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The Lemon Tree Trust Garden

By garden designer Tom Massey. The Lemon Tree Trust, a UK and US-based not-for-profit organisation, has been working in the refugee camps of Kurdistan in Northern Iraq since 2015. This summer it brings the first refugee garden to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, inspired by the resilience, determination and ingenuity of refugees, highlighting the importance of gardens and gardening to the thousands of displaced people trying to rebuild their lives.

The Lemon Tree Trust Garden Chelsea Flower Show 2018 by garden designer Tom Massey

Domiz, one of the largest camps in Kurdistan, is home to 26,000 predominantly Syrian refugees. Here the Lemon Tree Trust helps refugees to create gardens as a way not only to grow their own food but also as a successful way of supporting wellbeing and community to boost the pride, dignity and purpose among those living in the camp.  For many, simply having a small patch of garden around them, cultivated from the harshest conditions, is a significant source of solace and a connection with their previous life.

The Lemon Tree Trust Garden Chelsea Flower Show 2018 by garden designer Tom Massey

The Lemon Tree Trust founder, Stephanie Hunt, says, “One of our central tenets is the importance of building a community of gardeners, in Domiz, as well as globally. For those displaced by war, gardening gives individuals and families a sense of peace and purpose, allowing them to take pride in nurturing a favourite rose bush or adding garden-grown herbs to meals that remind them of home. Building friendships and strengthening social networks through a common love of gardening has the potential to make a profound difference in the areas of mental health and overall wellbeing.”

The Lemon Tree Trust Garden Chelsea Flower Show 2018 by garden designer Tom Massey

The work of the Lemon Tree Trust in Domiz will reach a global audience this year at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Designed by Tom Massey, the Lemon Tree Trust Garden, draws inspiration from the gardens people have created in Domiz and shows the unexpected beauty of the camp. It uses materials that can be found in the camp, such as concrete and steel, with screens inspired by traditional Islamic designs. An ‘innovation wall’ is filled with everyday objects such as tin cans and plastic bottles used as containers for vertical planting – an idea sourced from gardens in Domiz. The planting is drought tolerant and includes vegetables, herbs and fruit trees, including lemons, a pomegranate and fig, which are used in Middle Eastern cooking. Channels of water radiating from the Islamic inspired fountain at the centre of the garden provide a peaceful and cooling atmosphere, while representing the importance of greywater reuse in the camps.

The Lemon Tree Trust Garden Chelsea Flower Show 2018 by garden designer Tom Massey

The Lemon Tree Trust launched a garden competition three years ago as a way to encourage the residents of Domiz to create gardens, as well as providing an opportunity to engage with people living in the camp and find out what they really needed.  In the first year, 50 families took part and in the second year the number of entrants grew to 150. This year the garden festival will run in four separate camps in Kurdistan. As a further way to build connections, the organisation also donates lemon trees, and as these are a common sight in Syria, people are pleased to have something that reminds them of home.

The Lemon Tree Trust Garden Chelsea Flower Show 2018 by garden designer Tom Massey

Plant list


Citrus x limon 'Improved Meyer'
Citrus sinensis
Ficus carica
Punica granatum



Jasminum officinale
Teucrium fruticans
Rosa x damascena



Asphodeline lutea
Calamintha grandiflora
Salvia officinalis 'Purpurascens'
Acanthus mollis
Euphorbia myrsinites
Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens'
Anethum graveolens
Artemisia dracunculus French
Foeniculum vulgare
Allium schoenoprasum
Salvia x sylvestris 'Mainacht'
Artemisia alba 'Canescens'
Foeniculum vulgare 'Giant Bronze'
Cynara scolymus 'Green Globe'
Silybum marianum
Stachys byzantina 'Silver Carpet'
Satureja montana
Euphorbia rigida
Crambe maritima
Verbascum olympicum
Anchusa azurea 'Dropmore'
Origanum syriacum
Nepeta racemosa 'Little Titch'
Santolina rosmarinifolia



Stipa gigantea
Stipa tenuissima
Festuca amethystina
Hordeum jubatum


Edibles (climbers and herbs for containers)

Mentha spicata
Coriandrum sativum
Thymus serpyllum
Allium schoenoprasum
Ocimum basilicum
Origanum vulgare
Salvia officinalis
Petroselinum crispum
Vicia faba
Cucumis sativus
Lycopersicon esculentum
Pimpinella anisum
Eruca sativa
Capsicum annuum
Origanum majorana
Cicer arietinum
Trigonella foenum-graecum
Phaseolus coccineus 'St George'



Eremurus stenophyllus
Nigella damascena Moody Blues
Papaver rupifragum