Charleston Festival of the Garden, 1 – 4 July 2021

Charleston’s beautiful walled garden was a canvas, a studio, a prop store, a stage, a sanctuary, and once again this summer, it will be a place to learn and be inspired.  Festival of the Garden returns for its third edition, bringing with it a packed programme of talks, performances and tours by pioneering gardeners, designers, […]

Charleston’s beautiful walled garden was a canvas, a studio, a prop store, a stage, a sanctuary, and once again this summer, it will be a place to learn and be inspired.  Festival of the Garden returns for its third edition, bringing with it a packed programme of talks, performances and tours by pioneering gardeners, designers, writers, artists, horticulturalists and activists.

Following the success of previous events that this year will see the Festival of the Garden expanded from two days to four for the very first time.

Join legend and organic gardening pioneer Charles Dowding on Thursday 1 July to hear about his timesaving and ecologically sensitive practice of ‘no-dig’ gardening. The ‘no-dig’ guru gives his insight into the unconventional practice of leaving the soil undisturbed, rather than turning it each spring, and demonstrates how it can creative a productive garden in tune with the environment, whilst also saving you a job!

Bringing two of Britain’s most iconic gardens together, Charleston is delighted to present on Friday 2 July, The Dry Garden: Prospect Cottage and the Gravel Garden with Jonny Bruce and Åsa Gregers-Warg, head gardeners at Prospect Cottage and Beth Chatto’s Garden respectively.

In a letter to the celebrated film-maker Derek Jarman, who famously created a garden amongst the shingle surrounding his home in Dungeness, award-winning plants woman Beth Chatto wrote that her own, world-famous gravel garden ‘was inspired in no small way’ by the beach garden at Prospect Cottage. With both gardeners conjuring beauty out of seemingly impossible hostile environments – and as global temperatures rise – Jonny and Åsa discuss what we can learn from these two pioneering figures.

Leading garden and landscape designers Dan Pearson and Nigel Dunnett will be involved in a number of discussions over the long weekend, including in a talk about the importance and power of being close to nature. In Nature Healing on Friday 2 July, Dan and Nigel explore how naturalistic planting schemes which prioritise wildlife, and projects that aim to delight and educate, can help us all to feel more connected to the soil, our environment and each other.

In the evening, folk music fans are in for a real treat as musician, writer and activist Sam Lee reads from his debut novel, The Nightingale, which tells the epic tale of this highly endangered bird and its place in culture folklore, folksong, music and literature throughout the millennia. A highly inventive and original singer, folk song interpreter, passionate conservationist and song collector Sam and his full band will also be performing his latest, critically-acclaimed album, Old Wow.

Amongst the diverse treats in store on Saturday 3 July, will be a Windswept Guided Tour with Annabel Abbs, the chance to be in the audience during the recording of Sarah Raven and Arthur Parkinson’s latest Grow, Cook, Eat, Arrange podcast, and the opportunity to hear from best-selling nature writer Helen Macdonald and debut novelist Charlie Gilmour.

Slip into your wellies and join award-winning writer and broadcaster Annabel Abbs, as she leads you on a gentle loop around the nearby Downs and local area, while inviting you to reflect on the power of walking in nature. Annabel will be pausing to give readings from the work of great feminist walkers which have inspired her new book, Windswept. They include Gwen John, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frieda Lawrence, Clara Vyvyan, Simone de Beauvoir and Nan Shepherd – all extraordinary women who lost their way, before finding it again, through walking in the wild.

Meanwhile in Charleston’s new open-air stage, The Yard, Sarah and Arthur will be sharing their passion for flowers and dispensing expert tips on how to fill your own garden with an explosion of year-round colour.

Two of the greatest nature books of the past year have been about birds. In Taking Flight Charlie Gilmour, author of Featherhood, speaks to Helen Macdonald (H is for Hawk and Vesper Flights) about their relationships with birds, disappearances – in nature, and in our personal lives -, and what animals can teach us about the natural world, and about ourselves.

A further exploration of the relationship between art, gardening and the personal is considered with Queer Nature: Derek Jarman & Prospect Cottage hosted by author Philip Hoare with Prospect Cottage’s head gardener Jonny Bruce.

While the word ‘radical’ may be frequently overused, it is not in the case of the late, great Jarman. Here, Laing and Hoare, discuss queer readings of nature and naturalness, bodies and illness, unlikely refuges, activism, outsider art, improvisation and the commodification of nature. They will also be joined by Jonny Bruce who today cares for the world-famous Dungeness garden that Derek created. Together, they’ll consider the queer politics of Jarman’s remarkable garden within the shadow of a vast nuclear power station.

Asking ‘What role does nature play in art?’ and ‘What happens when artists make gardens?’, is Turner Prize-nominee Anthea Hamilton. Anthea will be talking about these themes with Linsey Young, Curator of Contemporary British Art at the Tate, on Sunday 4 July, while sharing insights into her creative practice and research; whether into art nouveau design, the roots of 1970’s disco or lichen.

Anthea’s work is always site-specific: informed by the physical, cultural and political landscapes around it. The environments she creates are live and conversational, tracing changeable meanings and alternative knowledge. She is currently creating an artist’s garden for the gallery, Studio Voltaire.

On Sunday 4 July, gardener and activist Sui Searle is joined by Claire Ratinon for an important discussion tracing the hidden legacy of colonialism and racism in the world of horticulture. Together they unearth and talk about their activism and why they are leading the call for a fair, transparent and inclusive future within gardening and horticulture for the benefit of all.  Sui Searle is the founder of the #decolinisethegarden initiative, and has worked with institutions such as Kew and the RHS to engage with the legacy of colonialism and racism in gardening.

The Festival rounds out with Why Rebel? a discussion with three leading climate activists, Jay Griffiths, Fehinti Balogan and Kay Michael. Drawing on Jay Griffith’s new book of the same name, they look at how the climate emergency has impacted them, the beauty of the natural world, and what we can all do to force a change before it’s too late.  The discussion is followed by select readings of Letters to the Earth which were co-edited by Kay Michael who is also the founder of the Culture Declares Emergency movement.

Melissa Perkins, Head of Programme and Events at Charleston says:

“Bloomsbury was as much about ideas as art, and this festival embodies that same spirit. After everything that has happened this last year, it has never felt more relevant to have a festival that looks at how we shape – and are shaped – by the natural world. There has never been a better time to be having these conversations and taking inspiration from the most exciting figures in the world of horticulture.”

Tickets go on sale from 20 May. For a full list of all the events and performers, plus breaking updates, along with ticket availability and prices, visit and follow @CharlestonTrust on Twitter, @charlestontrust on Instagram, like the Charleston Facebook page & subscribe to the Charleston Trust YouTube channel.



Charleston is a place that brings people together to engage with art and ideas.

The modernist home and studio of the painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, Charleston was a gathering point for some of the 20th century’s most radical artists, writers and thinkers known collectively as the Bloomsbury group. It is where they came together to imagine society differently, and has always been a place where art and experimental thinking are at the centre of everyday life.

Today, we present a dynamic year-round programme of exhibitions, events and festivals. We believe in the power of art, in all its forms, to provoke new ways of thinking and living.



Tracy Jones, Brera PR – / 01702 216658 / 07887 514984 /