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Bethlem Garden

Bethlem Occupational Therapy Garden puts patients in touch with nature at Bethlem Royal Hospital

Through a Maudsley Charity Grant, the Occupational Therapy (OT) Garden at Bethlem Royal Hospital is able to provide gardening sessions to patients, giving them time off the ward in a supported environment.

The project enables patients and staff to connect with nature, grow vegetables and engage with wildlife. There has been an OT garden on site in some form since the hospital moved here in 1930.

The extensive grounds mean there will always be opportunities to grow vegetables, flowers and explore wildlife across the hospital’s 250-acre site. Concealed behind a brick wall in a corner of the hospital the OT garden is a busy oasis.

Supported by money donated by the Maudsley Charity, Head Occupational Therapist, Peter O’Hare is able to employ staff and volunteers to run weekly gardening sessions for hospital inpatients. In these sessions, the team work with patients to cultivate the space and grow vegetables. Many of the patients will have a long association with OT – some patients are at the hospital for several years.

106 Patients accessed the garden in 2018-19

Garden supports different routes to recovery

These important services provide patients with opportunities to explore, learn, develop, which plays a major part in aiding their recovery. The diversity of services provided at Bethlem means that the garden supports recovery in many different ways.

The hospital provides services to people of all ages and offers specialist treatment for a range of conditions including Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and eating disorders. The garden provides a space for these patients to engage with nature and food in a safe environment.

“It makes a difference to get off the ward”

Service user Courtney says, ‘It’s nice to have the opportunity to get off the ward and experience different things – it really makes a difference. Here we’re working as part of a team negotiating and planning. These skills will help me in the future and I will put them on my CV. The garden takes me away from the mundane things in life, it inspires me, it encourages me.’

Bethlem Garden

Building leadership and pride

Jerrika had a love of nature before she came to Bethlem Royal Hospital, and was encouraged to get involved in the Bethlem Garden to rekindle her passion.

She takes part in both the harvest group, and the John Muir environmental award scheme, which is a nationally recognised scheme to encourage people to connect with nature. She recently received the ‘Discovery Award’, and will be progressing to the Explorer Award, which emphasises leadership, and mean she is more involved in running the group. As someone with a tendency to be hard on herself, it has given her a great sense of pride. 

Participants are taught to bring mindfulness to their gardening. They are encouraged to use all five senses, noticing everything from the sounds and smells of the birdsong and flowers, to the feeling of the soil between their fingers and under their feet. She says “I feel more mindful of my actions towards the planet”. 

"Working with the earth gives me a sense of perspective, which helps when I feel overwhelmed. The Garden is a friendly space where the pressures of life disappear." 

Jerrika