‘Extinction Garden’ teaches us about our impact on the planet


Felicity O’Rourke’s show garden uses a plane crash site to portray the climate catastrophe (Picture: Metro.co.uk/ Alamy)

It was a shocking scene that visitors to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival were not expecting: a full-size passenger jet crashed into the ground with suitcases spilling from the smoking fuselage.

Instead of colourful blooms, the award-winning show garden was littered with odd shoes, children’s toys and random holiday items. There was no fence – just the billowing yellow tape of a police crime scene.

As she watched the reactions of the public, the garden’s creator, Felicity O’Rourke – a former airline pilot – could see her disturbingly powerful message was hitting home.

That the human race is hurtling at great speed towards its own destruction.

2G6DTN9 'Extinction' Global Impact Garden, Silver Medal, RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival 2021, Preview Day, 5 July 2021, London, England, UK

The garden sends a powerful message about the impact humans have had on the planet (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)

‘The aircraft is one of mankind’s most notable achievements, while also contributing to climate change and now ironically to the rapid spread of Covid-19,’ says Felicity, who won an RHS silver medal for her Extinction Garden.

‘It addresses the sixth mass extinction threat to our planet, caused by our continual exploitation and destruction of its natural resources and ancient ecosystems.

‘Climate change is not just about the extinction of the orangutans in the Asian rainforests and polar bears on the melting ice caps. As the recent extreme and unpredictable weather events around the globe are demonstrating, the survival of our own species is now at risk, too.‘

Former pilot Felicity used the crashed aeroplane to portray the threat climate change is posing to humanity (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)

How to portray that in a garden was Felicity’s biggest challenge. ‘As a former commercial airline pilot, I wanted to shock people to take notice. To see a crashed airplane instils a deep, visceral sense of loss. Without grief there can be no compassion – and without compassion there can be no motivation for change.’

Through the door of the wreckage is a forest of ancient plants, which existed long before humankind set foot on this planet and, says Felicity, will survive long after our own extinction.

‘We might be the dominant species on the earth but we are not superior. Recently we have become so detached from nature, we forget that we are nature. Now we must work with nature to protect our future.’

The disturbing installation features scattered clothes and children’s toys (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)

However, mum-of-three Felicity believes it’s not too late. ‘The agricultural, industrial and technology revolutions have brought huge achievements for humankind – but they have also impacted the planet adversely. Now the scientific revolution is giving us the ability to monitor how these ‘achievements’ have tipped the global environmental scales and threaten our future.

‘The recent pandemic has highlighted our incredible capacity to change in the face of an imminent threat. We now need to tackle climate change with the same urgency.’

And we can all do our bit to help. ‘Our gardens are mini ecosystems – collectively, gardens in the UK amount to the size of the Lake District and Peak District combined – which emphasises the role we all have in contributing to a richer, greener and more diverse environment.’

Felicity’s tips for making your garden green

Go peat-free

Despite new legislation which will ban all peat-containing compost from 2024, compost containing peat is still widespread.

Peat bogs are vital for keeping carbon in the ground. I use Envar compost which is made from food and green waste derived from council waste collections.

Purge plastic

Look out for biodegradable pots, made from materials such as coir, wood chips, rice husks, miscanthus or seaweed as brown plastic planting pots are not recyclable.

However, independent UK garden centre chain Dobbies has plastic plant pot and tray return points. B&Q stores collect plant pots and trays for community-based project re-use schemes.

Biodegradable pots cut down on waste (Picture: Getty Images)

And Axion Recycling is piloting a pilot ‘bring back’ scheme in the north-west of England to collect pots and trays from nurseries and growers to shred and recycle them into plastic sheeting used in the horticulture industry and new pots. Always reuse the plastic you have rather than sending it to landfill.

Repurpose compost bags as rubbish bags, reuse plastic labels and store plastic pots and cloches out of direct sunlight to prolong their lifespans. Yoghurt pots make great seed pots.

Natural pest control

Nematodes are round worms which you water into the soil to combat slugs
and snails.

Pyrethrum (derived from the flowers of Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium) controls whitefly, small caterpillars, aphids, thrips, leafhoppers, capsids, ants and some beetles, if present on the plant at the time of application.

Hawthorn trees are a favourite with pest-killing birds (Picture: Getty Images)

Entice birds into your garden with plants such as Ivy and hawthorn trees that provide food and shelter, and they will soon earn their keep by feeding on your pests.

Use elbow grease

Weeds should be pulled by hand instead of using toxic chemicals. They can also be can be kept under control with ground cover plants such as Ajuga reptans for shade and under shrubs and trees.

For sunnier spots and paths, try Erigeron karvinskianus.

Involve the kids

It’s so important for children to realise the power of nature and how we are connected to it for our survival.

A fun way is to learn how our food is grown. Tomatoes and runner beans are great for beginners. Biodegradable egg cartons or old loo roll tubes are great for seedlings as the cardboard can be planted directly into the soil.

Or sow seeds into an old piece of guttering containing compost so that you can slide them off and plant them directly into the soil once they are robust enough
for planting.

Compost

Ideally we should all compost our garden waste – so if you are lucky enough to have the space, I strongly recommend having your own compost heap.

If you are a city dweller, subscribe to your local council’s green waste collection service.

Clever planting could make your garden a hedgehog highway (Picture: Getty Images/500px)

Planting corridors

Plant up bare ground to open areas to connect all parts of your garden. Create holes in your fences to allow hedgehogs to travel between gardens.

Make a water feature

If space permits, build a pond. If not, use washing up tubs/old sinks or dustbin lids as ponds/water features – sink it into the earth so small animals can get to and from the water and create a shelf within it so that any animals that fall in will have an escape path.

Help pollinators

Ivy is a great source of nectar for solitary bumble bees, moths and hoverflies in the winter. A small patch of stinging nettles behind a garden shed can provide a
suitable place for a range of butterflies to lay eggs.

Bug hotels create important shelters for all kinds of wildlife (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Create Insect Hotels

Place logs under bushes and around garden edges to provide perfect areas of refuge for a host of wildlife, and allow ivy to grow on top for protection.

For more inspiration visit Felicity’s website and Instagram @felicityorourke76

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Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.


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