture, inspired by the sculpture in the Millennium Galleries, Sheffield, and the water feature balls in the Winter Gardens.

“NEST.co.uk loaned me the steel feature chairs.

“Polypipe, a Doncaster based company, provided the sustainable drainage solution. A new product developed to improve water flow through hard surfacing and paving – it’s porous paving with a water system below to enable water to soak away and prevent flooding. They also have a product where soak-away water is stored below the surface in a tank for use on garden watering.

“Bradstone supplied the paving.

“The whole Chatsworth experience has been amazing, I’ve met my gardening heroes, appeared on Gardener’s World twice, alongside those gardening heroes, and had my garden featured on the TV show about RHS Chatsworth. It has been incredibly exciting and special… an amazing opportunity. The people I have met and the things I have learned have given me confidence and credibility, and that’s invaluable as I complete my studies and move forward with my career."


Emily’s Top Tips

1. Don’t be afraid of trees / structure even in a small garden, height is essential and is great for wildlife and to provide seasonal interest. A great tree for a small garden would be an ornamental crab apple.

2. Right plant, right place is essential. If you get that right, you can’t go wrong. The RHS website is a great resource to check the conditions needed for your plants.

3. If you’re designing a garden always focus on a winter structure and winter interest first. This means you always have something to look at; think evergreens, coloured barks, coloured shoots.

4. If you have a small garden think very carefully about what you want from your garden - a place to sit, somewhere to grow veg, entertaining friends - and then focus on what you need it to do, be STRICT with yourself.

5. Be BOLD - large items in a small space - it sounds counter intuitive, but it makes the space feel bigger!

Emily’s Services

Personal shopping for plants - she’ll come to the garden centre with you to help you choose what you need.

Soft landscaping - just the planting scheme.

Full redesign services.

Our thanks for taking time out to chat and congratulations on the award-winning garden. Keep up to date with Emily’s designs and inspirations by following her on Instagram and if you’d like to take her up on her services drop her an email.


Insta: emilysgardendiary

E: emilybarnesgardendesign@gmail.com

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