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Discover the Stroke Association’s Garden for Recovery

by | 10 Apr 24 | Garden Design, Long Reads

When garden designer Miria Harris suffered a stroke in 2019, this was only the beginning of her battle for survival. Left with the inability to speak or form words, Harris was scared that she was losing her mind; but despite a relatively quick return to her normal state, it was the stroke that led to the discovery of the hole in her heart that was later closed through heart surgery in 2020. 

Continuing to carry the emotional trauma of these events, Harris says it originally had manifested as acute fatigue, and her brain would constantly throb with an ache that would not go away. “In time I found my energy levels returned, but I do now have heightened levels of anxiety, an increased sense of vulnerability and can struggle with organising my thoughts,” says Harris, “It is definitely not as simple as just getting better.” 

interior shoot in Deal Kent of house and garden designed by Miria Harris, Kent UK November 2021

But after the disconnecting experience of suffering a stroke, the reconnection with people and places Harris loves and especially with nature has been hugely important. 

With a background as a contemporary curator and producer of art and design, Harris has leaned into garden design, and with collaboration at the heart of her creative process, she approached the Stroke Association with the idea of doing a show garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, having seen previous gardens supported by Project Giving Back. Both parties were eager to explore the opportunity to raise the profile of the Stroke Association, a charity very dear to Harris. 

The Stroke Association’s Garden for Recovery aims to raise awareness and support for stroke survivors. With a permanent relocation to Chapel Allerton hospital in Leeds, the garden will benefit patients and families after the show. “Not only will the garden increase the biodiversity of the landscape, but it will also support recovering stroke patients with direct access to nature and the positive impact on wellbeing that comes with it, for many years to come,” says Harris. 

“The garden will also provide the blueprint for a digital garden that will have a lasting, meaningful legacy and will be able to reach many more stroke survivors and their loved ones.” 

The Stroke Association is the leading stroke support charity in the UK. From providing vital stroke support services, to funding pioneering stroke research, the charity relies on fundraising to support stroke survivors to achieve their best possible recovery. Currently, the Stroke Association can only reach one third of the survivors who most need the charity’s help. The association’s presence at the show will help it to achieve its ambitious new goal – to reach everyone with stroke support as quickly as possible after their stroke – whilst also creating a beautiful, lasting legacy that will support stroke survivors throughout their recovery for many years to come. 

Harris’ garden will highlight that the stroke recovery process isn’t straightforward or perfect, but it is possible. It emphasises the non-linear nature of stroke recovery and the benefits of reconnecting with nature. 

The garden also aims to mirror the association’s purpose: to support every stroke survivor to achieve their best possible recovery. And since a stroke doesn’t discriminate, it can strike anyone, young or old, at any time, affecting people in a multitude of different ways. The only communal experience is the trauma, says Harris. 

“You may be left with acute physical obstacles to overcome or appear from the outside to be unchanged, but all survivors of stroke will need time and space to recover, to process the trauma and reconnect with family and loved ones. The main focus for the Stroke Association’s Garden for Recovery is to create a calm, sensory space where visitors will be able to take their time to recover, rest and be transported away from the built environment of hospitals into an immersive natural space.” 

Visitors can expect a wildlife-friendly rich tapestry of planting that unfolds across the garden. The planting scheme is organised according to muted rainbow colour blocked zones, using shrubs, perennials, and annuals to help visitors find focus.  

The garden will be welcoming and accessible, designed as a peaceful space which uses colour, scent, and the sound of water to provide soft wayfinding for those who might be easily disorientated or have additional visual or mobility needs, while interconnected pathways through a contoured landscape acknowledge the difficult road to recovery with its ups and downs.  

A wildlife pond and stream will add the soothing sound of water, with a bridge across the stream as a metaphor for the mental, physical, and emotional connections that must be rebuilt after stroke. Gently curved paths will lead visitors around the garden, while a series of naturally built walls shaping places to rest and be with loved ones.  

“My story and the stories that I have learned from speaking to other survivors have been the inspiration for this garden. They have shaped the garden’s themes and have directly influenced the material choices I have made in the design,” says Harris. “Project Giving Back has not only enabled me to combine my passion for designing gardens and landscapes, but with the opportunity to help raise the profile of the Stroke Association and the work they do, I’m incredibly grateful.” 

Being unveiled at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show from 21 to 25 May 2024, Harris hopes that the Stroke Association’s Garden for Recovery will elevate the charity’s cause and vision of a world where everyone has a fighting chance of surviving a stroke and gets the support they need, so they are not just living to survive, but able to live life again. 

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