We were commissioned by the garden charity Greenfingers to create their largest ever children’s hospice garden in their 20th anniversary year. Richard House had already benefitted from their help for a very small garden and this time we were going to try and create a substantial new garden across an acre of woodland garden that joined to the main facilities.
Having created woodland gardens for Blind Veterans UK and in residential care settings before we were very aware of the challenges that such a site would hold for its visitors. Elements such as just a very small change in level can be a challenge for someone in a wheelchair and this garden is aimed at children so we had to re-engage with the space on a very different scale.
When you’re living day to day in a hospice, or you’re visiting your brother or sister with your family there is part of you that wants to escape from the world around you, forget your worries and just get outside and play. Children want to be children and explore with each other, have adventures, get away from adults and be in the moment. The garden we created for Richard House Children’s Hospice is just that, a place to escape, to play and have adventures.
The garden builds upon some of the stories of seaside and woodland that have already been started and will take us on a journey from the mountains down to the sea, through a mystical world that gently guides us to explore and make our own stories when we’re there.
Our narrative is of an adventure because from whichever way you enter the woodland that’s just what you can do. We might start in the mountains and discover a stream, a lake and walk across a bridge by a waterfall. From here we can move through an enchanted forest, up into the nest at the top of the forest, a safe enclosed space with different colours as light comes through coloured panels at all angles within the nest. We can leave the nest and walk down to the beach, sit in the beach hut by the sea or sail on the water to a magical labyrinth island. The island holds a secret at its centre, beneath the tree we can make stories and go on a hunt for treasure, or escape through a willow tunnel where only children can dare to go. And over-seeing all this is the castle, with its tower that views the whole adventure from high up.
We’re sending children off on an adventure that they make for themselves but there are plenty of opportunities for young adults to join in and some quieter areas where they might hang out and get away from daily pressures. They can escape to the nest or lay back in hammocks in the woodland walk. They might visit smaller private spaces or help collect fruit from the orchard or nuttery. And everyone has a chance to sit on quiet benches scattered throughout the garden.
And through all this there are opportunities to lead play and create opportunities for therapy both with plants and within the play areas. It’s a garden that can be built in a modular, phased way as well as a garden where smaller items such as musical instruments, drawing boards and signposts can be brought in and developed at different times.