ELLE Decoration (UK)


An increasing number of hospitals and hospices are investing in the restorativ­e power of gardens. Columnist and horticultu­ralist Clare Coulson digs deeper into the trend and reveals how gardening can boost your wellbeing at home


Anyone who has walked in an intoxicati­ng English garden knows that greenery – whether it’s in the form of a verdant city balcony or a bounteous herbaceous border – is both life-affirming and uplifting. We’ve always known it, but harvesting happiness from green spaces is now a hot topic.

When the Royal Horticultu­ral Society commission­ed a survey on the subject, it found that for 95 per cent of adults, access to a garden lifted their mood. In 2012, the National Trust’s Natural Childhood report found that exposure to nature can have a positive impact on a range of conditions, including ADHD. And last year, the King’s Fund’s report, Gardens and Health, made the suggestion that horticultu­ral therapy be prescribed in the treatment of mental health conditions, obesity and isolation.

Gardening enables us to enter the ‘zone’ – similar to the state of consciousn­ess experience­d during running or meditation – but it’s physically beneficial too, burning up to 400 calories per hour. ‘It can provide all- over body fitness. Raking, weeding, digging and other gardening tasks all use different sets of muscles and test your body in different ways,’ says Bunny Guinness, landscape architect and author of the book Garden Your Way to Health and Fitness. Specialist­s in biomechani­cs at Coventry University are taking this idea one step further, using their software to research ways to avoid gardening injuries or help design more effective tools. Growing our own (usually organic) fruit and vegetables means that we will tend to eat more healthy home-grown produce, too.

Gardening can also improve mental wellbeing, a fact that is neatly illustrate­d by charities, hospitals and hospices that celebrate uplifting gardens. At the RHS’S vast Hampton Court Flower Show (open from 4–9 July), designer Tom Massey is back for the second year with the ‘Perennial Sanctuary Garden’, a colourful spiral of plants that highlights the healing power of 2,500 mood-enhancing species. Suffolk-based garden designer Frederic Whyte, whose seasonal schemes always feature exquisite colour palettes, has created ‘On The Edge’, an undulating landscape dotted with silver birch that aims to prompt more research into the benefits of green spaces on our mental wellbeing.

At the Chelsea Flower Show last year, there was a similar story – and this summer, some of those therapeuti­c gardens are being planted up. On the roof of Great Ormond Street Hospital, there’s a space rich with all shades of greenery from hostas to ferns, variegated grasses to yew balls. It’s all courtesy of Chris Beardshaw – horticultu­re’s equivalent to an Olympian, with 11 gold medal-winning Chelsea gardens under his belt. Then there’s the beautiful woodland by Catherine Macdonald, another multimedal-winning Chelsea Flower Show regular, that has been installed in Horatio’s Garden at the Scottish National Spinal Injuries Unit.

Another highlight from last year’s Chelsea Flower Show was ‘A Modern Apothecary Garden’, which was designed by herb ➤

‘In Ayurvedic medicine, when a patient is poorly, doctors often ask them to sit in the herb garden’

grower, gardening expert, seasoned Chelsea contributo­r and RHS Health Ambassador Jekka Mcvicar. The garden, which featured pebble paths curved around fragrant beds of musk roses and medicinal plants, has now been planted at St John’s Hospice in London. ‘In Ayurvedic medicine, when a patient is poorly, doctors often ask them to spend time sitting in the herb garden,’ Mcvicar explains. ‘The simple act of resting within a garden, surrounded by plants, has a calming effect and can lift a person’s spirits.’

Maggie’s is arguably the most prolific charity in harnessing the power of plants. Its centres, which are built alongside NHS hospitals, provide restorativ­e spaces for cancer patients and their visiting families to a formula laid out by the late Maggie Keswick, who wrote a visionary blueprint for the centres that would be built after her death in 1995. For this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, Cornwall-based landscaper Darren Hawkes created a garden that will be planted at the Maggie’s centre at Barts, which will open late this year. Enclosed by a three- metre hornbeam hedge, the garden is punctuated by two vast polished basalt benches that are surrounded by peonies, roses and box.

‘The garden is a useful talking point when you are feeling anxious or overwhelme­d. But it can also become a conduit to a more meaningful conversati­on,’ says Maggie’s chief executive Laura Lee, who works with some of the world’s most revered architects and plantsmen to create each new centre. ‘A garden lifts the heart, soul and spirit. Although those are all quite ephemeral words, we know that when you put people in a space with a view it does something for their mood and anxiety levels.’

This autumn, the charity begins a new project at the Royal Marsden Hospital, working with the London studio of Ab Rogers (who created bold and playful interiors in Tate Modern and the Design Museum) and Piet Oudolf, the Dutch landscape designer famed for his swishy swathes of grasses. Lee visited Oudolf’s garden in the Netherland­s, so that she could get a greater sense of his planting and style. ‘The experience stayed with us long after we had left it,’ she remembers. ‘ There’s something about gardens that can just do that.’


‘The garden is a useful talking point when you are feeling anxious or overwhelme­d’

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