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News archive - July 2013

Healing gardens

Healing gardens

Traditional hospital towerblocks may lend themselves to impressive views of cities and towns across the UK, but they do little to help patients feel relaxed and are not conducive to wellbeing and recovery.

But, in the past few decades, as new hospital developments are built around the country, much more emphasis is being placed on the positive impact outdoor spaces can have on the overall patient experience.

Health think tank, The King’s Fund’s Enhancing the Healing Environment programme has been at the forefront of this revolution, challenging designers to create ‘healing spaces’ and accentuating the effect access to nature and landscape can have.

Programme director, Sarah Waller, said: “The environments in which we live and work have a profound influence on our physical and psychological wellbeing. In healthcare settings the environment can support recovery and wellbeing and has a real effect on patients’ perception of the care they receive. This goes beyond the necessity for cleanliness, infection control and the preservation of an individual’s privacy and dignity, to creating spaces that are fit for purpose and comfortable.

“Research has repeatedly confirmed that a supportive and welcoming environment can have positive effects on both those who visit hospitals – whether as patients or visitors – and those who work in them.”

A wealth of evidence

The European Landscape Convention aims to promote landscape protection, management and planning, considering it as ‘a key element of individual and social wellbeing’. And the World Health Organization defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’.

The wealth of evidence of the positive impact this approach to hospital design can have is explored in the report Healing Effects of Viewing Landscapes1 (M.D Velarde, G. Fry, and M. Tveit). It states: “Links between landscape and health have been observed for a long time and in many different cultures and societies. The belief that viewing vegetation, water and other natural elements can ameliorate stress and is beneficial for patients in healthcare environments dates as far back as the earliest large cities in Persia, China and Greece.

“In the Middle Ages, the first hospitals in Europe were infirmaries in monastic communities where a cloistered garden was an essential part of the environment used to bring relief to the ill.”

But, it adds, this approach fell by the wayside as a result of technological breakthroughs. The report continues: “The connection between nature and healing was gradually superseded by increasingly technical approaches and the idea that access to nature could assist in healing lost much of its significance.

“However, in the last 25 years these traditional ways of linking nature and health effects have re-emerged as a topic of interest in the field of human health.”

A host of reports scrutinised as part of the paper provide much support for the inclusion of landscaping and green spaces in hospital and other healthcare developments. Findings suggest that landscaping reduces fear and leads to shorter post-operative bed days and lower scores for minor post-operative complications. A view over gardens or surrounding fields can also reduce blood pressure and heart rate.

But the document calls for more research on the specific landscape types that have the greatest positive effect.

“There have been major advances in our understanding of the relationship between landscapes and human health,” it states. “Nevertheless, one of the key questions remains: what are the particular qualities of a restorative landscape? Identifying these qualities in order to apply them to landscape design is one of the major research challenges of the future.”

Examples of where this type of intervention has already had an impact include Frimley Park Hospital’s award-winning Time Garden.


The facility, designed by celebrity gardener, Diarmuid Gavin, was developed as a result of a dying patient’s request to go out into one of the courtyards. This highlighted the need for a space exclusively designed for patients receiving palliative care and their families and friends as an alternative environment to busy clinical ward areas.

The first step was to create a new wide-access door from the corridor to the garden, both to help with construction, and to enable wheelchair and bed access once the works were completed. The chosen design has screened the newly-painted courtyard walls with pleached trees, giving a feeling of enclosure. Planting has been chosen both to add interest throughout the year and to create and screen off more private areas so that more than one family can use the garden at any one time. A commissioned water feature brings the elements into the garden, and the use of stained glass and other artworks provides distraction.

People access the garden using a swipe card and there is a small, very private area to the rear of the pavilion, which also houses controls for the external lighting and a telephone. It includes space for a bed or wheelchair as well as comfortable seating for relatives and a TV and music system.

Another award-winning project is The Chemotherapy Garden at St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight.

It was designed with the purpose of providing patients receiving treatment at the clinic, their friends and relatives and the healthcare staff, somewhere where they can de-stress, reflect and relax.

Transformed by garden designer, Craig Ratcliff, it is now an oasis of multi-coloured flowers, shrubs, scents and green space, providing horticultural interest in each season.

The south-facing plot is equipped with an all-weather resin path giving full disability access. There are also three circular brick surfaces for wheelchairs, carved wooden seating, and a table by wood sculptor, Paul Sivell. In addition, the garden boasts handmade glass features by local sculptor, Martin Evans.

Guy Eades, healing arts director at the hospital, said: “The garden is the result of a vision and partnership between past patients, relatives, nursing and clinical teams to create a very special and tranquil place open to all to use at the heart of the hospital’s life and infrastructure.”



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