A government-funded project built to help Southend dementia sufferers is a lesson in skillful layout and creative design.
Called ‘Walkway to a Long Life’, this custom-made sensory garden was officially opened by Angela Rippon OBE on 23 May 2014. Designed to help Southend dementia sufferers, the garden is based at St Martin’s Residential Care Home in Westcliff and is run by The Southend-on-Sea Darby and Joan Organisation, who received £275,645 from the Department of Health to fund the build.
As well as incorporating the best design principles for dementia care and research from the King’s Fund Institute on Enhancing the Healing Environment, it has been described as a national example of excellence in dementia care.
Landscape designer Sean Butler from Cube 1994, an Essex based company with expertise in developing sensory gardens, worked closely on the design with the council’s dementia manager Chris Harris and staff and relatives from St Martin’s.
The garden is specifically designed to help with challenging behaviours such as aggression, to help trigger memories, and stimulate the senses with floral fragrances and colours. There are activity areas for no-bend vegetable growing and workshops for painting and craft work.
Design and works
This was a large-scale project – 638 tonnes of earth were moved through the home, while 289 tonnes of new materials were transported into the garden. Twenty thousand bulbs were planted individually over a period of four days by five men, and irrigation was also incorporated. The garden was designed with many features to initiate physical, cognitive, social and psychological benefits:
The figure-of-eight pathway has no dead ends, helping dementia sufferers who like to wander and can become frustrated on meeting a boundary. It links all areas of the garden to a central line forming a safe environment for the residents. The single yellow colour means patients can easily identify the route.
The garden has various safety triggers which easily allow residents to locate where they are and find their way back. A brightly coloured timber frame was placed around the doorway to the conservatory to make it identifiable from the garden. The garden planting scheme was designed on a colour wheel to help residents identify where they are within the garden. Metal sphere sculptures with repeat flowering roses trained over were strategically placed for memory triggers that denote entrances and exits. The use of water in two different locations creates an atmosphere of tranquility and reflection and also attracts wildlife to the garden.
Multiple seating areas ensure patient safety and provide a place to relax and chat with family and friends. A garden club area was created with games and a place for residents to help cultivate plants, invigorating patients physically and making them feel useful. Seating was built into the raised beds so that they can rest during activity time. A gazebo offers a place to rest and view the whole garden while protected from the elements.