The garden, designed by Chelsea first-timer Darren Hawkes, uses structure within the garden to give visitors to the Show an impression of what it is like to have four different sight conditions – cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
Jayne McGann, Director of Fundraising and Marketing for SeeAbility, said that most people assume that gardens designed with the theme of visual impairment are going to be sensory, with plenty of scented and textured plants.
“But we felt that had been done many times and the RHS encouraged us to think of something different. So we decided that concentrating on sight conditions that can affect anyone of us would have more resonance,” she said.
“The garden is meant to provoke an ‘Oh gosh, I hadn’t realised’ response, to make people think about how those with sight conditions cope on a day to day basis, and to encourage them to take care of their own sight: 86% of the UK population say sight loss is the sense they would fear losing the most.
“People that SeeAbility supports with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely than the rest of the populations to be blind or partially sighted and less likely to have access to sight tests.”
Gaps between vertical oak ‘blades’ have been used to focus the viewer’s eye on particular plants to suggest the effect of Glaucoma. This condition occurs when pressure within the eye increases and damages the retina and the optic nerve, and chronic glaucoma usually develops slowly either due to excess fluid production or poor drainage from the eye.
If untreated, people may become aware of a severe restriction of their vision or loss of central vision in the worse case.
Changes to how the garden looks when viewed through water flowing down a curtain of spheres represents the impact of diabetic retinopathy: This results in patches of vision loss and sight lacks sharpness. If undetected, the macula area may be involved and central vision will gradually get worse.
But McGann says both these conditions can be detected through routine checks by an optician and that everyone should all have their sight checked every two years or more frequently if advised to do so.
Designer Darren Hawkes has tried to reflect SeeAbility’s bright, forward thinking attitude with plants that enjoy the sunshine and capture the hopefulness of early summer. These include the lemon-yellow daisy flowered Anthemis tinctoria ‘Sauce Hollendaise’, several varieties of the evergreen Euphorbia, the tall and beautiful grey-green Vebascum ‘Cotswold Queen’ and Gernaium ‘Black Beauty', which as its name suggests, has dark burgundy foliage and pink flowers.
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2013. McGann said: “We are delighted that Coutts is supporting the SeeAbility Garden and it’s fitting that such established organisations should be part of this historic event. We share immense brand heritage: Coutts was founded in 1692 and SeeAbility, formerly the Royal School for the Blind, was founded in 1799.”
Michael Morley, Chief Executive, Coutts & Co said: “Coutts has a long-standing interest in horticulture which dates back to the 19th Century when Angela Burdett-Coutts, who served as Patroness of the Highgate Horticultural Society, founded the famous Columbia Road Flower Market, which still exists in London’s East End. This continues today, as we recently launched our own garden on the roof terrace of our headquarters in central London, which houses over 9,000 plants in 350 metres of planters.
“We are delighted to support SeeAbility's inaugural garden at this year's Chelsea Flower Show as it will raise awareness of, and helps, those with visual impairments, while reinforcing Coutts' own long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion."
You can read about the creation of The SeeAbility Garden on Hawkes’ blog, and find out more about how SeeAbility helps people with sight loss and other disabilities on its website (seeability.org).