Love Your Garden Series 9: Episode 5 A garden for Isla



The Story behind the Garden

This week Alan Titchmarsh is in Folkstone Kent to see mum Rachel's extraordinary family. He surprises Rachel returning from the school run with her children Isla 5 and Betsy 2.


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Rachel is shocked to see Alan and cant believe he is there to see her. Also in the household is Husband Ped and 11 year old George. 



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Isla has a happy disposition and loves interacting and responds with a beaming smile and laugh. 

When Isla was just 41/2 months old her mum noticed after a bath she was twitching, they took her hospital where she had a seizure. 

Isla was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome also known as catastrophic Epilepsy. Dravet Syndrome which can lead to seizures that are life changing or even fatal.

When Isla was 14 months old she had a severe seizure that left her brain damaged leaving her unable to talk, walk or see. 

She was left petrified as she was scared by every noise or touch.


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Isla Aunt, Leanne Thomas talks about how Rachel wanted to move forward after this. Shana Pearson, a friend talks about how Rachel was motivated to do something. 

Rachel for the last 4 years has worked non stop to improve Isla quality of life and Isla eye sight has improved because of this. 

Isla's Teacher Emma Hedges talks about the progress she has made since she started at School and how her vision is gradually coming back.

Rachel now works with other parents of newly diagnosed children, to help them come to terms with having a child with Dravet Syndrome. 

Julie Simmons Isla's Grandma talks with pride of Rachels role in helping others. Someone she has helped is Jade Bourne who relies on their daily chats.


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Often the family are confined to the house due to Isla condition as its not so easy to get out and about due to the lack of changing tables. 

Having a garden will make a huge difference.


The Garden

Alan declares it definitely is a family garden, Rachel said they did a quick fix in the summer but now Isla is bigger and heavier its harder as Rachel has to carry her outside.


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Rachel would like a garden with a swing as Isla loves it, she also reacts to noise and things she can touch. 


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Rachel says a garden they can all get out into will be life changing.


Alan Titchmarsh calls on the Team of his contractors, David Domoney, Katie Rushworth and Frances Tophill.


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David job is to make the garden 'access all areas'  and to make it the ultimate sensory garden

Katie job is the swing and play area

Frances job is the garage and to brighten it up with a dining area in front

Alan job is to work on the family hub area using an old fire place.


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The garden is to be a practical, magical area. Using the fireplace as inspiration to make an outdoor living space complete with princess entrance path and 2 water features. 

A new den and swing and a family dining area with a pizza oven in front of a painted mural.


A work in Progress
David starts by adding 3 huge moon gates which come in kit form which are cemented in, to form a tunnel. Underneath it will have a resin bonded path which will be very smooth for Isla wheelchair. 


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David has also added decking to the middle section and paving to the dining area.


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David is installing the first water feature, a clear dome of cascading water floating on a stainless steel base.


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The second water feature can be programmed to change the sequence of squirting water which comes out through the pebble base.


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Katie has halved the size of the swing and plans to make a den in the other half and has painted the fence dark green.

The den end is painted dark green and has some troughs planted at the side and will be covered in climbers the other side. 


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In the window box planters Katie plants Argyranthemums in solid blocks of colour.


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Katie add a tall planter of tactile and fragrant plants for Isla to touch as she passes through the moon gate arches. The Hydrangea has a hairy leaf and she adds Sage for the fragrance and touch. 


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She also adds Thyme and lavender which are all happy in the growing conditions.


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At the side of the pot she adds tall grasses, Stipa Gigantea  which is great next to the path. 


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For little sister Betsy Katie makes a sandpit out of a crate lined with old pond liner and play sand.


Frances starts to disguise the garage by covering it in boards painted dark green. roses are very important to the family and both the girls have Rose as a middle name so these will feature in this area. 


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Rachel and Ped are both fans of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo so this has inspired the mural of the artist and the roses. 


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Frances Mural is looking stunning and is very big and bold with loads of roses. 

Alan  helps Frances by painting the inside of the butterflies which are the symbol of the Dravet Syndrome UK. 

Frances plants a slow growing Acer to the central area by her mural as well as Sedums, Brachyglottis, Verbascums and Corokias. 


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Rachel Sister Vicky is helping to finish off the painting with Katie. She talks about how the family have coped with Isla condition is amazing and they way she helps other people with her support. 


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Frances adds the pizza oven for brother George to cook in.


Alan with the fireplace taking central position, his new lounge feature of 10ft high shelving are put in place, which are then painted dark green.


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Alan wants a Ceanothus beside his chimney piece and wants the central plants to form a barrier in the garden. Griselinias are very good in gardens by the sea.


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For the fireplace Alan wants plants to form a fire effect. First he adds a yellow Golden Bay, then for embers Argranthemums. 

Behind that he adds Nandina the sacred bamboo of Japan. For the flames he adds Geums.


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Wisteria and climbing Hydrangea Petiolaris are added to the moon gate tunnel with plant ties for support.



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Alan adds the garden furniture to the lounge area.


Alan visits a garden in Sussex for inspiration. 


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The garden has a secret moon gate entrance, plain dark grey on one side and a dry stone effect on the other. 

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A pond with a cascading waterfall gives a lovely sound to the garden. The garden has contrasting planting and a hobbit hole in the corner. 


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This has a green roof and planting pockets on the side.


Katie visits Christine Sanderson who has a cottage garden where she likes to use  household objects to brighten it up and to be a little bit unconventional.


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Christine has a set of drawers and some old chairs, which she paints blue. 

She lines these with damp proofing membrane and half fills with old plant pots to save on compost. 


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She plants Busy Lizzies in the front of the drawers.


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In the chairs she adds succulents to a hanging basket bowl and put them in the chair seats.

'Beauty on a budget'


Alan adds a finishing touch just for Rachel and he does this by helping the climbing Rose Ped bought for Rachel when Isla came home from hospital. 


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He wires and ties in the rose and adds another rose to cover the wall called Paul's Scarlet. He plants it at least as deep as the root ball.


What this garden means to the family
Alan takes Rachel away for a chat. Rachel had suffered 2 miscarriages before they has Isla and they thought she was going to be lost to. 


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Until she was 17 weeks old everything was normal. It took 8 weeks to get her diagnosis. 


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When she had the seizure that caused the brain damage she was put on life support and the scans showed the huge areas of damage.

Rachel gives her 24/7 care and a registrar told her to read a book about retraining the brain which has helped Isla to see.

The book is called ‘Little Bear Sees: How Children with Cortical Visual Impairment Can Learn to See’ by Aubri Tallent, Fredy Bush.




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Rachel says having Isla has taught her to appreciate what you have and she is so grateful Isla fought to survive.

The garden will be wonderful for Isla as she loves the swing and being in the fresh air.



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Alan speaks of the admiration he has for Rachel and how the garden will help Isla's rehabilitation.


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The Grand Reveal
The garden is now a safe haven for the whole family, and touches especially to help stimulate Isla senses including soothing sounds and delicious smells. 

The easy access paths leads them on a journey through the garden to the play area, dining area with mural, to finally the lounge area and fireplace.

Rachel open your eyes


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'awwww' ' OH' 'Its amazing' 'oh look at my roses' 'look at this my fireplace' 'it looks so posh' 


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she loves the globe water feature and the sensory plants. 


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The huge pizza oven and she amazed at the mural. 'More than i could ever dream of'. 


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Tears start to fall at the roses for her gran and the 2 roses in her life. 


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Rachel hugs Alan as she thanks him.

Isla sees the garden for the first time


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Betsy is first to the water feature and they both laugh as the water disappears and squirts Betsy. 


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Isla touches and reaches for the flowers as Betsy finds the sandpit.


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As friends and family pour in like the water feature, the champagne corks pop as they all see in the magical garden and the air is filled with children's laughter. 


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