Meet a designer with an interest in creating very interactive learning spaces.
Clare Olof has been quietly making a name for herself in what some people consider the less glamorous side of gardening by concentrating on what are described as “Sensory Gardens”.
At Hampton Court Flower show this year Clare and fellow gardener Nick Buss won a silver medal with their garden “Corner of the World” a specialist garden aimed directly at children with Autism. The National Autistic Society has recognised the contribution gardens can have on children and have subsequently appointed Clare as their lead designer with a mandate to create and design new outdoor areas in schools and to redesign those outdoor areas that have no real educational / sensory benefit. A large task for someone so young.
Clare started her career not in gardening but by being a voluntary Teaching Assistant at a special needs school near Reading whilst studying for her A levels. Clare gained a great deal of self fulfillment and satisfaction at working with the children and interpreting their needs.
Whilst continuing to study for her A-levels and doing voluntary work, Clare was given the opportunity to work with her father, Nick Olof and his business Fieldwork Rest and Play. Clare was looking for an opportunity to work on hard landscaping to explore the educational benefits of outdoor areas and explore, and encourage the free flow from indoor to outdoor spaces. By concentrating on the National Curriculum and the early learning goals Clare had begun to tread a path that few others would choose.
During 2008 Clare was first approached by Nick Buss to create a garden at Hampton Court Flower Show for the following year. The garden was to be called “Learning to grow, growing to learn”, an outdoor teaching classroom sponsored by Fieldwork Rest & Play.
Clare said “It was a fantastic opportunity to work on a garden that had a real tangible benefit to the children, I was able to continue my own learning curve whilst truly understanding those people for whom the garden was being designed. It was the first time that I had really acknowledged that gardens have to be a joint effort between those who are to ultimately benefit and the designer even when you are given a blank canvas.’’
On the subject of the show garden Clare continued ‘’One of the most fantastic aspects to this garden was that Owlsmoor Primary School has one of the largest junior gardening clubs in the country and that the children grew the flowers that were put in to the show garden. It was a real delight for us all when we won gold”.
London School of Fashion
The 2009 Hampton Court experience sparked a passion for soft landscaping and Clare was able to expand on this when she was approached by Meri Mower to work as a consultant at Stockcross House, Newbury. This site is a glebe property being formally owned by the Church. A participant in the National Gardening Scheme, Stockcross was horticulturally fascinating with a huge variety of plants and was incredibly well designed.
It was at this stage that Clare, who was studying fine art and had been accepted to the London School of Fashion, decided to pursue her career outdoors.
“I was fortunate to be able to join Rosemary Alexander at the English Gardening School, it changed everything. It expanded my soft landscaping knowledge further, with that and the experience I had already gained from working with hard landscaping I really did start to feel that I was making the progress I so craved”.
For Clare, the 2012 Hampton Court success was a chance to share her passions of assisting the National Autistic Society with her sensory garden and creating an outdoor educational environment.
Clare Olaf’s work at Stockcross can be viewed as part of the National Gardening Scheme.
To discuss possible design projects contact Clare by email: firstname.lastname@example.org