Student’s garden design for patients with dementia to be built at hospital

August 2014

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(NOTE: This is an archived press release.)

A Writtle College design student will see his concept for a calming courtyard garden for patients with dementia become a reality.

Managers and clinical leads at Broomfield Hospital, near Chelmsford, credited Michael Ekers for his design, saying it was “elegant, capturing the elements of calm open spaces that is so valued by patients in a hospital setting”.

Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust launched the project in May as part of its commitment to continuously improve the care of patients with dementia. Writtle College Diploma in Garden Design students were invited to provide proposals for the courtyard.

Five students worked with various teams at the Trust to ensure all elements of the design specification were met. Clinical and project teams as well as volunteers from the 41 Club – who will build the garden – voted for their favourite design from the concepts put forward by the students, who presented their work to the Trust in July.

The site is a triangular courtyard (approximately 340m2) bounded on all sides by three-storey hospital buildings. With direct sunlight limited in the summer months, and absent during winter, a lack of topsoil, and underground services, it presented a number of challenges.

Michael, 33, from Brentwood, who will graduate in September with a Writtle College Diploma in Garden Design, said of his design: “Being almost fully enclosed and overlooked by more than 50 windows, the site is inherently inward-looking. A turfed hillock and specimen tree are intended to polarise the space and direct the eye inwards, away from the grey hospital façade.”

Reminiscence therapy (the comfort we derive from memories) has been embraced, with a life-size bronze sculpture of a child and dog playing in the lawn.

“This is integral to the design”, said Michael, “we can all relate to this - it evokes a strong positive emotion.”

Michael’s garden features a mixture of drought and shade-tolerant shrub and herbaceous planting, including more than 800 bulbs. Calming green and white colours predominate, and containerised plants such as Acer palmatum var. dissectum (Japanese maple) and Hakonechloa macra (an ornamental grass) are tactile, encouraging the visitor to run a hand through soft foliage.

Continuous, well-defined paths with multiple rest-points ensure safe access for the disabled and mobility impaired, whilst contemporary garden structures (an outbuilding and pergola), and non-intrusive lighting extend the functionality of the garden.

Michael hopes that enjoyment of the garden will not be limited to patients: “The garden is intended as an extension of the hospital environment for staff, patients, and visitors – even if participation is purely visual.”

Elmarie Swanepoel, Head of Sustainable Development and Strategic Projects at the Trust, said: “We had a very difficult decision to make about the winning garden design for our Dementia Gardens Project. All the designs were exceptional in their own right and good enough to be crowned the winner at any level. The final selection discussion took into consideration the feedback from the Trust’s representatives, including the complex clinical requirements associated with the design of this garden as well as the input from the Chelmsford 41 Club volunteers, who will be building the garden.

“Michael’s design was thought to be elegant, capturing the elements of calm open spaces that is so valued by patients in a hospital setting. We would like to extend our congratulations and heartfelt thanks to Michael. We are looking forward to seeing the garden being built and are sure it will have a positive impact on those patients with dementia who are staying at the hospital.”

Work on creating the hospital garden will begin next month.