Cyrenians site visit

When you step into The Royal Edinburgh Hospital Community Garden you get an immediate sense of well-being. It’s one of several project which the Green Infrastructure Community Engagement Fund was delighted to support, and it brings benefit to a host of people. We recently spent time in the gardens meeting Kathryn Bailey, the garden coordinator, and finding out a little more about the project. 

Kathryn, can you tell us a little about the purpose of the garden?

Well, it’s a lovely space and a garden for everybody. It’s for the local community and for hospital residents. We take a multi-layered approach to the different ways that folk want to interact with the garden, to get what they need from it. From aiding therapeutic interventions to simply being somewhere to unwind it has to meet many needs. My job is to coordinate everything that is going on in the garden, and make sure everyone who wants one has a job to do. People have different needs to be in the garden, but we should all get something from it.

How long has the garden been here ?

In this location about 5 years, and it was on the far side of the nearby orchard previously. I’m told that the orchard is one of the oldest urban orchards in Scotland. Some of our volunteers have a 14 or 15 year association with the old and new sites. We have actually asked if we can absorb the next door woodland, the idea being to create a mindfulness area. It would be nice to create an area that people can just happen upon, a very informal area where folk might enjoy a quiet space in which to sit and contemplate things, listen to nature, or do whatever relaxes them. A shaded garden would be an excellent addition to our site.

Is it well-used resource?

It is really well-used, we can get very busy. We we work six days a week at the moment. There are lots of different groups visiting every day, from conservation and green prescribing groups, to individuals from the different wards who come on the back of referrals.  When patients are offered a chance to come and contribute to the garden we have ‘one-to-ones’ with them to talk about what they would like to do, and we have a patient ‘buddy system’ to help introduce them to the site and ensure they get the most from the garden. In fact we had a meeting this morning with the new NHS Greenspace team leader.  She was interested to know how many people were being referred to the garden, and she would like to see more hospital residents having the opportunity to visit us. 

How many volunteers does it take to run a garden like this?

Each week we have over 100 volunteers helping on site. The volunteers are not all patient volunteers by any means. Some folk live nearby and join in. Many people who come here  just want to do a short task and then sit in the garden, and we encourage that, basically whatever job folk want to do we try and match them rather than impose a job on them.

You have some nice artwork in the garden, in particular the beautifully crafted human figures. What’s the story behind them?

We have a volunteer artist and he makes ‘the people’ in the garden. Essentially he sculps the figures using chicken wire and then stuffs them with leaves. He then asks the volunteers and visitors if they have any spare clothing they no longer need which he can use to dress the figures. They are very striking and a good talking point.

Can you say a little about the produce you grow here?

The food element here is a big part of what we do. You will have noticed that we have a dozen or so vegetable beds. Cultivating the food is a good way to nurture gardening skills and to appreciate time.  We either use the food in our weekly cook ups – which can consist of pizzas, roast vegetables, scones, ratatouille or we sell it. I’d say we use the bulk of the food we grow ourselves, but we also put some out for sale at the front door of the site.  And plants too we sell them at the door from time to time. My role comes with a fundraising target to reach every year and I’m pleased to say that 2022 target has been surpassed. We also have a lot of fundraising days in the garden, often with poetry, music and storytelling.

   The local community is pretty protective of the site and lots of people walk through the garden and just enjoy the space. It is open all the time, and anyone can just wander through. Some locals just come in and sit in the garden, perhaps relaxing or reading a book.  It was such an amazingly sunny summer this year that the site was particularly well-used.

Looking around the plot it’s interesting to see that it is essentially mix of a growing garden and biodiversity greenspace. Is a connection with nature a big part of what you offer here?

Our conservation group are really interested in wildlife, especially the bees and butterflies. We carry out butterfly counts each month. There’s lots of wildlife about the garden.  We’ve had tree creepers nesting in the cabin area and a great range of woodland and  garden birds, which in turn has inspired us to encourage a project making bird feeders. We’ve also added bug and bee hotels. Badgers and deer also come into the garden, and they are a bit more problematic … for example once they found them they quickly stripped our bean plants. We are going to put in a staggered fence to try and gently deter the roe deer. We also have rabbits and squirrels on the site, so the growing area has to employ netting from time to time. Between the nearby woodland and hedges and the garden itself we have a real mixture of habitats and that appeals to so many birds, insects and mammals.

A charming site, the gardens are well worth visiting. The natural health service ethos is gaining momentum these days and time spent in the Royal Edinburgh’s Hospital Community Garden makes is easy to see why this approach is so successful. Next time you find yourself in Morningside pay a visit, you won’t be disappointed.

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