One of two Artisan Gardens at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2021, the Guide Dogs’ 90th Anniversary Garden is an emotive representation of the journey one takes when they lose their sight. It highlights the sense of liberation a blind or partially sighted person can feel when they meet their perfect canine partner.

The garden takes us back to the first four guide dog partnerships to take place in the UK nine decades ago, and celebrates the incredible work done by the The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association ever since.

Designed by Adam Woolcott & Jonathan Smith and sponsored by The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, the Guide Dogs’ 90th Anniversary Garden design tells the story of four German Shepherds. In 1931, they were partnered with four World War One veterans who had been blinded in combat.

“These partnerships offered a real lifeline to these veterans and helped them fulfill a better, more independent life,” says co-designer Jonathan Smith.

Guide Dogs’ 90th Anniversary Garden: Design features

The garden cleverly uses sculpture and sensory design elements to tell the story of the different feeling and experiences one might have when they lose their sight, from fear and darkness to acceptance and, finally, independence through meeting their guide dog.

The planting scheme contrasts ferns and dark foliage with colourful wildflower meadow planting. The chunking of colour and obvious contrast is an element that helps partially-sighted people enjoy the garden.

Sensory design elements aim to awaken other senses, including a babbling brook and tall, rustling grasses for sound. Flowers have also been chosen for their scent to allow people to experience the garden through smell.

“Two main features in the garden are two metal sculptures,” says co-designer Adam Woolcott, “one is of a veteran, very sad, very downtrodden, very isolated. Then the second one is a sculpture of a veteran that has now been liberated by their guide dog. They are out on the precipice of a hill. They are looking into the light. They are looking forward.”

Design features:

  • dark foliage, ferns and grasses
  • wildflowers
  • defined planting
  • sensory design elements
  • two metal sculptures of veterans
  • fragrant flowers
  • babbling brook with a small bridge over it
  • snaking path

    How has the Guide Dogs’ 90th Anniversary Garden adapted to work in September?

    “With Chelsea being postponed until September, we had to make changes to our plant list and update it just like everybody else has,” says Jonathan, who says that one of the biggest changes was not being able to use 100% British wildflowers, trees and shrubs as they had originally planned.

    To achieve the same look in late summer/early autumn, the design duo will use some cultivated plants, including Japanese anemones. This is a plant that normally doesn’t work for the May Chelsea show as they are not yet in bloom but, by September, should look fantastic. Other wildflowers however, including dandelion, will no longer be featured as they will have stopped flowering by the postponed Chelsea dates.

    Despite changes Jonathan and Alex have tried to use plants and flowers that would be bee around in the 1930s, when their story of The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association begins. This will help add a nostalgic feel to the end product.

    More on Chelsea 2021:

      Who are The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association?

      The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, better known by the working name Guide Dogs, is a British charity founded in 1934 three years after the UK’s first guide dogs were trained and matched to their owners.

      Today, the Guide Dogs is the world’s largest breeder and trainer of working dogs. Thanks to incredible donations and dedicated volunteers, 36,000 lives have been transformed through a guide dog partnership since 1931. With new technologies and clever services, the charity is able to support thousands of people living with sight loss right around the UK.

      Over the coming years, the charity hopes to increase the number of guide dog partnerships and develop a broader range of services to help those with sight loss get out and about on their own terms.

      The charity says: “We want to offer more services to the people who need us. To do this we will need to inspire even more people to support our charity as volunteers and donors, and ensure that anyone affected by sight loss knows that we can help them, whatever their need and whatever stage they are at in their sight loss journey.”

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