A garden for life beyond sight


One of the Gold medal winners at this year’s Hampton Court Flower Show was designed for Blind UK veterans.  It was the joint creation of Andrew Fisher-Tomlin and Dan Bowyer, and they took their designing skills one step further

The duo decided to add in a miniature three dimensional model of the garden so that any visually impaired visitor could use their hands to get a sense of the layout, before even stepping inside the garden proper. I think that this is the first time a diorama has been introduced at an RHS Flower Show.

But how do you go about designing a garden for someone who cannot see?

The obvious answer:  fill the garden with all kinds of scented plants from roses, to lavender and cat mint. A less obvious response might be to create the garden in a circle, so if you keep walking, you will easily end up where you started. Although there were lots of different routes through this particular garden, the clue to the change of place was the differing textures of what was felt underfoot – moving from crunchy gravel to smooth paving circles and so on.

The designers had taken time with the Blind Veterans’ centres in both Brighton and in North Wales, and were extremely impressed with the definite can-do attitude of everyone there. Nothing was off the table in terms of what could be built to dress this garden and visually impaired craftsmen quickly got to work.  Willow weavers created a wonderfully sinuous walkway, wood carvers made and decorated a timber gazebo and metal workers produced beautifully crafted gates that looked like tree branches. It was a full community collaboration and effectively celebrated Blind Veterans UK’s mantra of ‘life beyond sight’.

The show garden was positively brimming with highly coloured summer perennials such as penstemon, heleniums and dahlias, and masses of highly scented roses to help guide the visitor around the site.  Where a more traditional show garden might have had groups of threes to create a wistful and wispy atmosphere, here the brightly coloured plants were in bold blocks of 10 to 15 plants – a strong orange mass stood against a big drift of deep purple, making it easier for failing sight to distinguish one plant from another..

Nowadays, there’s a trend for flower show gardens to have an after-life, instead of being sold off in bits on the last day of the show, or worse still, ending up in a skip.   Both the designers of this community garden decided that elements will go to the Blind Veterans UK centre in Brighton and the remainder will travel to their other establishment in North Wales.  I approve.

Valerie McBride-Munro is a chartered horticulturist offering a plant-problem solving service

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