This area of landscaping may not
seem like an important part of Plymouth’s post war architectural legacy - but it
is. It is one of the only areas of 1950s landscaping (except for the Great
Square and the area south of the Civic Centre) that was built as intended in
Plymouth, and is interesting in that it was designed with people who have
disabilities in mind – perhaps an uncommon feat of its time. Unfortunately, the
pedestrianisation of the City Centre in 1987/1988 meant that this area was
extensively and unnecessarily changed.
The Braille Garden was designed by Hector Stirling and built in 1958 as one of many sensory gardens that were to be located along Armada Way (however, it was to be the only sensory garden that was actually built). It was intended for blind people and was originally called ‘The Garden of the Blind’, although this name is less common today.
As the idea of the garden suggested, it was to be somewhere that appealed to the senses. Originally, aromatic plants were planted in granite flower beds complete with Braille lettering along the edges of the beds. A large water feature, with an eagle sitting in its centre was included, and paving of different textures - rough stone and smooth concrete set in a regular pattern – was used for the floor. The garden also included many benches looking towards the Hoe (which for some strange reason have been replaced with benches facing the opposite direction), and access was obtained via inclined slopes rather than the steps that were used in the area south of the Civic Centre. Thus it can be said that the garden stimulated four out of the five senses – taste may have been a little too ambitious to include in a public garden! The stonework and flowerbeds of the garden were made of recycled granite obtained from blitzed or demolished pre-war buildings.
Today, the Braille Garden is less impressive. It has been substantially changed, with the water feature filled in and the eagle removed. The Braille has gone and the aromatic plants mostly replaced with low maintenance shrubs. Some of the paving has been replaced, the layout has been changed, and large (unused) flagpoles have been erected. The area seems largely ignored and the Pedestrianisation and fussy 1980s landscaping both in and south of the garden clutter its relative simplicity and dignity. The area has now become popular with skateboarders, but this does at least mean that people are using and enjoying the area.
Text and pictures by Graham Hobbins click here to e-mail Graham