Perfect for people, pollinators and plants

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the importance of quality green spaces and nature for our health. Since lockdown began it has been clear that gardening and spending time outdoors are exceptionally good for mental and physical well-being.

Ninewells Community Garden has long been an advocate of these activities. It lies in the stunning arboretum of Ninewells Hospital, Dundee and the emphasis in this one-acre garden is on promoting physical activity, and healthy living, through community gardening.  In such a magnificent environment it is perhaps no surprise that successful rehabilitation and therapy are often the welcome result.

The garden dates back to 2011, and is an accessible and sheltered haven in a hospital that opened in 1974. It’s free to use for patients, staff, community groups and the general public. Helena Simmons and June Imrie work closely together and are the only paid employees at the garden, sharing a post overseeing the work of a clutch of enthusiastic volunteers. Those volunteers are key to the garden’s success (as indeed are a wonderful Board of Trustees) and without them this remarkable garden simply couldn’t function.  

The work of so many enthusiasts is great news for people and pollinators. Have a look at the online images posted by volunteers and staff at Ninewells and you will see that pollinators are extremely well catered for here. 

Having spent time in the Ninewells Garden during a Butterfly Conservation identification workshop I saw first-hand the amazing array of plants provided for the insects that use this fabulous Tayside resource. But don’t just take my word for it. 

Helena explains some of the help the gardens have had in their quest to provide for people and pollinators, “We were lucky enough to be given wildflower seeds from “Seeds of Hope Scotland” through Bonny Dundee which we planted during lockdown to brighten up the area opposite the main garden gate. We also have been providing online workshops in collaboration with PLANT in Tayport, Strathkinness Community garden and Yellow Wellies Gardening. In the gardening for wildlife workshop emphasis was on the importance of providing habitat and food for the whole lifecycle of wildlife including pollinators.”

If you have a moment I’d thoroughly recommend Ninewells Garden’s blog on Gardening for Wildlife.

In a newsletter update for Keep Scotland Beautiful Helena reflected further on recent activity: “As always there has been lots going on in the garden — bees buzzing, birds feeding, squirrels jumping and a few more volunteers back to the garden each week. We are limiting the number of volunteers in the garden to a maximum of 5 at a time, with volunteers bringing their own drinks and snack and the indoor spaces are still closed. But despite these limitations, everyone is enjoying the time spent in the garden”

“We are still running the online workshops, keep an eye open on facebook @  for the next ones and catch up with the previous workshops. The garden is producing loads of courgettes just now, we’ve been able to give them to our volunteers, offer some for a donation and still have had enough to pass on our extra courgettes (nearly marrows) to the West End Community Fridge. 

“Pop into the garden on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday or Friday to see what we have available by the plant stall or speak to a facilitator. There are also lots of plants available for a donation. If it’s flowers you are after, one of our Trustees has kindly been bringing us sweet peas tied in bunches and will continue to do so on a Monday as long as the sweet peas keep on flowering.

For the moment things aren’t running along normal lines for the Community Garden. Sadly the quirky leaf-shaped, eco-friendly visitor centre, a particular highlight, is out of bounds.  But despite the loss of that architectural gem (and the cosy fire and tea breaks it hosted) there is still a warm welcome awaiting.

The Garden accepts referrals from GPs and occupational therapists and is increasingly providing support to more conventional treatments. That’s a key element of the good work here, for it is one thing to acknowledge that gardening is good for people, but in doing so the necessary follow up is to have space where people can actually garden. The Community Garden fills that need.

Nobody knows for sure where Covid-19 will take us. However, one thing we can be sure of is that the pandemic has created a new appreciation of the power and value of good greenspaces, of being in nature, and the power of growing.  In 2011 The British Medical Association emphasised their belief that good hospital design should recognise the important therapeutic role of gardens. A clear case of a ‘natural health service’ backing our cherished National Health Service.

The team at Ninewells Community Garden have recognised nature’s healing benefits all along, and their tireless efforts are a welcome boost in challenging times.