Blogging often takes me to weird and wonderful places, today I am in a garden with sand between my toes and the sound of water gently trickling in my ears. I am visiting the Zoflora and Caudwell Children’s Wild Garden at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show. The garden has been designed by Adam White and Andrée Davies for children who have disabilities, in particular they have children with autism in mind.
The garden is multi-sensory, from sand you can squidge through your toes to gentle streams that invite water play. There are places to hide away from the hustle and bustle of a busy flower show, willow pods and a carved egg boulder that allows you to climb inside. There is a trampoline set within the woodland and round a corner I spy a rope tree swing.
There is also woodland seating and meadow grass to sit on and lay in. This is a garden that supports varying levels of activity and sensory stimulation, a one-size fits all approach does not fit children with autism, so the garden overs varying levels of sound, colour, light and movement. There is even a giant 3 tonne turning stone perfectly balanced that can be rotated by one finger. It is lovely to touch with different textures that draw you in.
The garden is much larger than the other show gardens and once inside you soon forget you are in the middle of what will be a very busy flower show. Children from the charity Cauldwell Children have contributed to the design with model making workshops. They have shared their favourite places where they like to be, where the feel safe and these ideas have influenced the finished garden.
I chat with one of the designers, Andrée Davies and she explains the concept of a gentle introduction into the garden. There are no harsh colour palettes or intense changes of light or smells. There are gradual introductions to different areas and the large trees form barriers that help block out sounds from the surrounding area.
Davies tells me they wanted the garden to be playful without bright harsh metal and plastic equipment, there is a subtlety to the accessibility of the garden. Too often she tells me playgrounds add an accessible swing and that is the extent to which the garden is inclusive.
The garden feels like it has been in existence forever, instead of being created for a one week how. There are around 4,000 plants in the plot and Davies tells me of the incredible volunteers who have helped pull it all together. The volunteers are career changers, switching from one life to another. Wanting to be creative and in-charge of their own life, it is certainly something I can appreciate. They have really done themselves proud.
As we talk a number of school children come in to ‘road test’ the garden, they run towards the seating area with hands outstretched to feel the grass pillows, they bend down to run their fingers through the sand and swish them through the cool water. They crawl through logs and climb up to the birds nest. A boy becomes his ‘Superman’ hero and pushes a 3 tonne rock with one finger. There is a squeal of delight as a hidden trampoline is discovered. As I look around there are so many lovely moments of children engaging on different levels at their own pace in their own time.
I stand and watch for while and my thoughts turn (inevitably) to museums, museums with outside spaces that have so much to offer. The Horniman Museum has a fantastic music garden, the Geffrye Museum has beautiful herb gardens. There are many museums blessed with wonderful outdoor spaces.
I believe that accessibility never begins at the museum entrance, it begins all around the museum. There is so much museums can do to offer sanctuary, peace, reflection and fun. They can even integrate collections with outside spaces. If you are a museum with gardens it is well worth visiting Adam and Andrée’s Wild Garden for ideas. It has certainly given me time and space to think on how much further museum accessibility can reach.
I am please to add to this blog that the Wild Garden won a gold medal.
To find out more about the Zoflora and Caudwell Children’s Wild Garden please take a look at the RHS website – https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-hampton-court-palace-flower-show/Gardens/2017/Zoflora-and-Caudwell-Children-s-Wild-Garden
For information on the designers please visit the Davies White – Landscape Architects website – http://www.davieswhite.co.uk/site/
To buy tickets for RHS Hampton Court please see the website – https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-hampton-court-palace-flower-show