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Couple who fell in love at NTU prepare for the Chelsea Flower Show

Two members of NTU’s alumni community are to exhibit one of their garden designs at the 2023 RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Joe and Laura Carey
Joe and Laura Carey

Joe Carey (Design and Technology Education) and Laura Read (Decorative Arts) first met at NTU during their studies in 2007. They went on to marry in 2013. Joe subsequently worked as a teacher and Laura as an illustrator.

The couple started their own garden design company three years ago and have fought strong competition to be chosen for the coveted horticultural event. They are now hoping taking part will promote their gardening design talents to a worldwide audience.

Speaking to us from their home in Norfolk, Joe and Laura were keen to talk about their special connection with NTU.

“We met and then broke up there,” Joe says. “Then we met again at a friend’s wedding – friends who had also met at NTU. We’ve been happily married ever since.

“I was in the Maudsley building and Laura in Bonington. Our windows were across the way – I remember we used to wave at each other and I'd hold up some of the things I'd been making on my course.”

The garden designers decided to form their new company following lockdown. “It was a catalyst and made us do a bit of a reset,” Joe says. “As a teacher, I was sent home and I taught from there.

“During our spare time we designed and built our own garden. People saw the results and said we ought to do it professionally.”

Wind forward three years, and the couple have had one of their designs chosen to feature at Chelsea. That was either a breeze of a process, or quite stressful?

“It’s the second one!” says Laura. “We’re being funded by a philanthropic organisation who sponsor new designers. Being chosen for Chelsea isn’t easy. Most successful applications have been working in garden design for over a decade. This is an opportunity we might never had had and it’s the most full-on project we’ve ever managed. Perhaps the next biggest thing was our wedding!”

Illustration of Talitha Arts Garden
Illustration of Joe and Laura's Chelsea Flower Show garden design

Inspired and funded by the work of Talitha Arts, a charity that uses therapeutic arts to bring about transformation in the lives of those who have suffered trauma, Joe and Laura’s Garden design is said to be a celebration of the creative arts and their power to restore lives.

“We are championing artisans and creatives across the industry,” Joe says. “Being over 80% planted, the garden shows that minimal hard landscaping can still create a beautiful cohesive space. We’ll be using very sustainable materials and hope to inspire others who might want to do the same in their own domestic gardens.”

Central to Joe and Laura’s design will be 250 handmade white porcelain butterflies, created by Japanese artist Naoko Tagai. After the flower show finishes, the entire garden will be relocated to St. Margaret’s House in Bethnal Green in London, a centre for arts and wellbeing opportunities.

The husband and wife team are keen to include their whole family in their flower show experience. “We plan to bring the whole family to Chelsea,” says Laura, “including our very recent new addition. The plan is for us to live and work on location – or as close as possible – so we’ll remain a close unit.”

Joe and Laura are under no illusion that if their design is well received, it will become a career-changer. “We’ve assigned multiple days a week to Chelsea, which is a big investment,” says Joe.

“We’ve booked a house to live in around the corner from the show ground and know it’s going to be an amazing experience,” Laura adds.

“Ask us again in May how it’s gone, but we’re sure it’ll create some incredible memories.”

Carey Garden Design website

Joe and Laura on Instagram