With just under two months until she starts building her RHS Chelsea Flower Show garden, Penelope Walker is feeling excited... and nervous.

'We have 10 days to construct the garden,' she says. 'There’s still a lot of detail to get through and we are very much at the mercy of the weather. So, I’m learning not to be anxious about what I cannot control! I'm mainly focused on getting the job done; I think the nerves and excitement really kick in just before judging.'

Penelope is founder of Llevelo Garden Design, based on the Suffolk-Essex border, and designs all kinds of gardens in Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire and further afield. She's relatively new to the profession, having set up Llevelo in 2017, but she's already dreaming of Chelsea gold with her Panathlon Joy Garden, sponsored by Project Giving Back.

Panathlon is a young people's disability sports charity and Penelope met its CEO at a local business networking event a few years ago. The more she learnt about the organisation the more she wanted to help.

'I couldn’t believe how important their work is to the young children they provide events for,' she says. 'It's been incredibly humbling to hear so many stories from people who attribute their success as an adult to being able to participate in a Panathlon event as a child.

'For many young people Panathlon has been life changing and some have achieved huge success. Michael McCabe, hoping to represent Great Britain at Paris 2024, has said he may never have become a wheelchair racer if Panathlon hadn't given him the opportunity to fall in love with sport at school.

Great British Life: Penelope Walker is designing her first RHS Chelsea garden for disability sports charity Panathlon. Penelope Walker is designing her first RHS Chelsea garden for disability sports charity Panathlon. (Image: Courtesy Penelope Walker)

'I’m a big advocate for healthy living, and use exercise and sport as a way to ensure that I can stay healthy physically and mentally. I’m also a huge believer in the power of uplifting each other. If I can do something to help Panathlon give more joy to over 60,000 children a year through sport, then yes, I want to do that.'

Penelope's garden will be a colourful and uplifting space which makes visitors feel joy. 'It started with this as the basic brief and has really evolved. As with all projects, research and mood boards were key. What does joy look like? How can we make a space that feels uplifting? I found myself repeatedly drawn to colour, whimsical features, organic shapes, curves, spheres, and surprising or unexpected details.

'As with all designs, a sense of harmony and balance is key. I literally looked at every single detail and asked, what I can do to make this more fun/playful/surprising/quirky/joyful? Design is all about the details so everything from the path to boundary is not quite as you might expect it to be. And there'll be lots of colour in both the planting and hard landscaping.'

She's also embracing Panathlon's aims of inclusivity, creating confidence, enabling accessibility, normalising difference and improving mental wellness. A path connects both ends and there are ramps for a wheelchair user to access the garden. 'We'll be the first wheelchair accessible garden in our category and we hope to inspire future gardens to do the same,' says Penelope. There's a seating area at the centre of the garden with space for a wheelchair user, and unusual curvy-stemmed trees are a key feature – strong and beautiful, yet not quite what you’d expect.

Penelope will be working with Bures-based Stewart Landscape Construction, who have built gardens for her in the past including four trade stands at RHS Chelsea and the Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival, all of which won five stars.

Penelope wasn't always a garden designer; she swapped life in the city for greener pastures after her own life-changing event.

Great British Life: Penelope is hoping her garden will draw the crowds at RHS Chelsea. Penelope is hoping her garden will draw the crowds at RHS Chelsea. (Image: Justin Tallis/RHS)

'I’ve always been ambitious, but headed in the wrong direction when I was 20,' she says. 'Lured in by the fast pace of London, I was in finance for six years. Then I lost my father when I was 29; there’s nothing like a loss to make you re-evaluate life.

'In a weird string of events, which included going to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for the first time, I realised that being a garden designer could really suit my skills and passions. I love to be creative and had always had an interest in spatial arrangements. I’d taught myself computer programmes in the past and thought I’d really enjoy learning to design on CAD.

'I enjoy being outside, I admire brilliant design and architecture, I see the power of a well designed space, I’m interested in engineering and bringing projects together out of nothing. So I enrolled in a course at the English Gardening School at the Chelsea Physic Garden and have never looked back.'

Apart from her Chelsea project, Penelope's current projects include a wellbeing walled garden linked to a new spa building, where she's designed a bespoke water feature with ‘floating’ stepping stones.

'I’m excited to see this come to life,' she says. 'I’m keen to do more commercial work, specifically working with boutique hotels and luxury spas to create their outdoor spaces. There's so much potential from a well designed space and it would be brilliant to showcase some of that here in Suffolk.

'One of things I really like about Suffolk is the level of artisanship. Working with local craftspeople for local businesses to create feelgood gardens is certainly something I’d like to do more of.'