Steven Wells has recently been named ‘Gardener of the Year’ by Gardening Australia for his wonderful sensory rehabilitation garden at the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Hospital in Melbourne. A nurse, horticulturist and gardener, Steven has spent several years turning a sterile, institutional space and walkways between several buildings at the hospital into a garden that encourages patients with spinal cord, brain and neurological damage, as well as amputees, down that long, hard rehab road. Everywhere you look, there is something to delight both patients and their visitors.
Colour comes from painted walls and colourful-leaf foliage; there are texture contrasts with grasses and broad-leafed succulents, and patterns of light and shade. Several separate seating areas created by low walls, screens, plants and shaded by maturing trees accommodate a number of patients and their carers in privacy but everywhere can be accessed by wheelchair and walker.
It’s a garden of easy-to-grow and low-maintenance plants, most of which can be readily struck from cuttings. But that doesn’t make it ordinary. Steven’s ability to put together succulents with conifers and then add Australian natives and pretty perennials to make very appealing plant pictures clearly shows that the plant ‘apartheid’ that exists in so many Australian gardens – where we feel we have to grow either this group or that, but not mix them up – is a load of nonsense. Look at those Australian grass-like lomandras with South African cotyledon and Italian cypress. Perfect.
And I’m really keen to have a go at copying his graded-colour painted walls. But I doubt I’d be as successful!
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