Sensory sports garden for the English Institute of Sport, Shropshire, UK
Sensory sports garden for the English Institute of Sport, Shropshire, UK

Sensory sports garden for the English Institute of Sport, Shropshire, UK

A contemporary sensory sports garden for GB Paralympics based on Chinese philosophy

The new sensory sports garden is set within the grounds of the English Institute of Sport, the client is the GB Paralympic Archery Team who continually train for competitions and of course the Para-Olympics.

This is a wonderful opportunity to design a sensory sports garden, with an emphasis on the sensory.

Within the existing grounds there are cedar trees and large expanses of lawn. The team want a garden close to their training centre’s doors – a place they can call their own, which is low-maintenance, fully accessible, calming, stimulating and a place where they can garden, as part of their overall training and well-being.

The designed sensory sports garden sits within the larger landscape. It offers views of the archways and folly at the far end of the larger gardens. Surrounded on two and a half sides by Carpinus betulus (hornbeam) hedging. A sense of enclosure is given, which is welcoming and on a human scale.

Pathways are Kirkby Porcelain Paving, with its fine texture and rich blue-grey colouring evokes Cumbrian slate, one of Britain’s most durable and sought-after stones. It is finished to create a natural ‘sandblasted’ effect, for extra grip. Its gentle veins and tones give movement to its refined texture. The harmonious mix of greens, both evergreen and deciduous, bounce off the blue-grey paving creating a contemporary, minimalist look.

The pathway divides into two. The first path leads to a productive area. Accessible raised tables and Corten steel handrails. The space is large enough for groups of pots, with a mix of seasonal planting. The second route is a sinuous path. Along with a curved long seat with space for a wheelchair, and a mirroring curved raised bed – echoing yin and yang principles. In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang is a concept of dualism, describing how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world. Also, how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.

The space then opens out with a Corten steel reflective pool, beside an open ‘teahouse’ with slatted wood.

Mimicking the traditional use of water chains, but in a contemporary way. The slatted wood allows rain to drip down into the flower beds – a perfect spot for personal reflection, meditation, a place to sit quietly and read, or simply to enjoy the garden.

Scent, colour, shape, form and texture enliven and calm the senses, while raised planting allows for edibles to be grown for a gustatory sensory experience. As the team is away competing a lot of the time, the sensory sports garden needs to ‘look after itself’ between competitions. A simplified and unified planting palette brings to life the contemporary style, while also being as low-maintenance as possible.

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