Australian Garden Show Sydney

When asked why do they garden, many of those who like to garden often answer: “I find it therapeutic”. You might be interested to learn that there is actually more science than saying – and very soon we’ll be able to show you how!

From 4 to 7 September this year we’ll be hosting the Australian Garden Show Sydney. Now in its second year, this event is set to become the best outdoor horticultural show in Australia. This year we welcome the return of International Ambassador, Andrew Fisher Tomlin (award winner at Chelsea Flower Show, UK Garden Designer of the Year 2012).

Andrew will be tapping into one of the three key themes running through this year’s garden show – wellbeing.

Andrew recently spoke about his upcoming garden.

Gardens with benefits

Andrew Fisher Tomlin

Andrew Fisher Tomlin

This year at the Australian Garden Show Sydney I have designed a garden on a subject very close to my heart.  It’s a garden for dementia to support the work of the St Vincent’s Curran Foundation in Sydney.

Over the past few years through our work with Thrive, the UK’s national charity for horticultural therapy and in designing therapeutic gardens for both residential care homes and communities, we’ve learned a lot about the benefits of both passive and active therapy.

Imagine a group of visually impaired people. Now imagine that within this group some will only visit the garden for just a few weeks in their lives whilst others may be regular visitors. Some are in their 70’s and 80’s and need assistance to get around a space whilst some are in their 20’s and 30’s and extremely fit and active.  Some love gardening, others just want to be outdoors.  There’s also sighted people and children involved. That’s the community that we have just designed the 4 acre Centennial Garden for Blind Veterans UK in North Wales.

The garden has to fulfil the needs of both members, some of whom have very recently seen action in the armed forces, staff and a local community. The overused phrase of “sensory garden” doesn’t begin to cover all their needs and wants which are as wide-ranging as gardening, bird watching, cooking, gym training and zip wires!

My garden for the Sydney show

Every project and every therapeutic garden is different. The garden that we are creating for Sydney is based on a challenge that we set ourselves a long time ago when we started designing gardens for care homes where a high proportion of residents have dementia.

We always remember that a person with dementia may well have led an exciting, full and stylish life with a great home and garden. Because they now have dementia it should not mean that they cannot continue to have an exciting and stylish garden.

Concept design of The Unexpected Garden - come and see it in Centennial Park

Concept design of The Unexpected Garden – come and see it in Centennial Park

What does this mean in practice?

  • Our garden is structured along a simple flowing path, opening to a planted space with water, a seat and then onto an open space with a pavilion and further seating. The exploratory element is important, allowing someone to wander, to get a sense of place and not to be faced with dead ends, crossing lines and decisions about direction that might confuse them. This can be difficult in a small backyard but a simple layout approach can often be the best;
  • The garden is deliberately intended to be for passive and not active therapy (e.g. through gardening activities such as vegetable growing) and by taking this approach the garden might also be low maintenance. If you are interested in active therapy there are many horticultural therapy organisations in Australia and the UK that can help with information and support;
  • The simplicity of hard materials is important. For example the path surface is deliberately a single material choice so as not to confuse and encourage freedom to explore. The texture of the bronze water bowl is tactile just like the still water it contains and the simple seating is comfortable, practical AND stylish;
  • Plants provide a gentle sensory experience through texture, movement, fragrance and colour to stimulate the senses. Familiar native plants might be important in stimulating feelings of well being, planting comes right up to the path to give the opportunity to touch, smell and feel the planting.

Gardens and plants can be a lifeline for a family living with dementia, providing a sense of place and therapeutic benefit.  The most important thing I can say is that it’s not complicated.

The Unexpected Garden at the Australian Garden Show Sydney will be a gentle garden with a simple structure and well thought out, and in some cases, hidden design messages for people with dementia.  It provides layers of therapeutic benefit through the simplicity of design choices and yet still achieves a stylish relaxed space that everyone can enjoy.

I look forward to seeing you at the show.

The Australian Garden Show Sydney

Come and join us this spring - and remember, kids under 15 go free!

Come and join us this spring – and remember, kids under 15 go free!


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