Pocket paradises: Amateurs are creating astounding gardens on tiny budgets in Britain

Julie Henry and Debbie Bragg's images capture the best of the blooms
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It's taken hours of work, carefully planting the right flowers, getting a perfectly balanced array of colours and making sure there's a sense of harmony. Mrs Deadman's garden might not be in the spotlight at RHS Chelsea Flower Show next week, examined and judged by the horticultural experts and the paying public, but it certainly has its admirers. "I had two very nice letters from people to say how nice the garden is," she explains proudly of her beautifully planted front garden, the centrepiece of which is an ornamental wheelbarrow overflowing with blooms. And now it's set to get a bigger audience than just the inhabitants of Thundersley, Essex, as it will feature in a new outdoor exhibition, Blooming Britain: Gardening in the Margins, which will tour four RHS gardens in Surrey, Essex, Devon and Harrogate this summer.

The photographs in the exhibition showcase the work of amateur gardeners in Britain's post-industrial regions and are the brainchild of Henry/Bragg, aka the artist Julie Henry and the photographer Debbie Bragg. The pair found their subjects through gardening competitions, including RHS Britain in Bloom and RHS It's Your Neighbourhood.

"Give people any kind of public space, an alleyway, a balcony, the ground beneath a tower block, and they'll create a garden," says Henry. "Our work focuses on people who do small, unseen things that are quite extraordinary but that many people miss."

Henry and Bragg visited Manchester, East Ayrshire, Fareham, Castle Point and Tower Hamlets in London and found talented individuals as well as committed community gardeners whose flower beds were oases in often deprived areas.

One of Henry's favourites was located at the foot of a block of high-rise flats in Manchester. "I hadn't imagined that you'd have community spirit in a tower block, but these people had turned their broom cupboard into a social club where they sold bacon butties to raise money to buy flowers and garden equipment," she says.

Another of her top plots is that belonging to Donna Rayment, who made up for a small budget – just £20 – with creativity. Her front garden is a riot of driftwood, ornaments and vegetables. But what about Henry? After months immersing herself in gardens that are true labours of love, has she been inspired? "I'm rubbish – I've got one tatty hanging basket, I feel really ashamed."

Blooming Britain: Gardening in the Margins opens on 6 June at the RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey. For dates and locations, visit www.rhs.org.uk/britaininbloom or www.henrybragg.com

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