Australian Garden Show Sydney

Three-time UK Garden Designer of the Year Tells Us About Gardens with Benefits

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 those living with dementia, in support of Sydney’s St Vincent’s Curran Foundation.

Over the past few years I have collaborated with Thrive, the UK’s national charity for horticultural therapy, to design therapeutic gardens for both residential care homes and wider communities, learning a lot about the benefits of passive and active therapy in the process.

We recently designed the four acre Centennial Garden for Blind Veterans UK in North Wales. This garden caters to a widely diverse visually impaired community, including young and old, active and immobile, some are interested in gardening, others simply want to be outdoors. The garden must fulfil the needs of all in the group – ‘sensory garden’ doesn’t begin to cover all their needs and wants in an outdoor space, which are as wide-ranging as gardening, bird watching, cooking, gym training and zip wires! This is why every therapeutic garden must be different.

The Unexpected Garden

The unique garden that we are creating for the Australian Garden Show Sydney is designed for those living with dementia.

Gardens and plants can be a lifeline for a family living with dementia, providing a sense of place and therapeutic benefit. The Unexpected Garden will be a gentle, uncomplicated 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, yet still represents a stylish relaxed space.

Our design will include 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 achieve a sense of place and not to be faced with dead ends, crossing lines and decisions about direction. The garden is intended for passive and not active therapy, an approach which allows the garden to be low maintenance.

The simplicity of hard materials is also important. The path’s surface is deliberately composed of a single material so as not to confuse, encouraging freedom to explore. The texture of the bronze water bowl is tactile, as is 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 may be important in stimulating feelings of well being and comfort, planting comes right up to the path to provide an immersive opportunity to touch, smell and feel the planting.

We look forward to showing you the benefits of our therapeutic garden in practice at the Australian Garden Show Sydney, so that you may incorporate elements into your own space.

See you at the show.

Andrew Fisher Tomlin
International Ambassador of the Australian Garden Show Sydney

St Vincent’s Curran Foundation is the Official Charity Partner of this year’s Australian Garden Show Sydney. To support dementia care and research at St Vincent’s please visit | 1800 800 595