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Tales from the Garden – late winter vibes

Welcome everyone to the very first ‘Tales from the Garden’! My name is Stephanie, I am one of the Occupational Therapists here at the hospice and have a passion for social and therapeutic horticulture (STH), which I would very much like to tell you a little more about.

Currently I run groups and 1-1 sessions on the roof top garden doing activities such as sowing seeds, planting up seasonal planters and making small gardening gifts but there is so much more to therapeutic horticulture than this. For a lot of people, gardens and gardening can suggest strenuous activities such as digging, pruning, cutting the grass, which may put some people off. While being as active as possible is great, as it helps us maintain as much independence as we can, sometimes activities may need to be adjusted a little so they can be carried out more easily. Gardening activities, big and small, can all help with strength, balance, posture and dexterity – the physical therapeutic benefits are endless.

To me, and to some of  the patients who have attended sessions so far, gardens and gardening can also have social, psychological and emotional benefits by providing a place just ‘to be’. A place to gather your thoughts, on your own or with others, to be active or just to sit and watch the birds, the clouds, the trees. That’s where ‘Tales from the Garden’ comes in, I hope to share with you over the coming months some of the things we will be getting up to, the changes of the seasons and patient stories.

It is the spring equinox later in March, where the days become longer and we start to see rapid changes in the garden. Blink and you could miss some of them! That said, there is still a little time before gardening activities start in earnest so I thought I would share with you some of what late winter has to offer here in the garden.

Before I start I have something to admit, I am an unabashed tree hugger! I wonder if any of you out there are too? Large trees hold so much history, from long before I was born, and you too I imagine. I can feel it when I give them a hug. The hospice has only been on this site for around 10 years so the trees here are still quite small but they hold so much promise and are still very touchable. One of my favourites are birch trees and we have lots of them here but I have a particular soft spot for a little group of three, tucked away on the grassy bank in the carpark next to the little roundabout. For those who have been to the hospice have you noticed them before with their slender white trucks, knobbly black fissures and delicate looking branches? Don’t worry if you haven’t, over the coming years they will most definitely make their presence felt holding more history with each year that passes.

Did you know that besom brooms (more commonly known as broomsticks) are often made from birch twigs and a stout stick, the sap can even be tapped and used to make birch wine. For those who like watching the birds, birch trees are a favourite of finches and siskins.

Another favourite tree is one of the Tibetan cherry trees (Prunus serrula) in the inpatient garden. With its showy red bark it is currently shouting ‘look at me’, before all the leaves of surrounding plants push it into the background as they open. It will then step forward again in all its glory as autumn and winter approach.

Some of the bulbs are starting to come through in the beds on the rooftop garden too and the birds are flying around looking for potential nesting sites making preparations for the next generation. Similar things will be happening in your own gardens and green spaces too, so I encourage you all to try and take a little breather and spend 5 minutes either out in the fresh air or appreciating the sights from your window and just ‘be’.

Looking ahead to spring, our first STH group of the season starts in March, which I’m very excited about. I have lots planned and hope to share a little about what we have been getting up to with you over the coming months.

One final note as spring approaches birch trees are usually one of the first trees to come into leaf so when you see those little green shoots you know spring is most definitely on its way.

If you want to find out a little bit more about social and therapeutic horticulture, I have detailed some useful websites below that have lots of information that may be of interest.

Well that’s it for now but before I go I would just like to say that if any of you out there were thinking of doing some volunteering and would like to help us look after our gardens we would love to hear from you and welcome you to our team.

You can find out more on the hospice website here: Volunteering – St Benedict’s (

Useful websites

The Woodland Trust (for everything tree related): UK’s Largest Woodland Conservation Charity – Woodland Trust

National Gardens Scheme, Gardens and Health section: Home – National Garden Scheme (

Therapeutic Horticulture England: Home – Thrive

Therapeutic Horticulture Scotland: Trellis | Supporting Health Through Horticulture (

Horatio’s Gardens: Horatio’s Garden | Building Beautiful Gardens (