How hospice gardens help change lives

Posted on: 01 March 2017 by 50connect editorial

Access to gardens and nature for people with life-limiting illnesses can restore energy and confidence. Here is how Marie Curie are working to provide safe, serene spaces.

Hospice garden

There is real value of gardens and gardening to help people cope with the challenges of living with a terminal illness and loss.

Spending time in the garden leads to a broad range of health benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, according to a report by the King's Fund and funded by the National Gardens Scheme (NGS), which is why each of the nine Marie Curie hospices around the UK have a space where families and patients can enjoy tranquility and safe reflective spaces for visitors.

Occupational therapist Fiona Dawes, who organises horticultural therapy sessions at Marie Curie Hospice, West Midlands, explains what it means for the people she looks after.

“Our horticultural therapy sessions give people a chance to indulge their passion for gardens and gardening," says Fiona. "They get to go out in our hospice gardens and greenhouse, and participate in gardening activities like re-potting plants, sowing seeds and arranging flowers. Out in the garden, they get to look at and smell the flowers, listen to the birds and reminisce – all meaningful activities that can help relieve anxiety and pain.

“Volunteers who help out at our sessions often have a lot of gardening knowledge which they enjoy sharing and putting into practice with our patients.

“Through these sessions, I’ve seen first-hand the physical and psychological benefits of gardening on the people we care for at our hospice. By working with different plants and using their hands, gardening can help trigger long-forgotten memories and provide an amazing sense of purpose and satisfaction for our patients.”

Marie Curie Hospice West Midlands

These gardens are designed specifically for the needs of patients and visitors and include easy to access seating, extra wide paths and sensory plants providing a richness of scent, colour and texture.

Not everyone can participate as an active gardener but as the NGS report identifies there are broad and diverse benefits from having access to and spending time in a peaceful garden setting. In a wide-ranging review, it shows how access to gardens has been linked to:

  • Reduced depression, loneliness, anxiety and stress
  • Benefits for various conditions including heart disease, cancer and obesity
  • Better balance which can help to prevent falls in older people (a cause of major NHS costs)
  • Alleviating symptoms of dementia

Marie Curie Hospice Newcastle

Gardens are an extraordinary national resource but much more could be done to nurture and maximise the contribution gardens make to enhancing people’s health. Currently, the formal use of gardens in England’s health and social care system remains very limited, despite the promising results from a range of interventions, including GPs ‘social prescribing’ gardening, and garden projects in hospices.

These restorative spaces are often tended by volunteers to ensure patients, visitors and staff can enjoy a colourful and contemplative sanctuary all year round. Bringing nature, garden features and their beauty into hospice settings has been a design feature of new builds and refurbishments in recent years as the charity seeks to enhance the experience of all who visit. 

Marie Curie cares for people living with terminal illness, and their families, offering expert guidance and support to help them get the most from the time they have left. This March, support the Great Daffodil Appeal to help Marie Curie Nurses be there for more people who need them.

Donate and wear your daffodil.

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