Bowles & Wyer
addenbrookes nhs 70

Nature Fix

Written by John Wyer

Friday night, Society of Garden Designers Awards Ceremony at a posh hotel in London…

“And the winner is… (pause)… Bowles & Wyer for the NHS 70 Garden at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge!”

And there have been few projects that we’ve done that have wrapped up the Bowles & Wyer ethos more than this one. Delighted as we were, the winner is of course, the users of the garden. There is a mass of research going back nearly forty years showing that improvements in both physical and mental health are recognisably increased by exposure to green spaces. As Florence Williams, author of ‘Nature Fix’, put it:

“We don’t experience natural environments enough to realise how restored they can make us feel, nor are we aware that studies also show they make us healthier, more creative, more empathetic and more apt to engage with the world and with each other. Nature, it turns out, is good for civilisation.”

To step back for a second, the story of the genesis of this garden is interesting…

Max Harriman came to Bowles & Wyer as a young designer, recently qualified from The London College of Garden Design. Shortly before starting, he applied to the Royal Horticultural Society to be included in their ‘Young Designer of the Year’ competition at the RHS show at Tatton, near Manchester. His entry was an interesting design based on the idea of ‘Calm in Chaos’ – that exposure to a natural environment can bring mental and physical health benefits, working as an antidote to the stresses of life in an urban environment.

He was successful, which posed a problem – how was he going to build the garden on a budget of only £11,000? In the event, we stepped in with a light heart. We were delighted to give some of our craftsmen the opportunity to build a garden at Tatton and equally delighted to help Max out. You can read more about his design and the thinking behind it here.

'Calm in Chaos' design

Some six years or so earlier, I had been approached by Addenbrooke’s Hospital to design and build a courtyard for their stroke unit. This was so successful that we undertook a further three projects, starting with a complete rebuild of the space outside the busy outpatients’ waiting room. This was a triumph: I remember standing looking at the finished courtyard with the Head of Estates at the hospital, when a passer-by approached us. “Who is responsible for the design of this space?” she asked. When I tentatively replied that it was me, she said, “can I give you a hug?” and did!

The project won the 2018 SGD Healing, Learning and Community Award (you can read a post about it here). The final project in the series of four was a fully enclosed space for the Major Head Trauma unit. Like the outpatients’ courtyard, this was a scheme of raised Corten steel beds and restrained concrete paving. The scheme won a BALI award. Following this, I had discussions with the management at the hospital to bring a show garden to Addenbrooke’s – an idea led by them, which excited them a great deal.

Head Trauma Courtyard
Outpatients Courtyard

So, I was delighted to facilitate the idea of the transference of the Tatton garden to Addenbrooke’s. However, building a garden to last a week (at Tatton) and converting it into a scheme to last and grow for 25 years or more is not a straightforward process. To add to our difficulties, the proposed site was almost three times the size of the show garden plot. With some careful redesign, we managed to address all these issues satisfactorily. The only trouble was that they couldn’t afford it.

They managed to find a sponsor for a modest proportion of the cost, and after a couple of attempts to get the price down, we agreed to install the garden for the basic cost of labour and materials. We were more than happy to do this – just to see the garden installed somewhere else was good, let alone a longstanding client of ours and a space with public access – at a hospital.

After a BALI and SGD award, we (and the hospital) are delighted with the result. Let’s hope that plenty of people get their ‘Nature Fix’ from this over the next few years.

February 10, 2020