Digital Capabilities: a social media garden at RHS Chelsea

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For a long time now I have wanted to do a technology-based show garden at Chelsea Flower Show – I guess it’s the Alan Titmarsh (sic) in me. So, when last year’s show bizarrely included an homage to the one piece of pointless technology that the entire world hates I resolved to finally do this properly. To make it happen, in the very beginning, I teamed up with colleague Prof Harriet Gross who is head of Psychology here at Lincoln but who also has a research interest in the psychological impact of gardens and gardening. Over many, many months – and many challenges – we grew the team to include award-winning design duo Tom and Paul Harfleet, a whole bunch of fantastic academic colleagues, technicians and students led by Richard Wright from the School of Architecture, Chris Waltham from the image engineering lab and our very own Duncan Rowland and Jamie Mahoney.

The garden – termed “Digital Capabilities” – has been built and is almost ready to be shipped to Chelsea later this week for the show in less than two weeks’ time. It’s a combination of physical installation, electronic actuation and familiar and unusual planting. The basic concept is that the garden responds to activity on Twitter to reveal (or hide) more (or less) of itself to the audience. The more social media activity the garden detects the more excited it becomes. The garden features twenty cut Perspex panels, mounted on a huge 8 metre wall, each driven by a linear actuator and individual micro-controllers but all orchestrated by a single Raspberry Pi. The Pi was programmed by Duncan who has had to break his ‘one line of code or it is bloatware’ rule for the project.

The garden has been a huge challenge of organisation, technical achievement and multi-disciplinary collaboration but the end result I think will look spectacular. Watch out for coverage of the garden on UK television (BBC) during week of the show May 21st-25th when I hope to meet my own gardening idol, Kim Wilde.

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