Bloom’s special garden will ease distress of dementia

Mark Twain said forgiveness smelt like a sudden burst of sweet, crushed petals.

Designer Tom Grey at work constructing the Bloom Dementia Friendly Garden in Phoenix Park. Photo: Colin O’Riordan

Nearly all flowers and herbs have evocative and healing properties. Lavender, for example, has been dubbed nature’s pacifier, and is known for its soothing qualities – sending us to sleep and helping us to unwind.

But it also has the ability to jolt us back in time – to decades and days we’d practically forgot.

Lavender is one of the plants and aromas that fills the dementia-friendly garden at this year’s Bord Bia Bloom festival. More than 50,000 people are living with dementia in Ireland and this garden creates a safe and soothing space for them, and their families.

The garden design has been led by Tom Grey, a Research Fellow at TrinityHaus, who has been creating and developing dementia-friendly spaces since 2013. Dementia can cause difficulties with short-term memory, comprehension, orientation, spatial awareness, visual perception and mobility.

To tap into deep-seated and retained skills, and memories, the team designing the garden has used plants popular with older generations.

The scent of daisies, lupins, lavender, dianthus, and camomile will help trigger long-term memories and allow people to reminisce.

The team has based the garden around two fictional elderly individuals – a lady who grew up near a babbling brook and wild meadow, and a man who lived near grey stone walls.

To mirror their respective backgrounds, Mr Grey has incorporated a water feature, slate texture and birdsong.

“Being outdoor is of huge benefit to those living with dementia,” Mr Grey explained.

“Fresh air helps regulate sleep cycles, being in a garden is a social activity, it allows them to interact and the smells and sounds can be hugely reassuring.

“Often people with dementia can become disoriented and anxious so it’s important to create a space that is both multi sensory, stimulating but safe and secure.”

An open plan garden and living space is recommended, as well as soothing colours to provide visual cues.

“Gardens should also be filled with signals and signifiers that remind people of deep-seated memory and give the garden and themselves a sense of identity.”

His garden, which was developed in conjunction with Clive Jones of landscape company, Newtown Saunders Ltd and Sonas apc, aims to change all of that.

It is one of 22 show gardens on display at the Bloom festival in association with Independent News & Media.

Preparations are now well underway with Gary Graham, Bloom show manager, saying they are “in the thick of it”.

Now in its 11th year, the festival takes place on a 70 acre site – compared to the 12 acres at the Chelsea Flower Show.

A total of 700 people are involved in building the show.

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