Collaborating with Milton Keynes communities, artist and horticulturist Katie Fields was invited to create an animated and engaging public artwork taking shape as a sensory garden and interactive play-scape within the grounds of Milton Keynes Arts Centre.
Situated within the space is a raised bed tall enough for wheelchair users to easily sit to prune and maintain plants, with each bed displaying a carefully curated display of colour, smell and touch. Wind chimes feature within a hanging garden lining the Northern corner, along with bird boxes in surrounding trees to create an orchestra of sounds.
Designed by and for communities with disabilities, Open Garden sets an example of how garden spaces can bring accessibility and inclusion to the forefront of play in Milton Keynes.
Key partners include MK Snap, MacIntyre and Tower Drive Day Centre. MK Snap’s participation in the project provided key insight for the artist’s understanding of how to make the garden accessible and user friendly for a varying level of needs.
Sight and Colour – with advice from the CFIG we chose colours to contrast with the green and brown of the grass and the trees. The main bed was planted with pink, orange and yellow flowers in mind, and orange was chosen to paint the garden furniture. The garden also uses light orbs in the summer to add colour and light in the evenings.
Sound – we created a wooden wind-chime with the help of local families by painting plant tags and hanging them inside a wooden cone. We’ve also installed a number of bird boxes around the garden to encourage even more bird life.
Smell and Taste – the garden includes aromatic roses and herbs such as lavender, rosemary and mint.
Touch – the accessible bed has been planted with a number of tactile grasses - feathery, gentle spikes and contrasting textures. In the summer cow parsley is encouraged to grow at the back of the garden, providing soft flowers and movement.
We wanted to provide lots of seating in Open Garden so everyone would feel welcome to relax and enjoy the space. Our orange benches were painted and put together by members of MK Snap, we have specialist outdoor cushions for the pavilion and yoga mats that can be used if you would like to sleep or stretch.
The path around the garden is marked out with special rubber flooring which allows the grass to grow but also provides enough traction for a wheelchair or pushchair.
Listen to Katie Fields walk through the Open Garden; an audio guide for visually impaired.
Adapting the workshops to ensure safety for all. There had to be a balance of observing certain risks and mitigating the risks when supporting participants in workshop activities while encouraging curiosity, adventure and interaction.
With MK Snap so heavily involved in building the garden, the team had to create a steppingstone guide to creating the garden which did not make assumptions about the participants’ levels of capabilities but equally respect their level of interest in particular tasks.
One of our favourite things about the Project has been seeing the members of MK Snap, MacIntyre and Tower Hill and carers visibly enjoy the garden, enjoying it as a safe and relaxing place to visit. We’ve received feedback from the carers that having a safe and relaxing outdoor space to take the users is beneficial, especially as the garden allows for accessibility for wheelchair users.
One of the team’s most memorable times in the garden thus far was the MK Community Foundation Seeing is Believing Day when members of Tower Hill were also using Open Garden. It was great for our team and for both groups [Tower Hill and MacIntyre] to come together to enjoy the space.