Living through Nature: how one hospice is bringing the benefits of gardening inside

Categories: Care.

On a soggy day in August, Hospice UK visited Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice Care to find out more about their Social and Therapeutic Horticulture therapy sessions, Living through Nature. I was fortunate enough to join in the session where we made a ‘Sempervivum’ garden, which translates as ‘Always Living’. From water bottles adapted to be light-weight watering cans, to the addition of loop handles to flower-pots for patients with limited movement, to the floral arm covers to keep us all clean while protecting our skin, I was amazed to see how much thought had been put into every aspect of the hour-long session. And the laughter was infectious!

Gardens & Health

So what triggered this visit to very soggy Farnham? The National Garden Scheme (NGS) have been supporting Hospice UK for nearly twenty years and for the first time are running a week to celebrate ‘Gardens and Health’ (12 – 20 August). Many gardens are opening free of charge for those linked to their beneficiary charities, to give them the opportunity to enjoy a garden in a small group, with a range of hospices participating. This event is an outcome of the NGS-commissioned 2016 King’s Fund report into the impact of gardens on health. This report brings the wide range of literature available together, and makes a case for the importance of having wellbeing gardening interventions included within NHS policy. 

Hospice gardens

Gardens are at the heart of many hospices, and many would agree about the benefits that these spaces can provide. Already, they are used in a variety of ways – somewhere for quiet reflection or for families to spend time together, a space to learn new skills and make new friends, or even as an active place to take some exercise.

Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice Care have gone one step further. As well as having a beautiful garden, they have brought the benefits of gardening and nature inside, to have a therapeutic role within the hospice, supporting people to live well until they die.

Therapy focused on patient need

Lisi Pilgrem, an Occupational Therapist, is a passionate advocate of Social and Therapeutic Horticulture. Her sessions, of which you can see more of in the accompanying video are part of a wider therapy programme.

By providing a range of activities and options, patients are able to participate in an activity which is meaningful and valuable to them. The result is both overt and more subtle. I joined in and saw for myself the social aspect with new friendships being formed. I listened to conversations where patients’ spoke about how their illnesses had made them feel closed off from the world they knew, and this session was helping to change this. In more subtle ways, Phyllis Tuckwell have noted that patients are reporting reduced anxiety, improved quality of life and wellbeing, and a sense of purpose from regaining the feeling of normalcy.

Running your own Social and Therapeutic Horticulture Sessions

Lisi’s wonderful session was just one example of Social and Therapeutic Horticulture in practice. The beauty of the therapy is in the multitude of ways in which it can be adapted, depending on your available resources.  Sessions could range from aromatherapy through creating your own potpourri to gardening projects designed to put freshly grown vegetables onto patients’ plates, or even sessions co-designed with a physiotherapist to get patients moving. It can be used as both a day-hospice activity, or in 1:1 sessions with in-patients. The most important thing is that it is a Health Care Professional-led service, supported by volunteers.

And this is where the National Garden Scheme can help. Their grants programme is coming! The NGS want to support hospice staff to have an even greater impact on patient care. These grants are available for a number of different courses, including Social and Therapeutic Horticulture.

Look out for our next posts, focusing on the work of hospice gardeners as well as how the National Garden Scheme can support you with hosting your own events, or participating at theirs.