Rekindling past memories in people with dementia at Bloom in the Park

Garden design is about offering people the opportunity to let their minds return to their childhood gardens

The smell, colour and texture of certain flowers and trees brings back memories for most of us, but they can be particularly evocative for people with dementia.

Which is why the Dementia Understand Together campaign has built a show garden for this year's Bloom In The Park simply called, Memories Are Made of This.

Designed by Robert Moore, the 1950s-themed garden has a manicured formal space with box hedges and tea roses as well as a fruit and vegetable patch. The garden also includes a High Nelly bike as a reminder of familiar objects from the past.

“This garden is about offering a person with dementia the opportunity to rekindle fond memories from their childhood garden and share these experiences and stories with other people,” says Moore, who was part of the design team for the Mamma Mia garden which won two gold medals at Bloom 2018.


Therapeutic benefits

Dr Suzanne Timmons from the HSE's National Dementia Office says that the garden is about facilitating the therapeutic benefits of reminiscence.

“The Dementia Understand Together campaign has been part of Bloom for three years. Previously, we’ve emphasised the health and social benefits of getting out and about in the garden but the focus this year is on stimulating reminiscence,” she says.

Members of the Alzheimer Society of Ireland’s Bloomfield social club offered suggestions for this year’s show garden.

Days of joy and contentment

Many people with dementia find it easier to recall memories from years gone by than remembering more recent events.

“By stimulating the senses – whether it’s seeing a High Nelly bike, or smelling a rose or touching a daisy or listening to a GAA match on the radio, the aim is to whisk the person back to days of joy and contentment and highlight the value of what is remembered not what is forgotten,” says Dr Timmons.

More than 4,000 people in Ireland develop dementia each year and an estimated 55,000 people live with the condition in this country. Dementia is an umbrella term for over 400 brain diseases, the most common of which are Alzheimer's disease, vascular dementia and Lewy body dementia. Dementia is not a normal part of ageing and nine out of 10 people don't get dementia.

Tips to stimulate reminiscence in your garden

1) Plant some tea roses in your garden this autumn. Originally called tea scented China roses because their blossoms had the scent of a newly opened sample of the choicest tea, the name evolved into tea roses. Their scent is sweet and familiar to most older people.
2) Consider putting up a wind chime to move gently in the breeze. Made from either metal or wood, wind chimes can create a sense of peace in a garden. Listening to music from the past via a carefully selected playlist can also bring back memories. See
3) Create an easy-to-manage vegetable patch or raised bed with onions, lettuce, rhubarb and other favourite home-grown vegetables. Give the person with dementia the chance to pick them fresh from the garden if possible.
4) Plant flowers which remind people of cottage gardens. These include delphiniums, primulas, lupins, lilies and ox-eye daisies.
5) Consider putting a fun item in your garden such as a garden gnome, a sculpture of a bird or a toadstool. These items were popular garden features in the past and can trigger some playful memories.

Some of the other health-related gardens at Bloom

– Janssen, Aware and See Change will present a garden that has been created in collaboration with people living with, or affected by, mental illness. Called Grounded, the garden has been designed by landscape architect Maeve O'Neill. Inspiration for the garden comes from the idea that a conversation is the first step on the journey to recovery.

– The Marie Keating Foundation's Breath of Life garden tells the story of lung cancer in Ireland, shinning a spotlight on the reality of its low survival rates but also highlighting the hope that exists with the advent of new treatment options and greater awareness of its early signs and symptoms. The garden also highlights the importance of healthy lifestyle choices, and its role in cancer prevention. Designed by Tunde Perry, visitors are invited to pay tribute to a loved one affected by cancer, by pinning a personalised ribbon to a tribute wall.
– Designed by Leonie Cornelius for the Irish Wheelchair Association, The Great Outdoors represents the journey from everyday life into the great outdoors and the idea that everyone should rightfully be able to immerse themselves in nature, gardens and the wild. It enables wheelchair users comfortable access, with ample room for navigation, turning and companionship.
– Enable Ireland's Diversity Garden, designed by Linda McKeown, encourages visitors to consider the diversity all around us. It will be an accessible space, inclusive to all which encourages people to celebrate the uniqueness of each individual, while recognising and respecting our differences.
– Designed by Ruaidhrí Bashford, Moving Forward – Building My Best Possible Life for Cheshire Ireland is a garden that aims to inspire people to consider the importance of living in a home of one's own, whether that is in a residential setting or in a clustered setting.
– Open from Thursday, May 30th until Monday, June 3rd (9am-6pm daily), tickets for Bloom are €20 for one day and €35 for two days. There are concessions for students and OAPs, and under-16s are admitted free. For details and to book tickets, see