Gardening: Therapy in Berkhamsted

The water feature in the Healing Garden

The water feature in the Healing Garden - Credit: Archant

The gardens at the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted are open this month for all to enjoy. Philippa Pearson explores the tranquil and inspiring space

Deer sculpture in the meadow

Deer sculpture in the meadow - Credit: Archant

It’s hard to imagine that the tranquil garden at the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted was once a landfill site after having previously been a brick quarry. The end-of-life care charity moved to the site in Spring Garden Lane from a small house in Berkhamsted in 2006. The hospice is laid out in the style of a traditional farmhouse, with barns and outbuildings as part of the concept, while the gardens were planned as seven linked areas offering a tranquil and varied space for patients and their families.

After the area was used as a landfill site, it was capped with clay and left as a rough meadow for 10 years. To create the garden, a horticlutural team, all volunteers, added copious amounts of compost and manure to improve the soil before any planting or cultivation was introduced.

Surrounded by native woodland, the garden provides a calm, beautiful and therapeutic space where pergolas, paved terraces, lawns, ponds and flower and shrub beds are visible and accessible from patients’ bedrooms. In one of the seven areas, RHS Chelsea Flower Show gold medallist David Stevens has created an oriental Healing Garden with an emphasis on tranquillity while Graham Pockett introduced planting schemes for this and other garden areas. The Healing Garden uses a mixture of different shades of green and a variety of textures, using plants from the Orient. This is complemented by hard landscaping features such as fossil paving stones. Water is synonymous with oriental gardens and a bowl with gentle cascading water brings a sense of peace.

The Sensory Garden offers a contrasting space with an emphasis on fragrance and colour from flowers as well as sounds, feel and touch from planting and landscaping materials. This is a place to explore and enjoy all year round and the raised flower beds mean patients and families can get up close to the plants.

The Sensory Garden has a mixture of plants

The Sensory Garden has a mixture of plants - Credit: Archant

For those just wanting to sit and contemplate, the lawn in the Spring Garden is the perfect spot to enjoy far-reaching views across to the Ashridge Estate.

Patients can also enjoy the wildlife that visits the garden, especially in the Oak and Fountain garden areas which have bird-feeders, water baths and planting to attract pollinating insects including bees and butterflies. Specimen trees have been chosen for their blossom and interest throughout the year. Another area popular with wildlife is the Meadow, with its mixture of wild flowers, bulbs and perennials, surrounded by buddleja and white silver birch. The Woodland offers a haven for birds, insects and other creatures. This was one of the last areas to be created in the gardens and was a considerable achievement, needing the removal of diseased trees, thinning and coppicing of overgrown areas and new plantings of hornbeams and hazel.

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A new addition to the wooded area is a huge bench created by European Chainsaw Carving Championship winner Will Lee, which can hold up to 20 people.

The hospice gardens opened to the public for the first time as part of the National Garden Scheme last year and attracted nearly 500 visitors. Voluntary services manager Gillian Van Der Merwe says the scheme is ‘a marvellous opportunity to show off our lovely gardens and to promote the work of the hospice’.

Crowds enjoying last year's garden open day

Crowds enjoying last year's garden open day - Credit: Archant

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