Gardens and gardening - the best medicine?

Gardens and gardening lead 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  . We spoke to staff and the people they're caring for to see how gardens help them.

Gardening: good for the minds and bodies, says new report

We asked several people at our Marie Curie Hospice, West Midlands, why they think gardens and gardening are important to them and the people they support.

Cultivating a sense of purpose and satisfaction

Occupational Therapist Fiona Dawes, who organises horticultural therapy sessions at the hospice, tells us what it means for the people she looks after.

Fiona says:“Our horticultural therapy sessions give people a chance to indulge their passion for gardens and gardening. They get to go out in our hospice gardens and greenhouse, and do 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 remisnisce – all meaningful activities that can help relieve anxiety and pain. 

“Volunteers who help out at our sessions also often have lots 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.”

Feel-good factor

Liz Fielding is living with advanced cancer. She attends the horticultural therapy sessions.

Liz says: “I’d like to be doing more things, but because of my illness, I can’t be as active as I was before. I can still do some gardening because of the sessions I go to at the hospice.

“I like being in the garden. If you’ve got a little problem and you can get out in the garden, your problem disappears for a while. It feels good to have the sun and wind on you – it makes your brain feels good and that has a lot to do with how your body feels. As I always say, ‘Whatever medicine you give me, it’s not going to do me any more good than my garden’.                                     

“I just love coming here because you can lose yourself - I can’t wait to get out in the greenhouse, do a bit of potting and get my hands dirty. It could be just an hour you’re there but you don’t realise the time has gone!”

All Marie Curie Hospices have gardens that people can enjoy spending time in.

Keeping the memories alive

Gerry Candy volunteers regularly at the hospice, looking after the greenhouse and helping people with their gardening session each week.

Gerry says: “I remember a patient who’s sadly not with us anymore. She was very much into gardening, so the first thing she did most mornings in the hospice was to water the plants. She would always say, ‘If I don’t do it, nobody else will do it!’

“She felt it was her role to look after the plants. And when she died, we made a little plaque for the greenhouse as a tribute to her and how much she loved being there. We also made a basket from the cuttings of the plants that she’d grown. Her plants are still thriving  we think of her whenever we water or look at those plants.”

Since 1997, the NGS has raised £6.9 million for Marie Curie, making it the charity’s single biggest donor. You can support us too online