THERE is a garden I know that is so magical that I have often
made a detour on a dog walk to see it. It has a public right of way
running through it that allows everyone to engage with the plot,
while it somehow conveys the intimate feel of a loved back
Soon enough, I found myself chatting with its creator, Steve. I
was surprised to learn that he had come to live there by accident,
at a difficult stage in his life, with no intention of making a
garden. A therapist had suggested that he tried caring for a plant,
as a way of taking the focus away from himself. And so the garden
Steve is also candid about the fact that it would not have
matured in the wonderful way it has without the interaction with,
and encouragement from, passers-by of all ages. This story
encapsulates, for me, the therapeutic aspect of horticulture.
Gardening is about caring creatively; in so doing, you can exercise
controls in what can seem a chaotic world, and provide time for
mindful solitude, as well as sociability.
Gardens and gardening can have specific benefits for different
groups of vulnerable people. Homebase, in partnership with the
Alzheimer's Society, has commissioned the designer Adam Frost to
make a garden for this year's Chelsea Flower Show. It will be
called "Time to Reflect", and will draw attention to helping people
with dementia, although Adam's aim is also to remind us how
well-designed outdoor spaces can help us to stop and relax.
Any garden can provide the benefits of fresh air and exercise.
Gardens adjacent to a care home for people with dementia may
stimulate residents' reminiscences connected with their own garden
in the past. It is a given that paths should be
wheelchair-friendly, but they should also be fluid - perhaps in a
figure of eight - and certainly avoid abrupt ends.
The route should be clearly marked by containers, specimen
plants, or hard landscaping. Individual and shared seating allow
for choice between solitude and company; and, in each case, plants
should be available to smell, stroke, and study close up, Shelters
from sun and rain are also important.
Greenfingers is a small but nationwide charity dedicated, as
part of its "Rosy Cheeks" appeal, to building gardens at children's
hospices around the UK. It has begun work on the 42nd project, at
Chestnut Tree House children's hospice, in Sussex, a fully
accessible magical woodland walk that will offer families who use
the hospice a chance to spend precious time together in a natural
environment away from the bedside. They are enjoying wonderful
support: people are donating time, skills, and resources.
Garden centres across the country will be running special events
and promotions on 14 March, as part of Garden Re-Leaf Day, to raise
money for Greenfingers. If you find yourself with a bootful of
plants after this, and your heart sinks at the work ahead, just
remember: gardening is good for the soul.