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Useful And Fantastic: A Hospital Garden

Val Yule tells of a hospital garden for children.

Hospitals and places for children may be interested in a children’s garden that was cost-free except for garden tools (bucket, spades, rake etc) and sometimes seeds.

Now that the idea has taken on of gardens for children in hospitals, there are some very expensive landscaped versions around, where the children can be wheeled around the cobbled patterns to see the permanent rockeries and shrubberies - as well as more delightful bosky places with even a real live fairy in them. What children in hospitals and institutions can really love is a garden that they themselves can muck around in or watch being mucked around.

At the Royal Children’s Hospital, Aberdeen, Scotland, (the ‘Sick Kids’), in the 1980s, we had a sunny corner about 6 metres square, where every week up to ten children and I (as clinical child psychologist) would grow plants, harvest vegetables and flowers, find bugs and butterflies, make little layouts and sometimes ponds, and generally enjoy ourselves.

Little toy figures were sometimes given tiny twig huts or roads. Once playdo frogs were the thing. Nurses would bring other children out at other times to see it and with luck also find flowers, bugs, butterflies and birds. People donated cuttings, seeds and plants. The garden usually looked messy but lively, and the wild-life liked it too, although some staff thought it looked infra dig.

The longer-stay children who ‘owned’ the garden were in the psychiatric ward, and I think it was one of the most therapeutic things we did. Children who were initially destructive became more creative, although carrots never reached their full size. Watering was sometimes more like water-play and more than the plants got wet. Everyone learned to tolerate disappointments and each other, and start again.. The only adult personnel needed was someone regularly for a couple of hours weekly, and at other times the nurses and parents who took children to see what was
happening and growing next, because the hands-on garden rarely stayed the same.

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