Because war is dreadful, the newest garden for Royal Hospital Chelsea had to be magnificent. The hospital has, in the words of Fira Landscape, "provided three centuries of unbroken service to war veterans, offering help to those broken by age and conflict".
Old residential and healthcare blocks were demolished three years ago and the new landscape had to offer respite and sensory stimulation to veteran soldiers. It had to do this without compromising surrounding historic architecture by veterans of another kind, luminary designers like Sir Christopher Wren.
The planting scheme also needed to strike a balance between the practical and financial issues of ongoing upkeep and the less tangible but equally important therapeutic, restorative benefits of landscape design. The client wanted the gardens and courtyard to focus on sensory stimulation.
Pensioners' rooms and staff rooms overlook the infirmary's garden, the symmetry of which has been reinforced with a formal avenue of box-headed hornbeam. Plants such as roses, meanwhile, evoke the look and feel of a domestic garden brimming with colour and texture throughout the seasons.
Yew hedging and hornbeam arches give structure to the courtyard and define several garden rooms, each themed on colours reflecting shrub and perennial selections. The garden's formal layout echoes the building facades and the paths are used by people with Alzheimer's or dementia.
However, the designers were not too rigidly confined to the hospital's traditional, somewhat restrained, garden-design ethos for the project, costing £380,000. The new proposals aimed to offer year-round interest and variety of colour, texture and scents to maximise sensory stimulation.
"This is a new direction for the Royal Hospital," says Fira Landscape. "But it's one that will benefit the pensioners, who will be able to enjoy the therapeutic and restorative effects of the gardens throughout their daily lives for many years to come."
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The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) is the trade association for the UK gardening industry. It is dedicated to helping develop the industry and its member businesses.
The Association of Professional Landscapers (APL) represents landscapers who meet a required standard of professionalism. Members of the association are registered with the government-endorsed TrustMark Scheme.