The restorative power of hospital gardens
Florence Nightingale asserted in her landmark “Notes on Nursing” that the most challenging ordeal for a feverish patient is:
“not being able to see out of window, and the knots in the wood being the only view. I shall never forget the rapture of fever patients over a bunch of bright-coloured flowers”.
In 1859, she was emphasizing the value of plants and space in the healing of patients:
“People say the effect is only on the mind. It is no such thing. The effect is on the body too”.
Nightingale was not alone in her appraisal of gardens and green spaces as therapeutic tools which were indispensable in the recovery process. Throughout Victorian and Edwardian periods, green spaces in hospitals were championed as havens for healing. In the succeeding decades, this notion appears to have been forgotten as priorities in hospital construction were directed elsewhere, with little attention given to green spaces, and the replacement of park areas by car park areas.
Perhaps a renaissance was provoked following a 1984 study by American psychologist Roger Ulrich, who demonstrated that patients with views of trees and animals from their wards recovered faster after gallbladder surgery, and spent less time in hospital than those who had no such views. In the UK, we are in the midst of re-appraising the role of gardens and green spaces, not just for patients but for staff and visitors as well. The British Medical Association stressed in 2011 that hospital design should always make allowances for the important therapeutic role of gardens.
Remembering the history of these beautiful spaces, including the unique roles of specific colours and scents in therapy, helps guide the design of future hospital green spaces. In her book “Therapeutic Landscapes”, medical historian Dr Clare Hickman summarises how importantly hospital gardens were regarded, and the plans for new well-designed green spaces in the future, for example the upcoming Horatio’s Garden at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury.
Whether they deliver a natural and calming scene from a patient’s bed, an accessible treat for the senses of a waiting visitor, or some relaxation, freedom and privacy for a staff nurse away from the wards, these spaces are once again being seen as crucial for health and wellbeing. It is no surprise that a reclaimed boiler-house roof, now showpiece garden at Great Ormond Street Hospital designed by Chris Beardshaw, won a Gold Medal at last year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
Hospital gardens need not be highly conceptualized spaces occupied by incongruous abstract sculptures and with little space to walk. They can be triumphs if they are peaceful, interesting, accessible, well-maintained and engage the senses (though not too strongly). Here are some beautiful, functional and peaceful hospital gardens across the UK.
Ten Hospital Gardens around the United Kingdom
The Morgan Stanley Garden for Great Ormond Street Hospital
Constructed by renowned garden designer Chris Beardshaw, this woodland-themed garden was transplanted from the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (where it won a Gold medal) to a disused roof space, surrounded by tall hospital buildings that look onto it. The garden provides a quiet and peaceful space for childern and families, with a roof designed such that summer mornings will light up the sculpture of a child which is the centrepiece of the garden.
Horatio’s Garden at Salisbury District Hospital
Horatio’s Garden is a charity which makes gardens of sanctuary in centres for spinal injury. The gardens are named after Horatio Chapple, who came up with the idea alongside his father whilst volunteering in Salisbury. Horatio was tragically killed aged only 17, but his legacy endures in these beautiful gardens which combine a sensory and aesthetic feast with events and activities. For example, painting the scenic garden with artist-in-residence Miranda Creswell at Salisbury Hospital adds the extra element of creative and expressive arts therapy for patients suffering from spinal injuries.
Ninewells Community Garden, Dundee
This huge community garden is overlooked by the Ninewells Hospital, and emphasizes a spirit of volunteer gardening for patients, staff and the local community. The garden’s vegetable and sensory gardens, orchard, wildlife habitat and play areas offer a multitude of options for people to de-stress, recuperate and exercise.
John Radcliffe Hospital Women’s Centre Garden, Oxford
This discarded area adjacent to the Women’s Centre was transformed into an open space with a compact walking area and two subtle sculptures in the centre. Instead of the previous drab view in front of the building, the colourful array of flowers and scents of thyme and lavender provide a welcome area for female patients and staff to relax during the course of the day.
Horatio’s Garden at the Scottish National Spinal Injuries Unit, Glasgow
The second Horatio’s Garden on this list was inaugurated in August 2016, with views of the stunning woodland garden (above) from the hospital wards. The garden has six distinct spaces, all of which serve to stimulate different senses, and a greenhouse which is surrounded by areas used for horticultural therapy activities.
Chase Farm Hospital Rehabilitation Gardens, Enfield
Chase Farm Hospital has just renovated two of its areas into specialist therapeutic gardens aimed for the specific needs of patients, but open to staff and visitors. One of the gardens supports dementia patients, whilst the other (above) support stroke and rehabilitation patients. Based on a Japanese design, it provides a very compact but tranquil sanctuary within the hospital.
Guy’s Hospital Courtyard Garden, London
The contemporary feel of the courtyard garden at Guy’s Hospital in London is accentuated by the number of sitting areas amidst the shrubs and hedges, with the vindicated expectation that the garden was designed that the garden would become a preferred spot for having lunch or sitting with family outside the wards.
Bournemouth Hospital Orchard Garden, Bournemouth
A desolate tarmac courtyard in the hospital has only recently been revamped into a three-segmented garden: a therapeutic courtyard garden outside the chemotherapy suite (above), a sensory garden linking the courtyard to a lakeside garden, giving patients and visitors not only options for their retreat of choice, but also a large area to walk around and exercise in.
Chapel Garden, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Norwich
A bland lightwell was transformed into this chapel garden, featuring a central “wish tree” and a number of water features such as a vertical water fountain and a water rill giving the impression of water moving continually throughout the garden. The calming flow of water and illusion of space allow for, once again, a small and previously unused area becoming a peaceful reservation amidst the hospital.
Dick Vet Hospital Gardens, University of Edinburgh
Animals, animal-owners and animal-lovers should not be excluded from the healing power of gardens. This luscious retreat at the University of Edinburgh’s Easter Bush Campus provides ample space and quiet, together with several benches. It is capped off by the Path of Memories, a path lined by granite stones which can be engraved with an animal’s name.