Unearthing the value of gardens in health policy

Categories: Care.

Earlier this year, The King’s Fund released a new report into how gardens currently feature in healthcare policy – and their potential to have greater impact.

The report, commissioned by the National Gardens Scheme (NGS), set out three clear aims:

  • to pull together existing literature and thinking around the relationship between gardens and healthcare
  • highlight the importance of gardening as a health and care intervention
  • position gardening within the world of health policy as valuable to achieving its goals.

It has been acknowledged that gardens are extremely important to much of what hospices do.

Gardens provide areas for quiet reflection, space for talking therapies and promote patient wellbeing. They are also used as amazing venues where visitors can engage with hospices, as well as hosting fundraising events, ranging from opening for the NGS to outdoor film screenings on a summer evening.

The relationship between hospices and gardens is one of the reasons that Hospice UK is so proud of its partnership with the NGS. The NGS has become one of the national charity’s biggest supporters since they began working together in 1997.

Improving health and wellbeing

Not just the domain of the amazing volunteers and staff who maintain glorious hospice grounds across the country, come rain or shine*, hospices are also using gardening as part of the more formal care they offer.

Gardens provide a serene location for rest and reflection, with many used as quiet places for bereavement support for a patient’s loved ones. Day care programmes also incorporate gardening or horticultural therapy into their activities as they encourage patients to spend time together, swap memories and learn new skills.

At Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice Care, a St James’s Place Foundation grant through Hospice UK has allowed an occupational therapist to establish a social and therapeutic horticulture programme to great success.

The table top sessions run by Lisi Pilgrem are accessible to people with varying levels of ability and participants benefit from the reduction in stress levels and improved wellbeing associated with gardening as discussed in The King’s Fund report. Lisi also notes that being able to enjoy something that you may have done prior to becoming ill and less physically able has a normalising effect for patients.

The benefits are even wider than one might initially expect. The report notes that, while there is not a great deal of literature on the topic, gardening may have an important role to play in reducing falls in older people. One study of more than 3,200 of people over 65 in the United States of America found that gardeners were more likely to have better gait and balance, and were 30% less likely to have suffered a fall in the last two years.

Bringing people together

As key parts of the community that touch so many people, a hospice’s garden can also be important to the wellbeing of individuals whose stories intersect with the hospice for a variety of reasons.

Such a story can be found in Martin Winn, a volunteer gardener in the award-winning garden at St Cuthbert’s Hospice in Durham.

Martin volunteered at the hospice after he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and also underwent a heart operation. Martin’s doctors suggested that volunteering could be therapeutic for him and aid in his recovery.

That was six years ago and Martin still enjoys tending the Victorian greenhouse and growing fruit and vegetable for the hospice kitchen. He loves to meet the patients, families and visitors to the hospice, and takes pride knowing his contribution to providing a beautiful and tranquil space for them to find some peace.

The power of design

Many hospices have been lauded for their design and layout. New hospice buildings often receive recognition from the Royal Institute of British Architects and stun visitors with their use of indoor and outdoor space. It is becoming a common design feature in modern hospices for patient rooms to have garden views and beds that can actually be moved into the garden.

The principles of hospice design and care reflect a deep recognition of the importance of gardens in promoting emotional wellbeing, this report seems to ask: why should we exclude this knowledge from wider health and care service design?

*Don’t forget nominations for Volunteer Gardener of the Year at the Hospice UK Awards, supported by the NGS, are open!

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