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Chelsea Flower Show seizure garden backed by epilepsy charities

Epilepsy Society and Young Epilepsy welcome the opportunity to shine a spotlight on epilepsy, through the Embroidered Minds Epilepsy Garden, designed by RHS gold medal winning designer, Kati Crome at Chelsea Flower Show 2018.

The Embroidered Minds Epilepsy Garden celebrates the lives of two women born almost 100 years apart. But though the women lived radically different lives, they both had one thing in common – epilepsy.

Jenny Morris, daughter of Victorian designer, artist and social reformer William Morris, developed epilepsy in 1876, although her condition remained a well-kept family secret due to the stigma of epilepsy.

Leslie Forbes, journalist, broadcaster and author, was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2005 and died of a major seizure in 2016. It was while Leslie was undergoing treatment at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Queen Square, London, that she became intrigued by the story of Jenny and her family.

Leslie’s novel Embroidered Minds of the Morris Women explores the story of Jenny, who lived a compromised life in the shadow of her acute condition.

The Embroidered Minds Epilepsy Garden designed by Leslie’s life-long friend Kati Crome, continues the story, depicting the experience of a seizure as described by Leslie with Jenny Morris as the focus. The aim of the garden is to grow awareness of a condition which has endured thousands of years of ignorance and stigma.
Kati, left, an RHS gold medal winning designer, uses a range of plants, grasses, ceramics, oak and steel to represent the stages of a seizure from the calm, pre-seizure state, through the sharp diagonals of seizure onset to the full chaos of a tonic clonic seizure.

Plants and tiles distort and fragment to show the differing seizure experiences, while the beautiful oak bench with steam bent slats and copper rivets represent the spikes and drama of an EEG reading.

The Embroidered Minds project is led by Andrew Thomas who is Leslie’s husband and a designer and ceramicist. The garden is sponsored by Epilepsy Society and many of the plants for the garden have been grown by children and young people from Young Epilepsy.

Epilepsy Society’s chief executive Clare Pelham says: “Epilepsy was highly stigmatised in 1876 when Jenny Morris had her first seizure. People with the condition would be placed in the workhouse or asylum, or at best be hidden away as a dark family secret.

“I wish we could say now that this garden is a beautiful but historical portrayal of less enlightened times. But sadly many people with epilepsy keep their condition a secret from their friends, colleagues and employers. And dread the thought that they may have a seizure outside their own home.

“William Morris left a wonderful legacy of craft and design that has inspired thousands of our homes in this country. We hope that his daughter, Jenny, through this unique and thought-provoking garden will also leave a legacy. A living legacy of better understanding, acceptance and support for people with epilepsy.”

Carol Long, chief executive of Young Epilepsy says: “This garden sends a powerful message to people in helping them to better understand epilepsy. It will be seen by millions of people through visits to the garden itself or on television. The beauty of this landscape is a wonderful way to raise awareness of a serious condition that is still poorly understood.

“Stories like Jenny Morris’s are sadly still all too common today. We at Young Epilepsy strive to break down the stigma associated with epilepsy, most recently, with the launch of our ‘In The Moment’ campaign, where we have heard from people who previously were ashamed to talk about the condition they’re living with. It’s still a shocking reality even in today’s society.

“Our young people were absolutely fantastic at making this important garden a reality. We have a dedicated horticulture team that encourages them to embrace the outdoors by planting and enjoying nature. They’ve done an incredible job.

“Young Epilepsy is delighted to have been part of this project inspired by two great women [Leslie Forbes and Jenny Morris] we are so proud to be associated with it.”

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