User engagement and staff training

Lanhydrock House, National Trust Property, Cornwall.

Held on the 10th May 2007


As part of the Sensory Trust's continued program of furthering disabled people's access and enjoyment of the outdoor environment and public green space, we held an activity day at Lanhydrock House and Gardens.

We engaged specifically with older disabled people to discuss their use of the outdoor environment, what is special to them and what memories they recall.

The seven participants of the day were residents of Mountford House, Truro and St. Martins House, Camborne. Also participating were six carers and managers from Cornwall Care,  two garden and estate staff from Lanhydrock and two staff from the Sensory trust.

Our engagement techniques are user-led, and activity based. We have particular skills in non-written engagement tools, such as pictorial symbols and sensory and verbal response. For this day we used  some well-tested techniques and also trialed some new ones.

Outline of the day

The particular focus of the day was exploring people’s responses to plant rich environments and gaining a greater understanding of people’s needs and use of outdoor spaces.  In particular we explored people’s emotional and sensory response to plants and environment, and how plants enhance people’s experience of garden and green spaces.

The first part of the day was planned to involve a sensory tour around the gardens, unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse and we had to retreat inside early.

However like all good days out we had a backup plan.

Gathering at Lanhydrock

Garden preferences activity

We substituted the planned ‘real’ experience of Lanhydrock garden with discussing images of a wide variety of plant-rich and garden-like environments and garden content. We gathered everyone around a wide mixture of images of gardens, landscapes, activities in outdoor spaces and plants. Everyone was asked to choose their favorite image and then everyone spoke to the group (sometimes with the assistance of a carer) about why they had chosen their image.

talking about favourite garden features

Reasons why people chose their image

Ray liked nature in the garden, tactile wooden sculpture and smooth bronze sculpture. Tactile experiences were important to him.

Henry liked a public garden scene with a circular paving pattern that was inviting for dancing! However, he was concerned about the cobblestones for wheelchair uses and maintenance.

George chose the ‘lovely ladies’ . These were sculptures of two ladies sitting on a bench. He thought that they were fun and children would enjoy chatting to them – it might not be liked by everyone but would provoke conversation.

Terry chose an image of different stainless steel metal water features - although he usually liked natural things, he found this water feature intriguing and interesting.

Teressa liked a dramatic image of a tunnel of willow arches – these were mysterious and reminded her of ‘the secret garden’ and childhood.

Derick chose a parkland scene with families having a picnic. He liked the large old trees and the children playing and having fun and laughter. He liked to hear trees moving in the wind.

Colin chose images of naturalistic planting and wildlife. He very much liked nature and places for relaxing and walking

Nancy chose the slate pot sculpture – this image was admired by many. She thought that it was beautiful and had taken many hours of work and patience. She wanted to touch it, and would be interested in watching it being made. It made her think of warmth and heat – later on Nancy spoke a lot about the memories the pot had raised in her and became quite emotional. She felt the pot was a mimic of life – the narrow base was childhood, the wider middle was adulthood, and then the narrowing of the top was old age and the end of life .

Muriel chose the stainless steel wall and seat (Dermuid Gaven) – she though it was unusual and wanted to know more about it.  It reminded her of bathing. She also liked the pebbles and water image – again she found this intriguing. She felt that it was important that a garden has interesting things within it, and smaller spaces, and also mentioned liking to see children’s activities.

Wendy chose an image of a  wooden house and waterfall, she felt that it was important to have somewhere for privacy / to be alone, and to be able to put your feet into water was very relaxing.

Gwenn chose the garden with timber walls, wire tunnels, lawn and childrens play things (Dermuid Gavin garden ).  She liked it because it was colourful , exciting and had different spaces within it.

Helen chose the mosaic covered seating in Barcelona. Although the image had no plants in it, (something that she values greatly) it did have lots of people relaxing and looking happy, and enjoying the place.

Teressa chose the garden at Mountford house. She liked the mix of plants (a range of foliage and flowers) and imagined the smells and touching the plants. She liked water in a garden.

Favourite times of year

We asked the group (15 people) to talk about different times of year and how it made them feel, and then took a vote of the their favorite.

Spring  - 7 out of 15  - the most popular season
Comments made -
‘Makes you feel better’ , a feeling of looking forward to the summer,  love to see lots of crocus and snowdrops.

Summer – 3 out of 15
Comments made -
Enjoying sitting in the sun, listening to bird song and looking at flowers. Long evenings. However for two members the summer was a terrible time. One person felt it was too hot, lots of flies, and made her feel lethargic and everything was too much effort.

Autumn – 3 out of 15
People thought of blue clear skies but cool. Some people felt it was a sad time, because the summer was over.

Winter –  2 out of 15
Frosty days were good, the landscape and trees have a new look, some birds and animals were easier to observe – coming to feed at a bird table. Some people didn’t like the long dark nights.

After lunch …

The picture gallery

Each of the residents was asked to create an image of their ideal garden. Using images from magazines, collected items and essential oil scents, the residents working with a carer, glued or taped the images and items onto  A2 sheets of card and created fantastic pictures.

Initially the residents started selecting images directly in front of them, primarily based on colours that they liked. However prompted through discussion soon the residents started to ask for particular images such as specific fruit or veg, activities and features. Many of the requests reflected garden experiences they had had, such as growing their own fruit and vegetable or remembering someone else’s garden. We discovered that one resident had been a farmer.

The activity prompted a lot of discussion between the carer and the resident about their likes and dislikes and memories. Also discussed were the activities that people like to do in gardens – Described below is each person's garden.

Henry's garden plan showing pictures of his chosen garden favourites 

Henry’s Garden

Henry had been a farmer and chose many Veg and Fruit. He also valued woodland and woodland flowers, he chose Jasmine and lemon smells and loved blue flowers

Joan's garden 

Joan’s garden

Joan wanted a place to sit and enjoy the garden. She loved flowers and chose lavender and rosewood. Water features were important and like humour in a garden (laughing when choosing a sculpture of a man popping out of water and spouting water)

Collin's garden 

Collin’s garden

Collin wanted trees that gave height to a garden and liked ornamental grasses. He felt that seating and paths were important and chose the lavender and apple brandy smells.

Nancy's garden

Nancy’s garden

Nancy wanted a cool area and a place to potter. She liked trees and archways. Places for family time and children playing. Bright colours and shade and she chose a lavender smell.

Muriel's garden 

Muriels garden

Muriels garden – ‘Paradise memoires’ included apples that reminded her of brandied apples at Christmas time. Fruit trees and carrots. Birds and wildlife were important.  She had chosen a dancing circle for the centre of the garden and for riding a bicycle. The mirrored wall at the end of the garden would make the garden seem bigger and she chose peppermint and lavender smells.

Gwenn's garden 

Gwenn’s garden

Gwenn used to pick plums and liked fruit trees. The parsley reminded her of cooking pasties and putting parsley in them.  The raspberries reminded her of when she picked then at ten years old and fell and broke the cup they were in and cut her hand! But she still liked raspberries.

Derek's garden 

Dereck’s garden

Dereck’s garden was based on trees and sunshine , peace and tranquility and places for children to play.

The residents took their garden collages home and it is hoped that this will continue to stimulate conversation about garden and outdoor spaces.

The participants holding their garden collages

Outcomes of the day

The day gave information on the aspects of gardens that older disabled people value. Important content of gardens were –

  • Colour  
  • A wide range of plants, including fruit and vegetables and big trees
  • Shade
  • Tactile things
  • Wildlife
  • Fragrant smells
  • Intrigue
  • Humour
  • Family / children
  • Dancing

Spring was the most popular season by far. But all seasons were important and every season was a favorite for someone. For all the participants gardens were positive places to be active, sociable or simply relax in. Many memories were recalled either directly about gardens and garden activities or associated memories – such as making pasties with parsley.

The National Trust Staff members gained experience of user engagement techniques and had a personal insight into how disabled older people use and enjoy garden spaces. This information can inform future design and management decisions at the property. The day forms part of building a brief for the potential inclusive and sensory rich garden project at Mountford House and other Cornwall Care Homes.


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