Most of London is steeped in history, St Katharine’s with its medieval beginnings perhaps a little more so than most organisations. Thus it is wonderful to explore the brief but fascinating history of our very own yurt, which will soon contain our café.

For a few weeks this summer, it stood at the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, within it a conceptual garden designed by Sarah Wilson.


A garden that won gold as garden event of the year.

The garden display was titled ‘Synaesthesia Garden,’ a meditation in plants on the concept of synaesthesia, or the experience of the senses joining, so that one can hear colours or see sound or feel smell.


Seeing Music – Klee’s Fugue in Red

Just thinking about what that might be like, or how we might experience it, opens up a world of possibilities for how we interact with the world. It’s hardly surprising that artists have been fascinated by it.

Perhaps those most commonly connected to it have been de Maistre, Kandinsky, Klee and Miro, but there are many others.

Sarah Wilson describes her garden thus:

Synaesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sense leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sense.

This garden is contained within a white canvas dome, representing the inside of a synaesthete’s head. Visitors to the garden enter the dome. Once inside, the garden is washed with different coloured lights in response to trigger words that are projected onto the inside of the dome echoing the multisensory experiences of a synaesthete. Specially commissioned sculptures and paving materials such as glass and mirror will enhance the lighting effects and the visitor’s experiences. All-white flowers are used, along with a profusion of silver and variegated foliage. The planting chosen will maximise the effects of the coloured LED lights and will include a range of perennials and annuals.


Plants bring together texture (touch), fragrance (smell), and beauty (sight), a perfect way to explore our own senses in the safe and neutral space of the yurt that removes visitors from the world.


In its new life as a café, this same structure of felt and wood will create a very different kind of space. It will be more open to the outside world, with new windows and double glass doors. It will contain a bar, a circular table in the middle for breaking bread with old friends or making new ones surrounded by tables and chairs. It will be a place of laughter and words and music.

There are some interesting continuities though.

Connected to this large yurt we will be putting up a second smaller one as a reflective and meditative space. We’re still deciding on how that will be decorated, how we would like it to feel when inside of it — yet we hope for some of this same experience of calm, distance, a separation from the world that can give the time and space to explore our own thoughts and senses.

Alongside the yurt will stand artist studios, reflecting the art and design and creativity that won this garden its prize.

This connection between space, plants and our deepest selves is also something we hope to explore in the precinct as a whole.

It’s a lovely coincidence, then, that Sarah Wilson has also written a lovely blog called ‘The Outsider’s Garden‘, which explores the weird and beautiful garden of Richard de Lullington in East Sussex. She writes:

Richard has no formal training in art or sculpture but uses his creative ingenuity to fashion pieces from donated and discarded materials and paints…

Richard struggles with early onset dementia and uses the garden as a creative release. I asked him if he would have created the same garden if it were just for him and not visible to the public. From his response, I guess it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other; he’s powerfully driven to create for his own satisfaction but the enjoyment and amusement of others is also an important factor. Having said that, I’ve never visited a place that so totally inspired me to go back to my own garden and create a space that was personal to me, that was an expression of myself and what I felt was beautiful, regardless of how it was viewed by others.

There is such a clear and obvious connection between the natural world and health, between gardening and art and our own well-being. These connections will continue to be built alongside this beautiful yurt, if no longer held within it.