Heart and soil

Heart and soil

Garden designer Olivia Kirk shows landlords and property developers how to keep their occupiers happy and free of sniffles By Claire Middleton

HAVING useful and attractive outside space has become an increasingly vital element of the places where we live and work.

Developers don’t construct offices or apartments these days without considering the landscaping; having plants, trees and water nearby improves well-being, provides a relaxing bolthole and, let’s be honest, makes any premises more rentable or easier to sell.

It is part of the customer experience, creating an emotional connection beyond the bricks and mortar which make up the fabric of the building and it has gone way beyond the Ground Force blueprint of pergolas, patios and ponds.

Olivia Kirk, a gold medal winner from the Chelsea Flower Show and a regular tutor for The London College of Garden Design based at Kew, specialises in what she calls ‘healing gardens’.

These gardens are especially appropriate for hospices and for patients with dementia where the experience required is simplicity, calm – and, more practically, for plants which do not cause vulnerable clients to cough and wheeze.

The principles she applies for her healing gardens, however, are just as appropriate for developers planning large-scale plantings who could understandably be tempted to go for the robust or cheap and be less mindful of their customers who, increasingly in this polluted world, could easily be hay fever sufferers, have asthma or breathing difficulties.

So here are Olivia’s tips for improving the customer experience when it comes to designing outside space. They are not to be sneezed at!

Avoid wind-pollinated plants. Olivia says: “Most people who get hay fever are set off by plants that are wind pollinated. Ornamental grasses are also big offenders and so are lawns. If you must plant lawn, it needs to be very well maintained and cut regularly so it doesn’t go to seed. You can create the look of ornamental grasses with bronze fennel which sways nicely in a breeze. Phormiums like Phormium ‘Platts Black’ or ‘Maori Queen’ have great structure.”

Choose cherry. Olivia says: “Lots of the go-to trees like silver birches or acers are wind pollinated. The cherry family of trees are insect-pollinated and the June Berry (Amelanchier Lamarckii) is a fabulous tree with a long season of interest. Sorbus, magnolia and crab apples are all good trees. For hospice gardens we often choose the winter-flowering cherry which flowers from October to March and has lovely autumn-leaf colour.”

Double up. Olivia says: “Anything with double flowers is good, so try and avoid flat, open flowers like daisies. Double flowers like roses are better because they trap the pollen. Be careful with strong-smelling blooms as they can also set off asthma. Lavender is often suggested as a good plant for asthma sufferers, but it does have a strong scent. Climbers could also be problematic as they can also cause issues at nose level. Irises and alliums are great.”

Herb appeal. Olivia says: “Herbs like chives, purple sage, rosemary and bay are fine and have great foliage and colour. Hedges can be a problem because they tend to attract and retain dust, cobwebs and spores which get dislodged when they are being trimmed.”

Olivia Kirk is an experienced landscape and garden designer who specialises in creating healing gardens.  She was awarded an RHS Chelsea Gold medal in 2011 for her ‘Power of Nature’ Garden and her most recent garden at Chelsea for The WellChild Charity won a Silver Gilt.  She is a regular tutor for The London College of Garden Design based at Kew.

Contact her at olivia@oliviakirkgardens.com



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