A garden to stimulate dyslexic minds

I first came across the Dyslexia Discovery Exhibit garden while walking back from dinner in Christchurch on a cold winter's night with a friend whose child is among the estimated one in 10 New Zealanders with dyslexia. The Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand defines the condition as: "A learning difference which may cause difficulties in the acquisition of certain literacy and numeracy skills." This week, we take a look at this magical space.

Adyslexic mind often prefers thinking in pictures, rather than with the sound of words. Christchurch’s award-winning Dyslexia Discovery Exhibit garden, installed in 2007,  acknowledges this with an exciting, visual, interactive opus – created by (or on behalf of) well-known, highly imaginative and successful ”picture thinkers”.

Recently, the garden was extended into into the rear of the Dyslexia Foundation of New Zealand’s inner-city villa. Connected to the original space by a meandering pathway, the new innovation has received high accolades and several gold medals.

Its grand public unveiling coincides with this year’s Ellerslie International Flower Show and the launch of DFNZ’s book, ABSee: a wonderful, illustrated collection, depicting letters of the alphabet, with contributions from 26 different artists. Artworks from the book will be on show in the garden and on sale via silent auction.

**Engagin with dyslexia through the garden


A couple of major criteria were included in the brief to landscape designers Morgan and Pollard. The space had to form a sympathetic link between the public front garden, the historic villa and a newly built modern studio. It also needed to connect with the foundation’s work, celebrating dyslexic people’s creativity.

This result has been achieved through clever use of space and a predominantly green and rust-coloured planting palette. The overall effect is one of a quiet, contemplative wooded glade – perfect for foundation staff and visitors. There are many tactile elements too, encouraging children to explore and discover.

Shape & form

These elements are both intrinsic to the garden. order is imposed with the repetitive use of square patterns. While strong, clear lines dominate, circular forms and twisting patterns are also included to help convey the confusion a dyslexic person sometimes feels.


The ground is made from a range of materials, in varying shades of grey, and shifting sizes. This tricky concept could have resulted in chaos, but didn’t.

oasterfully installed large pavers juxtapose with small pavers to create two directional pathways, side by side yet leading to different parts of the garden. Another path, paved with randomly sized stones to represent the complexity of dyslexia, connects the front and rear gardens.


oversize nails with in-built lights, which look rather like a child’s handiwork, have been hammered in at random angles and heights. They add an enchanted, fantastical feel to the garden at night.


Acclaimed UK artist Mackenzie Thorpe’s bronze figure, Skipping, takes centre stage. Dyslexic himself, Mackenzie first imagined his character in drawings, progressing to small resin table sculptures before creating this wonderfully playful piece. The area around it represents a riverbed, a metaphor for dyslexic life, often described as a journey full of twists and turns.


Existing native beech trees and Japanese maples provide dappled summer sunlight while deciduous maples allow winter sun in. Textural planting, including cabbage trees (Cordyline australis), and strappy leafed turutu (Dianella nigra), give a good mix of shape and form, and upright lancewoods (Pseudopanax crassifoliu), with their jagged foliage, create a strong visual element. Groundcovers, including NZ daphne (Pimelea prostrata), complete a captivating picture.

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