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Autism-Friendly Gardening Showcased

at RHS Flower Shows in 2016
by RHS
April 3, 2016

• Leading designers say gardening is a simple, natural, accessible and low-cost way of alleviating autism symptoms

• Garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show (24-28 May) will use plants that calm and stimulate depending on an individual’s needs

• A designer at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park (20-24 July) was inspired by her green-fingered son with high functioning autism

• World Autism Awareness Week starts 2 April 2016*

How can you make green-spaces like parks and gardens autism-friendly? Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Flower Shows at Chelsea and Tatton Park will showcase ways to optimise green spaces for people with autism; a neurological disorder with no known cause that touches the lives of more than 2.8million people in the UK every day.

Award-winning designer Frederic Whyte (from Suffolk) aims to showcase autism-friendly gardening at RHS Chelsea next month, with ‘The Pro Corda Garden: A Suffolk Retreat’1, which will be re-located to Leiston Abbey in Suffolk as a soothing space that will benefit children with autism for years to come.

Frederic says: “Gardens can be wonderful places for people with autism, either providing a calm and safe retreat or an open, free area for running around and relieving stress – ideally both. Making simple adjustments to your outdoor space and creating a low arousal environment that supports their needs, can greatly benefit their wellbeing.”

Inspired by her 11-year-old autistic son, landscape designer Shea O’Neill (from Cheshire) has similar aims for RHS Tatton in July. Shea has designed ‘ACE kids: Spectrum of Genius’2 (pictured below) which will demonstrate simple ways to adapt gardens and parks to suit people with autism.

Shea has been on a ‘journey of discovery’ since her son Eoghan was diagnosed with high-functioning autism and has found gardening to be one of the simplest but effective ways of helping him.

Shea said: “For my boy, gardening has been life-changing and I can’t recommend it enough to anybody who lives or works with people with autism. Eoghan wasn’t a happy little boy, but being in the garden brings him peace, he is happiest in the garden and has been transformed as a result of it.”

Both designers want to raise awareness of the benefits of horticultural therapy for people with autism and show how to incorporate autism-friendly gardening in outdoor spaces. Their tips** include growing edible flowers like Dahlias, herbs such as Chamomile that can be turned into soothing tea, soft grasses that blow in the wind and using strong and bold colours to stimulate and a softer palette to calm.

‘ACE Kids: Spectrum of Genius’ will be relocated to Barnton Primary School (Northwich) and is intended to be a quiet, relaxing space, away from the noise and stress of a busy classroom.

It will give a child with autism the ability to choose their environment depending on their emotional and physical needs.

Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “There are over 700,000 autistic people in the UK, and we know that gardens and gardening can play a very important part in their lives and the lives of their families. Gardens are beautiful, peaceful spaces, which can have a calming effect on children and adults struggling to cope with an overload of information from the hectic and noisy urban environment. They are also places of inspiration. Our cultural ambassador the landscape gardener, Alan Gardner, has proved that gardens offer autistic people a chance not just to work but to harness their creativity and to thrive.”

As part of RHS campaign, Greening Grey Britain***, the benefits of gardening for health and wellbeing is being celebrated across all 2016 shows. Tickets can be bought at rhs.org.uk/flowershows.

  • New Eden
  • Kids Garden
  • Plant a Row Grow a Row