A paradise for human rights at Hampton Court

To reach the Amnesty garden that celebrated human rights since Magna Carta at last week’s Hampton Court Flower Show, the crowd first had to flow past the Winnie the Pooh and then the Mad Hatters Tea Party gardens.

The Pooh garden featured a 90-year old teddy bear peering into a stream. The Hatters garden featured giant tea cups, old books and a top hat left out in the open.

The Amnesty garden had us - activists in yellow vests, wondering how to engage the crowd in a 10-second defence of the Human Rights Act.

The Amnesty garden was the brainwave of Freddy Whyte, award-winning garden designer and Amnesty supporter, who wanted to put together a historic garden celebrating Magna Carta and highlighting his favourite yellow flowers.

Freddy had the brilliant idea of collaborating to make this the Amnesty garden, and asked us to assemble a crew of volunteers to talk to the public about the garden, Amnesty, and the need to keep the Human Rights Act.

Easier said than done. Volunteers were quick to spot the attraction of a change of campaign venue from the high street , the station forecourt, and other scenes of daily Amnesty toil. More than 30 people signed up - members of 10 local groups from South West London to Derbyshire to Cambridge - to a rota that ran nine hours a day for six days. But engaging the crowd took patience and guile.

It helped that the Amnesty garden was strikingly beautiful: densely planted bright yellow flowers towards the front, fading into softer yellows beyond, with tall blue flowers behind to match the replicas of Magna Carta that formed the backdrop.

Lovely garden celebrating #MagnaCarta and history of human rights by @fredericwhyte & @amnesty at #RHSHamptonCourt. pic.twitter.com/kd7qRriG6N

— mari griffith (@marigriff) July 3, 2015

At the centre of the garden was a strawberry tree, sitting on an island in a dark channel of bubbling water (free speech, said Freddy), reminiscent of the “paradise” design of Arab or Mughal gardens. Five statuesque cypress trees stood for the landmarks in our liberties since Magna Carta, including four together (Bill of Rights, abolition of slavery, Universal Declaration, European Convention). One stood apart, looking a bit lonely - easily explained as the Human Rights Act.

Amnesty played a trump with a leaflet in matching yellow, telling the story of the garden’s design, listing the Latin and English names of the plants, and ending with links to savetheact.uk and Pocket Protest. The crew at the garden handed out more than 13,000 leaflets. That probably meant that at least 25,000 people came to look, many prompted by strong TV coverage of the Amnesty garden during the week.

What did this all add up to? A big if momentary share of mind for Amnesty among the crowd. And some interesting conversations about the Human Rights Act, mostly with people already in favour!

Freddy’s Amnesty garden won Silver-Gilt award, and – so said hundreds of admirers and all of us – deserved Gold. Our 30+ volunteers, tanned or burned, stayed the course and got some messages across and learnt a bit about plants.

Above all, Amnesty popped up in an unexpected place, delighting our supporters in the crowd and getting inquisitive looks from others. We should try this again.

Hugh Sandeman is the Chair of our country coordinators, the Libya & Algeria country coordinator, and slightly sunburnt after several hours volunteering at our Hampton Court Flower Show garden

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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