I have been working on a Show Garden for the Chelsea Flower Show which is very personal to me and highlights an important and under-recognised national disaster.
My brother Simon, who had severe haemophilia, died over 25 years ago aged just 38 after contracting AIDS and hepatitis C from his treatment. He was one of almost 5,000 men, women and children with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders in the UK who were infected with deadly viruses in the 1970s and 80s. More than 3,000 people have died – as many as at 9/11 – and yet few people have heard of this tragedy which is widely acknowledged to be the worst treatment disaster in the history of the NHS. Today, the voices of those who have suffered are finally being heard thanks to the Infected Blood Inquiry which is investigating what happened and will publish its conclusions in 2023.
Unlike other disasters, we have no one defining image that enables the public to empathise with the scale of the tragedy; instead much of the suffering has been behind closed doors, in part due to the stigma that accompanied AIDS in the 1980s and 90s. Simon’s Garden will give us that image through creating a powerful visual representation of the tragedy that has devastated our community which will allow us to communicate to a wider audience the enormity of the impact it has had on so many.
The focus of the garden is the glass pavilion, representing the transparency of the Inquiry. It will be etched with the signatures of those lost and will form the basis of the permanent memorial following display at Chelsea. Simon died before the internet, before mobile phones. I have very few photos of him and so what is precious to me is the birthday cards I have kept that he signed.
Three states of water – agitated, dark and bottomless, and healing tears – will represent the emotions we have all felt, while the planting will include small white and pale yellow flowers, representing the ‘lights’ that will be put out, in amongst an increasing number of black leaves and flowers as you progress through the garden.
My brother was a much loved local radio presenter on County Sound Radio in Surrey and Hampshire; many people still remember him though none would have known at the time how or why he died.
I am working with The Haemophilia Society to realise the garden; we are currently seeking funding to allow this important garden to be made.