Work Underway To Enhance Shaftesbury’s Memorial Hospital Gardens

Work is underway to transform the Westminster Memorial Hospital’s garden into a space that is even more appealing to patients, passers-by, bees and butterflies.

A group of Hospital League of Friends helpers is creating rose and sensory gardens as well as fruit and vegetable patches. League Chairman Julian Prichard says Shaftesbury area supermarket shoppers have helped secure much of this project’s funding.

“This is the rehabilitation garden for the patients,” said Julian, as he took a break from helping his group of four, turquoise polo shirt-clad volunteers. They were trying to steady the metal framework of a fruit cage. It looked like a marquee, minus its sides. Mesh, rather than canvas, will be stretched across the frame to keep the birds off the fruit.

“Getting the fruit cages up has been quite a challenge,” said volunteer Julie Turner. It seems that the land, which appeared flat, isn’t entirely level. “There will be gooseberries, blackcurrants, red currants and blueberries,” added Julie.

Julian continued with his tour of the project. “The rehab garden consists of raised beds. The idea is that patients can come in and work in the garden, at the kitchen cabinet-height raised vegetable beds,” he said.

The raised beds looked like deep wooden troughs, or perhaps rectangular hot tubs filled with soil. They will have a practical purpose. “We should be able to provide some food for the kitchen staff to use. You can’t beat ‘zero food miles’. Anything that doesn’t get used in the kitchens can be sold and the money can be reinvested into the garden itself,” said Julian.

The planting regime has included varieties that attract bees. “They’ll be able to smell and see the colours and it will work with the environmentally friendly side of the Shaftesbury Big Bee project,” said Julian. “Pretty much everything we plant will be bee friendly.”

Julie Turner confirmed that the group has considered its choice of flowers. “A lot of them are purple and pink in colour. There’s scabious and some verbena,” she added.

This project has received national supermarket funding after it won the popular vote amongst local shoppers. “It was paid for primarily by the Tesco ‘Bags for Help’ system at the Shaftesbury store. People helped with their tokens,” said Julian. “We also got money from the Waitrose scheme and the League of Friends has also given £1,000. There was some initial fundraising for the shed, too. We had quite a lot of money in the kitty but it is going quickly.”

Julian explained how the funding was allocated. “Tesco have a succinct way of doing things. We got either £1,000, £2,000, or £4,000. The Waitrose token scheme is split percentage-wise by the number of tokens left in each cylinder. Waitrose is great because you can have it every month. Tesco is a one-off hit, if you get the £4,000 win.”

The supermarkets provided £4,500 between them. This sizeable sum was quickly spent. “A lot of the money has been spent on the infrastructure. The largest expense has been the wood and the earth for the raised vegetable beds. Second was the stable frame we needed for the fruit cage. It’s pretty windy up here. And after that it’s the plants and the roses. We spent about £400 on plants.”

Julie says that every herb planted has been scored for its special qualities. “It’s for the smell. It’s for the feel of them as well. The purple sage has a furry-type leaf. There’s a lovely lemon sage in there as well, which smells really nice,” she said.

The finished garden should make a positive difference to patients and staff. And anybody walking down the lane past the hospital and on to Park Walk should be able to appreciate the aroma of lavender and the line of eight roses, which the team is planting along the wall of the grounds.

“They are standard tea roses and they will be yellow,” said Julie. “There will be a fairly large bush, which will hopefully cover the entire top of the wall. By the time they grow, all you should see over the top of the wall will be the roses. From the other side you have the roses on the top with a bank of lavender below, and hopefully that will keep the green flies away,” Julian said.

Volunteer Dave was busy thinning out a six-foot tall explosion of pampas grass at the far end of the garden. “You have to take out last year’s flowering growth, which has died off so that new shoots form and produce a flower later on this year,” he said. The sides of the thin, long leaves were like knife blades. Dave bent a stem back and revealed the razor sharp edge. He then removed his gloves to show me some nasty cuts. It’s not easy work.

Lead gardener, volunteer Terry Matthews, is responsible for much of the vision. Terry is a keen cyclist and he was recovering from fracturing his hip in the hospital when he came up with the idea. League Chairman Julian’s involvement stems from offering the project team more equipment.

“I came late to the game, I only got involved because I walked past one day and asked whether they needed anything in the garden. It went from wheelbarrows to garden sheds to rehab gardens. Hopefully next they will have a greenhouse,” Julian said.

So when will the garden be finished? “Supposedly by the end of March, but as that’s only a few days away, it will probably will be about May,” said Julie. Julian had jokingly told me, on the phone, that the project would be completed by Brexit time. You could argue that gives the team plenty of leeway. “Obviously we want it done by the latter part of spring,” Julie said.

You will be able to admire the group’s efforts during the League of Friends Spring Fair and Easter Egg Hunt in the hospital grounds. It takes place from 10am until 12.30pm on Saturday, 6th April. Highlights include a bottle stall, lucky dip, face painting, cakes and a raffle. If you want to get involved, their team will be recruiting new members and helpers during the event.