Humphry Repton, disabled garden designer

In my 2011 book Radical Gardening I included material about gardens and gardening and health and disability. I included here a little discussion of Humphry Repton, the Norwich schoolboy who became the hugely influential designer who coined the phrase ‘landscape gardening’, and whose bicentenary of death we mark this week.

A decade or so before he died in 1818, Repton was involved in a carriage accident which left him physically disabled, with restricted mobility, and using a wheelchair (or bathchair). In  Radical Gardening I mused on the kind of impact this life-change could have on him, on his work, on garden design. I do need really to go back and do further work on the question, to produce a more solid and informed piece about Repton, disability and garden design. (Another Norfolk figure on my list is the multiply-disabled Burnham Thorpe lad Horatio Nelson. I want to crip Nelson and Repton alike, as we say in DS [Disability Studies].) But here is my brief discussion from Radical Gardening, which identifies five ways in which we can crip Repton.


In the context what academics of disability in society and culture have begun to term our dismodern world—acknowledging the increasing presence and visibility of disability (due to inclusive legislation, improved medical techniques, and ageing populations)—we should note the place of gardeners with disabilities in gardening history. The eighteenth and early nineteenth century garden designer Humphry Repton, one successor to Capability Brown and the designer responsible for the term ‘landscape gardening’, was himself physically disabled. As a result of an accident in 1811/13—when in his [late] gardening prime—Repton became a wheelchair (or ‘bath-chair’, in the language of the day) user. His mobility impairment influenced his thoughts about gardening, and in his new physical state he now ‘turned his mind energetically to the best kinds of gardening for people like himself.

He wanted his gardens and parks to be linked to the wider world,  and when he suggested a prospect from a terrace he often included a lively scene of motion—“a busy scene of shipping”, a turnpike with its carts, a view across a city like Leeds’. In this way the mobility-restricted gardener could feel connected and stimulated, the person with a disability included not excluded from the continuing experience of social activity and engagement.

Repton, 1816, in chair. Note accessible garden design features: raised bed, pergola and hanging plants, wide smooth paths

His 1816 The Luxury of Gardens includes an image which shows Repton in his wheelchair in a garden, directing works. Here the level of design displays some of the thoughtful elements enabling people with disabilities, in this instance wheelchair users, to be, or to continue to be, gardeners. The impact would be all the greater since Repton himself, as noted, a man at this stage of his life with restricted mobility, was a famous, professional gardener—and writer of a book the illustrations in which displayed rather than obscured his disability.

The raised bed is the primary feature, providing ease of viewing and enjoyment of the plants, as well as facilitating the act of planting itself, but there are other inclusive design features: the smooth and level path, the wide pergola, each of which would enable a wheelchair user to have ease of access around the garden, for instance.

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New Perspectives in Participatory Arts conference, UEA, 22-23 May

I’m pleased to be organising this conference with Dr Lucy Wright, Senior Research Associate on my current AHRC Connected Communities project on DIY Culture and Participatory Arts, and the Connected Communities team here at the University of East Anglia, Rachel Daniel and Jess Knights. Here is the call for papers. 


This FREE conference, organised by the AHRC Connected Communities programme, seeks to draw together the new knowledge and practice generated by and emerging from funded research projects across Connected Communities as well as more widely in the fields of community and participatory arts. One of the progamme’s eight strategic focuses has been around participatory arts—this is an opportunity for those involved to share their work and thoughts with other project teams and communities.

Keynote speakers

We are delighted to be welcoming:

  • Professor Helen Nicholson, Royal Holloway, University of London, co-author of The Ecologies of Amateur Theatre and co-ed. Critical Perspectives on Applied Theatre, Principal Investigator on AHRC CC project Amateur Dramatics: Crafting Communities in Time and Place
  • Steve Pool, Sheffield-based visual artist, community artist, researcher, as well as AHRC CC project Co-Investigator, and Artist in Residence on Imagine project.

We welcome contributions from community professionals, arts practitioners and academic researchers alike (recognising that these categories may be productively fluid), both from those who have been involved in Connected Communities projects and others with relevant expertise or interest. Themes for discussion include but are not limited to:

  • Moving beyond ‘with not for’: changing ideas about collaboration between diverse individuals, groups and organisations
  • The role of creative practice within participatory and community arts
  • Creative work in the community: education and pedagogy, training, careers, precarity
  • Terms: ‘participation’ / ’community’ / ’social’ / ’everyday’
  • Continued usefulness or otherwise of key paradigms: product/process, cultural value and quality
  • New(-er) approaches to and opportunities for widening access from participatory arts—digital disabilities, internationalisation of practice, working with refugee/migrant groups, links with development agendas/Global South
  • New historical and critical studies of the community arts movement
  • New thinking in theoretical approach
  • Shifting policy / funding landscapes: cultural and community policy questions
  • Art / health / well-being.

Proposals of 250-300 words are invited for presentations / interventions of 20 minutes, panel discussions, creative contributions. These should be sent as a Word attachment to: cc.admin@uea.ac.uk and include the following: title, presenter(s), affiliation(s), short biography (100 words), Connected Communities project(s) where relevant, email address for contact.

The deadline for submissions is: 1st March 2018 (we may be extending this a little because of UCU strike action in the two weeks preceding the deadline)

Further information

The conference is free although registration is essential. Registration will open 5th March 2018 at https://connected-communities.org/

The conference will take place on the 22nd and 23rd of May at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. There will be a free evening event and meal provided for conference delegates at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts on the 22nd of May.

We can provide conference speakers with accommodation for one to two nights. Please state on your application the dates that you require accommodation. Reasonable travel expenses can also be claimed from the Connected Communities programme.

A limited number of bursaries are available to support UK-based community partner and ECR/PhD attendance. If you would like to apply for a bursary please contact cc.admin@uea.ac.uk for further details. Deadline for bursary applications is 16th March. Please also indicate the nights that you will require accommodation.

For further information contact cc.admin@uea.ac.uk.

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