A peaceful haven: how I found support and my love of gardening at my local hospice

Over the last two years, Sarah Wyn-Jones has helped transform the garden at the Marie Curie Hospice, Hampstead.  It’s also where Gareth, her late husband, was being cared for towards the end of his life. 

Sarah, doing gardening at the hospice with some help from Skipper, her friendly dog

Thinking about Gareth, there’s one memory that really sticks out for Sarah.

It was Valentine’s Day, seven years ago. Gareth was being looked after at the Marie Curie Hospice, Hampstead, and Sarah remembers bringing him a little surprise – The Gnome Mobile, a 1960s Disney film – so he could spend the afternoon watching it with her and their two young children.

“Gareth had always liked gnomes so it was just the film for him. The hospice staff were brilliant. They helped us wheel his bed into the family room. There, we all sat on his bed, watching the film and eating popcorn. It was so perfect, we could’ve been at home.

“For me, it was a perfect example of how everyone at the hospice would go out of their way to make sure we could enjoy the time we had left together as a family.”

All kinds of wonderful support

Gareth was given the news that he had terminal cancer in 2009. And as the cancer had spread to different parts of his body, he was told he didn’t have long to live.

At first, both he and Sarah didn’t know what to expect from the hospice, but visiting and meeting the staff quickly provided them with the reassurance that Gareth’s needs would be well taken care of.

Sarah says: “Gareth was often in pain, so he needed the expert medical care that the hospice was able to provide.

“The hospice also offered a range of complementary therapies, usually provided by incredible volunteers. This meant Gareth could have his feet lovingly caressed during his reflexology sessions.”

Sarah and her children

The perfect goodbye

The hospice team also looked after the needs of Sarah and her children. Recalling how important this support was, Sarah says: “Although outwardly I appeared to be holding everything together, I was actually struggling to balance a demanding job, being there for my children and caring for my husband.”

Through structured art and play therapy sessions with the hospice counsellors, Sarah and her children could explore and express their feelings, and talk about what was happening to Gareth.

Sarah explains: “When the day came for the children to say goodbye to their daddy, they were able to do so in full knowledge of how they all felt for each other.”

Time to give back

Around two years ago, Sarah decided she wanted to do something different for the hospice. And that was how she became a volunteer gardener.

It wasn’t easy at first – the hospice garden needed a lot of work.

But with the help of more than 100 plants donated by Wyevale Garden Centres, Sarah and groups of volunteers set about to transform the hospice outdoor space into what it is today – a lovely garden with all kinds of flowering shrubs, interesting sculptures and even a herb patch, which the hospice kitchen staff make  full use of.

Delightful: The beautiful garden at the Marie Curie Hospice, Hampstead
The hospice chef uses fresh herbs straight from the garden

A perfect tonic

“I find that gardening gives me a peaceful time to reflect on things,” says Sarah. “I also love the sense of achievement I get whenever I've completed a task. It's wonderful to stand back and see an improvement that you've made happen.”

And the best part of it all? Sarah says she loves seeing people enjoying the garden with their loved ones, as well as having the opportunity to talk to them.

“People might ask me about the garden, chat about life or simply want to get to know my dog, Skipper. He’s very friendly and people like giving him strokes and cuddles – they get so much pleasure from having him around!

“I get the sense that the hospice garden provides a welcome distraction, a perfect tonic, for those who spend some time in it.”

Lovely blooms at the Marie Curie Hospice, Hampstead

We’re opening our hospice gardens to the public as part of the National Garden Scheme, which raises money for Marie Curie and a number of other charities. If you’d like to visit a Marie Curie Hospice garden, drop by on one of the dates below. We hope to see you there! 

  • Marie Curie Hospice, Hampstead in London – 25 June
  • Marie Curie Hospice, West Midlands in Solihull – 2 July
  • Marie Curie Hospice, Liverpool – 8 July
  • Marie Curie Hospice, Newcastle – 12 July