Telephone: 01223 675777
Contact us   Reception 01223 675777  In-Patient Enquiries 01223 675900  Fundraising Office 01223 675888   
Homepage  |   Shop Online  |       |  

The importance of our outdoor space

03 May 2019

Isobel Curtis-Smith is one of the Hospice’s Specialist Palliative Occupational Therapists. Isobel’s role involves visiting and assessing patients cared for and supported by Arthur Rank Hospice Charity.

 Isobel works with patients to create personal goals and treatment plans. This work is either undertaken in the patient’s own home, during Day Therapy sessions or on our Inpatient Unit.

Gardens have the ability to stimulate the wider sense of one’s purpose, including meaningful context to one’s memories.

Why are the gardens important for patients’ wellbeing?

Gardens have the ability to stimulate the wider sense of one’s purpose, including meaningful context to one’s memories. These may be instigated through touch, sight, sound and smell, all of which feed into the memory centres within the brain. For example, can you remember walking on the grass barefoot for the first time? The smell of freshly cut grass? What other memories does a garden spark for you? 

Gardens can take you back to childhood memories of plant fragrances, remind you of feeling leaf textures or simply allow you to recall spending time completing garden chores with a relative.

The experience of walking barefoot on the ground is actually a very meaningful activity. It is known as “grounding” and it is claimed it helps stave off dementia through its connection with nature and the environment.

What is active engagement and why is it important?

Active engagement – or meaningful occupation as it is sometimes known - is an activity where people find that they are completely immersed in an activity. A person may be engaging with an activity and, during this period, fail to notice things going on around them. All sense of time is lost and they are absorbed in the flow of the activity.

It is easiest to remember these experiences first during our time as children. This could be whilst playing with lego bricks, painting, making dens or completing a jigsaw puzzle. ‘Flow’ is a key word in these instances. The flow of activity can distract the person from other thoughts and things which are going on around them. When a person finds “flow” within an activity with which they are involved, it can provide a welcome distraction from pain and discomfort. The pain or discomfort may be physical, psychological and/or emotional.

What does spending time in a garden mean to our patients?

Visiting a garden or gardening itself has a social element within the context of our lives. It is rare for someone not to have entered a garden, especially here in Cambridgeshire. The ability to stimulate memories encourages people to talk about what they have seen, what they have grown successfully and, perhaps, what has not been so productive. These stories are often threaded with learning from funny mistakes or allow patients to reminisce with great pride about their achievements.

For some, going outside is not possible. However, even sitting by a window and looking outside can provide an opportunity to view the horizon. Seeing the horizon makes us feel connected to the community, country and world and reminds us that we are part of something greater. This, in itself, is a distraction, as people’s minds drift through thoughts about what they can see; the colours, movement and changing light.

Gardens at Arthur Rank Hospice

These experiences often provide opportunities for relaxation, exercise and reflection. Reflection may involve contemplating what is going well and what is going not so well. This may bring memories to the fore, often stimulating conversations around places visited, places loved or even disliked. For many the outside suggests freedom, evoking activities such as bird watching, looking for insects, recognising trees, identifying plant types and weather watching, for example, observing clouds form and drift in front of the sun ,seeing the subsequent changes in light and feeling changes in temperature.

For those able to work in the garden, it is a sensory experience. The smell of the damp soil, fragrant plants or herbs and cut grass all associations for us and can provoke different memories. Times when they were more independent, the contemplation of which bringing comfort and enjoyment. This might include the lives of their own children and even their grandchildren. These activities allow one’s mind to be free, calm and focused despite experiencing physical limitations Comments about “not realising the time” or, how quickly the afternoon has gone illustrate that they have been lost in time. 

Patients being cared for in our in-patient unit are often found sitting in the garden. Watching butterflies fly from flower to flower, sometimes for several minutes.

Others spend time looking for the woodpecker which was seen in the garden by our nursing staff. Daily visitors to the windows of the rooms include pheasants, grey squirrels, pigeons, blackbirds, muntjac deer and, more recently, a pair of ducks. These have all been remarked on by patients, their families and their visitors. 

One nurse fondly recalls the importance of the gardens for a patient who was previously a gardener. The patient was moved from his room on to the Hospice’s courtyard garden in the comfort of his bed. It was a summer’s evening and his friends and relatives were all with him. The nurse remained present and, as the gentleman died, an owl called out. She remembers the patient being content and the family felt great peace, creating positive memories for them to cherish.

We are pleased to have a building where we have beautiful well-manicured gardens thanks to our excellent team of volunteers. All of our patient areas look out on to the flower beds and maturing trees along our boundaries. 

The building is flooded with light from the floor-to-ceiling windows which are found not only in our patient bedrooms but also in our Inpatient lounge and Day Therapy suite.

 We are passionate about developing our knowledge around this interesting area of our work and will look forward to sharing further updates over the coming months. 

If you would like to visit our gardens as a visitor, these can be accessed through our Bistro, the opening hours of which can be viewed HERE.



Latest Stories

Arthur Rank Hospice seeks local business heroes to take part in the Accumulator Challenge!
The Christmas tree recycling scheme needs you!
The Big Butterfly Count
The Cambridge encourage other local businesses to join them at Bridge the Gap.
And the winners are... Summer Cash Raffle Draw Results
Sky’s the limit for Arthur Rank Hospice Charity’s On Call Nurse
Hospice choir join West End theatre stars on stage
Fond memories of a great friend
Volunteer 'Spotlight'
Nursing and Midwifery Council visit Arthur Rank Hospice Charity