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Horticulture sessions help hospice patients

17 May 2016
  • Phyllis Tuckwell patients potting up herbs at a horticulture session, helped by staff and volunteers

Phyllis Tuckwell has recently introduced new table-top gardening sessions, allowing patients who are living with serious progressive illnesses to benefit from social and therapeutic horticulture.

Led by occupational therapist Lisi Pilgrem, the hospice's social and therapeutic horticulture sessions help to restore energy levels and improve quality of life for those taking part.

Research has shown that gardening, or even simply spending time surrounded by nature, can measurably reduce stress levels and improve wellbeing.

The new sessions also provide normalisation, giving patients a chance to get away from their illnesses and join in with an activity which they used to enjoy before they became ill.

"We often start with potting herbs, which have been linked with medicine throughout history," says Lisi, who cleans the pots and prepares the plants beforehand, to make them more accessible for her patients.

Other sessions may include activities such as making pot pourri and even creating miniature gardens.

"Research has shown that the ‘wow’ factor which people experience when viewing a mountain landscape can be re-created with a miniature garden," explains Lisi.

"We based ours on the principles of an Alpine garden, using violas, daffodils, thyme and mini alpine plants to create a garden which has the same restorative effects."

Patients are given a set of instructions and materials, and are able to choose from a selection of plants, so everyone’s final piece is slightly different and personalised.

"It takes your mind off everything," said a patient at one of Lisi’s sessions, "all your worries go out the door."

Anther patient added: "Something which looks like a lot of effort is no effort at all. It made me feel relaxed; it was great fun."

As well as enjoying the gardening, patients also benefit from the boost to their self-esteem which comes from creating something themselves.

Because of their illnesses, many have lost muscle strength and movement, resulting in reduced independence and the need for a carer to help with everyday tasks.

Planting up herbs or making a miniature garden, which they are then able to take home for themselves or give to a loved one, is hugely important, and also very special for those receiving such a precious gift.

Lisi adds: "It’s amazing to see someone who is so affected by illness, finding restoration through gardening. I can see the real person emerging through the barrier which their illness has created around them. It really is a privilege to be part of."

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