If the Chelsea Flower Show is too posh for you, try the Chelsea Fringe

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Of particular interest is the Oranges and Lemons Garden in Shoreditch, created with help from The Independent on Sunday

Chelsea clashed with Bayern Munich in the Champions League last night, and tomorrow the Chelsea Flower Show will burst into life. But there is a third institution carrying the name of London's most upmarket district: the Chelsea Fringe, a three-week festival of nearly 80 gardening-themed events which began yesterday.

In its first year, the Chelsea Fringe features gardens, art installations and performances, which are mostly free and open to all ages.

The Independent on Sunday last week got its hands dirty by helping to create one of the centrepieces of the Fringe: the Oranges and Lemons Garden in Shoreditch, east London.

A young designer, Daniel Shea, has transformed the courtyard of St Leonard's Church – renowned for the Bells of Shoreditch in the nursery rhyme "Oranges and Lemons" – in the edgy east London quarter into an oasis of citrus fruit, bay and olive trees, where passers-by can sink into deckchairs and eat French-Vietnamese food. The church is also the setting for the BBC 2 comedy Rev.

Created with the support of volunteers from the New Hanbury Project, a rehabilitation centre in the grounds of St Leonard's, the local Women's Institute branch, Shoreditch Sisters, and Clifton Nurseries, the garden encapsulates the community-inspired spirit of the Fringe.

Mr Shea, 28, said: "Chelsea Flower Show is the greatest show on earth but it's quite expensive now. It's also quite inaccessible for a new designer like me who doesn't have the budget, portfolio or contacts to build a garden, hence the reason I immediately latched on to the Chelsea Fringe idea. It's a great platform for me to launch a career, and it goes to show what can be achieved.

"I've lived and worked in this area for the past five years, and it's a wonderful thriving hub of a community, very creative and diverse.

"Unfortunately, there is a lack of green space where people can relax and take time out of their hectic lives. Our cities need a balance of hard landscaping and successfully designed green spaces."

Matthew Wilson, presenter of Radio 4's Gardener's Question Time and Channel 4's The Landscape Man, as well as managing director of Clifton Nurseries, said he was delighted to provide the plants and trees for Mr Shea's garden.

Mr Wilson added: "I've been going to Chelsea Flower Show for 20 years, and I love it, but at the same time there is a need for something a bit edgier and different and more challenging.

"For younger designers like Dan, it is really difficult to get anything off the ground, and if you are going to back something, choose someone who is doing something different and needs some help.

"I like Chelsea, but for a lot of people it means exclusive, and not exclusive in a good way. It prevents people from feeling involved. People feel Chelsea is a bit too posh for them.

"It is not a place for children. One of the great things about the Fringe is that you can bring your kids."

The majority of the 77 gardens and events are taking place in London, but the festival director, Tim Richardson, hopes to broaden the festival for the second Fringe in 2013.

Read more about the Oranges and Lemons Garden and the broader festival at chelseafringe.com

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