The Minds Eye: an award-winning sensory garden for blind people that's small on space and big on impact

Trickling water and tactile surfaces feature in a garden that turns 30 sq ft into a sensory feast.
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The Mind's Eye won Best Fresh Garden at this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show as well as scooping a gold medal. It's no small achievement for the imaginative 28-year-old childhood friends who created the garden, Tom Prince and Alex Frazier, of landscape company LDC.

Designed as a sensory space for blind and partially sighted people, the 30 sq ft garden, sponsored by the Royal National Institute of Blind People in partnership with property developer Countryside, features centre front an 8ft glass cube over which water constantly runs.

Visitors can walk in but do so at their peril, because the floor appears to be a bottomless well; in fact, the walls are mirrored and studded with 12 dozen pinhole LED lights. "The idea is that this infinity pit suggests trepidation when sight diminishes," explains Prince. "And the water running down the glass wall distorts and blurs vision. Looking through the glass to the plants and flowers beyond makes them look more beautiful, rather like water running down a flower painting."

Water - also valued here for its sound and movement - is used, say Prince and Frazier, as a wayfinder around the space, and flows in dark, shallow rills that lead to two granite slabs, bordered with drumstick primulas, at the front of the garden. The top of one of these slabs is carved into organic swirls through which the water constantly and lazily meanders.

Patchwork panels
Boundary space is used to the max. A dynamic, sculptural wall on the lefthand side comprises a series of 6ft panels of slate-grey rendered timber, against which plant colours really pop, as well as crimson and blue Perspex panels which glow like stained glass when the light shines through them. And why have a fence at the end of the garden when you can cover the back wall with a thrilling Mondrian-inspired artwork in vibrant primary colours?

"We wanted different textures, we wanted tactile surfaces, and we wanted colour and shapes that are very easy to register. The wall was designed by my father and is made of a series of different surfaces and materials on rendered marine ply - there are blocks of York stone, fragrant thyme, and circular domes of light-catching metal," explains Prince, who still studies landscape architecture, part-time, at Greenwich University. His father, founder of LDC, studied at the same university 30 years ago.

Walking up the steps on the left of the garden, to access the terrace above, is in itself a sensory experience. The cantilevered staircase of steel and hardwood treads floats above woodland plants - ferns, water mint, wood anemones, tiarella - and these, as well as ornamental grasses, are echoed in a patchwork planted wall that can be stroked at every step.

"Instead of a boring handrail, we created a series of granite monoliths, a take on Giant's Causeway, that visitors can grip on to," says Frazier. The stairs lead to a decked walkway, where you can take in the view beneath, nibble a strawberry or fennel sprig from the edible wall at its end or simply stroke the canopy of the multi-stemmed birch tree, which gives a wonderful sense of sitting among the treetops.

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