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Birkbeck Scores at Chelsea

Professor Marjorie Lorch has had an important role in creating a garden at this month's RHS Chelsea Flower Show and will discuss her work with thousands of visitors.

Artist's impression of the Embroidered Minds Epilepsy Garden, designed by Kati Crome
Artist's impression of the Embroidered Minds Epilepsy Garden, designed by Kati Crome

The work of Birkbeck’s Professor Marjorie Lorch has helped to shape one of the Artisan Gardens that will be unveiled at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show later this month.

The Embroidered Minds Epilepsy Garden is based on the ongoing Embroidered Minds project, which is a collaboration between award-winning authors, artists, doctors and historians to examine the effects that epilepsy may have had on the family of William Morris. His daughter Jenny developed the condition in the 1870s, but this remained a secret due to the considerable social stigma. By coincidence, at this time the Morris family home and workshop was next door to the National Hospital for Paralysis and Epilepsy in Queen Square, Bloomsbury.

Over the years, the Embroidered Minds collaboration has created a novel, artworks and a play, amongst others, to capture the experience of Jenny Morris and her family dealing with this debilitating neurological condition.

This epilepsy garden, which can be seen from 22 to 26 May, is their latest creation. The garden has been designed by Kati Crome who has previously won Gold and Silver Gilt for her previous gardens at Chelsea and is aimed at raising awareness of the experience of epilepsy and the challenges that sufferers and their families continue to face.  

There are three sections to the garden, each representing a different experience of epilepsy. The first echoes the calm of the mind before a seizure; the second represents the chaotic state of the brain during a seizure; and the third is designed to show the long-term effect of the unusual neural connections associated with epilepsy.

Among the design features are a vertical living wall which references the Morris’s famous designs, with patterns inspired by the natural world. A specially created bench mirrors the readout of an electroencephalogram (EEG) during a seizure and a ceramic-tiled path begins with Morris-style designs which become increasingly disturbed and fragmented as they reach the end of the bench.

The garden has sponsorship from the Epilepsy Society and Young Epilepsy, with some of the featured plants grown by residents of the latter’s Surrey site.

Professor Lorch, Professor of Neurolinguistics at Birkbeck, said: “It has been a wonderful experience to have my research into the 19th century understanding of language and thought disorders inform this creative project. Being part of the Embroidered Minds collaboration focusing on the activities of William Morris’s family and the doctors in Queen Square over many years has been extremely rewarding.

"All of our work has been focused around representations of aphasia and epilepsy, conditions from which the founding leader Leslie Forbes of this project suffered and sadly died in 2016. This garden has been designed to promote the public understanding of the experience of epilepsy. It will reach 157,000 visitors and millions of viewers worldwide."

Professor Lorch contributed to the design brief and advised on medicinal plants used historically to treat epilepsy. She will be attending the show on Friday 25 May to represent Birkbeck and discuss with visitors her research into Victorian and present day understanding of neurological disorders that affect language and thought. The show will be televised on BBC2 throughout the week of 22 to 26 May.

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