Research project

Growing Together

Initiated in partnership with the Design Age Institute in 2021, Growing Together explores design and horticulture as catalysts for positive social change and nurtures community connections, interdisciplinary dialogue, collaboration and action in response to the planetary emergency.

The project is engaging local residents to rethink, reshape and share stewardship of the Dame Sylvia Crowe Garden at the Design Museum. This green area was named in memory of the pioneering landscape architect who designed the landscaping for the Commonwealth Institute in 1962.

The project brings attention to the site as an inclusive learning and research space, raising awareness of sustainable design and horticulture practices, informing new narratives and collective action committed to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Biodiversity Action Plan 2022 – 2027.


The Growing Together project seeks to reduce inequalities in access to creative learning opportunities and green spaces, and benefit health and wellbeing. It brings together designers and horticulturists, thinkers and creatives to facilitate design thinking and knowledge exchange, and inform and establish new social contracts.

In March 2022, horticultural educator George Hudson and design studio public works were commissioned to engage local residents, aged 50 years+, with limited or no access to green spaces at home, and students from Hammersmith Academy in the co-design of an accessible space in which the museum can explore its ecological and sustainable agendas. Through a series of workshops and Open Days project participants recorded plant life making cyanotype prints, sowed seeds, planted bulbs, propagated plants, tested natural dyes, and explored principles of biodiversity, habitat provision and stewardship. The co-design emerged through careful listening to and mapping of participants’ knowledge, interests, concerns, challenges, values and tendencies. The findings informed the garden design principles, forms and materials palette in the design concept, as well as planting schemes, new narratives and collective action beyond the concept design.

In October 2022, 15 of the older adults formed a volunteer cohort to share the stewardship of the garden with the Design Museum. Their learning through the winter months was facilitated by ecologist, educator and author, Michael Holland.

In February 2023, social enterprise community interest company Renew:EL designed and installed a set of steps and handrail to make the upper level accessible, and worked with George Hudson with project volunteers to plant the lower embankments.

In March 2023, public works installed a set of garden planters on the upper level that would absorb waste items from the museum's exhibitions and retail outlets. The pairs of planters hold a variety of plants to demonstrate three dominant urban typologies: Drought, Shadow and Crops. This scheme includes two storage units for tools, which can unfold into seating and work surfaces.

Dame Sylvia Crowe Garden images by Paola Vivas


The volunteer cohort have collectively developed the volunteer profile, and the Growing Together Manifesto, pledging to:

  • make a harmonious, welcoming space.
  • explore the challenges and opportunities of what a productive urban garden might be.
  • garden for a changing climate with care and without chemical control.
  • protect, enhance and improve biodiversity.
  • share responsibility for matter which comes into the garden, considering where is has come from and how it has been produced.
  • share responsibility for matter which leaves the garden, considering where is goes and what impact it will have.

Volunteers meet regularly to care for and develop the Dame Sylvia Crowe Garden, and visit other green spaces across London. The volunteers' learning has been supported by visits hosted by Chelsea Physic Garden, Fulham Palace Gardens, Garden Museum, Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, Holland Park Ecology Centre, Kew Gardens, Phoenix Gardens, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Kitchen Gardens.

In addition, our volunteers co-curate seasonal Assembly events inviting horticulturists, designers, thinkers and creatives to produce and share knowledge in the garden.

In 2023, we are recruiting new volunteers who are local residents aged 18+ with limited or no access to green spaces at home, with a focus on immigrants, and/or people at risk of experiencing isolation.

Volunteers Hakimeh, Shayna, Amelia, Rosie, Shiv, Sandra, Salma, Mohammed. Photo by Paola Vivas

About Dame Sylvia Crowe

Born in Oxfordshire, Dame Sylvia Crowe was an influential landscape architect, garden designer and author. One of the leading theorists and practitioners in her field, she promoted landscape architecture in the UK and internationally. She was president of the Landscape Institute from 1957 to 1959 and helped to found the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) of which she became acting president. Crowe designed the new grounds for the Commonwealth Institute in 1962.


The project is enriched with insights and ideas from many contributors. We're grateful to each person who has challenged and expanded our thinking and practice – thanks for helping us to grow.

To the Growing Together project Critical Friends group – Noordeen Fahmy, Alice Laughton, Robert Halbert-Pereno and Pak Ling Wan for advising and supporting the project.

To contributors to our Assembly events including planting designer and writer Susanna Grant, social enterprise Hackney Herbal, gardener Oliver Haden, psychiatrist, psychotherapist and author Sue Stuart-Smith for your wisdom and inspiration.

To partners Design Age Institute and Opportunity Kensington Business Improvement District, for your guidance and energy.

To this project's funders Lightbulb Trust and Kusama Trust for your generosity, conviction and patience.

Designing for a Greener Future

Learn more about the Design Museum's commitment to the green transition.

Related events

Writing in Nature

Join poet and performer Fausta Joly for an afternoon of creative writing at the museum's Dame Sylvia Crowe Garden to produce your own little fictions and poetry inspired by nature.

Garden Assembly

Get cosy with us in the Dame Sylvia Crowe Garden for some autumnal bliss and horticultural shared knowledge.