The Chapel Garden is in regular use by patients but in recent years has suffered from neglect, apart from a clear up in 2015 year by a Friends’ party of volunteers. Accordingly the Friends sought the advice of Christoph Keate, the head gardener at Emmanuel College, on how to put not only the Chapel garden but also those in several of the wards into good order such that they might benefit patients not only visually but also as a focus for ward gardening activities. Armed with Christoph’s advice on the maintenance needed and possibilities for future planting, the Friends has recruited Paul Herrington, CEO of Grow Places Ltd, a social enterprise a social enterprise focussed on gardening work with adults with disabilities including mental health. It has been agreed that the priority is to restore the Chapel garden first before looking at Denbigh and Mulberry 1 wards.
After preliminary planning Paul will liaise with: the chaplain, John Nicholson; the staff and patients on George Mackenzie House, who have gardening activities; and the Recovery College, whose members might be willing to volunteer as gardeners. In those discussion with John Nicholson has asked about making a labyrinth for mindful walking. Although there isn’t space in the chapel garden there is plenty over the road amongst the trees between the Resource Centre and the graveyard. Paul has mocked up the photograph below to give some clues how it might look.
History of the Gardening projects
A gardening group was one of the Millennium Arts Projects started by the Friends funding a professional gardener as artist-in-residence, with help from the late Bronwen Loder, a member of the management committee of the Friends. They led a small group of male young-onset dementia patients who met weekly. Christina Rowland-Jones, former chair of the Friends, recollects its great success: “One patient never spoke as a result of his illness, and I well remember Bronwen telling me, in great excitement, that he had started to use words for the plants etc. He must have enjoyed gardening before becoming ill. The first garden to benefit from the group’s attention was to the left of the internal hospital road leading up to George Mackenzie ward, which was just grass. With permission the group dug out a large square of the grass, planted it and provided a part-hidden central area with seating which was appreciated by patients who wished to isolate themselves outside during the summer. The MAP textile group made very tall, colourful flags for each corner of the plot. We had terrible trouble with rabbits eating the shrubs. Next was the chapel garden. The group cleared the plot, dug it out and planted it with a range of interesting shrubs and a small mulberry tree, and again with seating for the patients. It looked lovely. From the outset the hospital managers made it clear that their contract gardeners only cut the grass – in fact half-cut it and left it lying over the top – and they would not maintain the two gardens. Initially the gardening group maintained both, but our professional gardener decided to give up and we had nobody to lead it and couldn’t find a successor so had to stop the work. At one point I was contacted by the head of a big firm on the Science Park who ran ‘away days’ for his senior staff where they carried out voluntary work in the locality, and they spent a day tidying both gardens, with a lot of time spent on the chapel area. They really enjoyed themselves. After that we were unable to provide regular maintenance and the latter garden in particular suffered badly”.