OGV donates to new therapeutic garden

23 August 2019
OGV donates to new therapeutic garden

OGV has donated $10,000 to the development of an exciting new therapeutic garden for Austin Health’s Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre in Melbourne. 

This came under OGV’s giving program, which each year, channels a portion of open garden proceeds back to charities and organisations with a connection to horticulture. This year, the proceeds from the last Cranlana garden opening provided much of the funding.

OGV Chair Liz Fazio, and landscape designer Stephen Read met recently with the brains behind the project, Steven Wells. Steven gave them the low-down on his draft design to transform a sterile space into an attention-grabbing garden.

Steven Wells is the Garden and Grounds Coordinator at Royal Talbot, a horticultural therapist and nurse. He is already well known for establishing the horticultural therapy program and the sensory and healing gardens at Royal Talbot. The therapy program and gardens are founded on extensive research showing that connection with nature assists in physical, emotional and psychological recovery for people in hospital and also in our everyday lives.

Steven explains that hospitals around the world are now being built with as many views as possible looking out over nature rather than concrete walls. The Royal Melbourne Children’s Hospital is a prime example. Steven’s role at Royal Talbot, however, is to retrofit gardens around older buildings, or a blend of old buildings and new.

“I spend many moments just wandering around hospitals going - what could be here, what could be there?” says Steven. 

At the same time he engages with staff and patients for their ideas on how the views and outdoor spaces around their wards can be improved.

Responding to their feedback, the new garden is designed for viewing rather than sitting, and includes functional spaces such as a patient clothesline and bin area. The site is nestled between old and new wings of the Mellor ward, which specialises in neuro-orthopaedic rehabilitation. While the space is quite long and narrow, it has potential for intriguing views from patient bedrooms, prosthetics and orthotics consulting rooms, and a staff seminar room. 

garden siteThe site for the new therapeutic garden. Photo: Austin Health

The new garden aims to deliver these views while preserving the functionality of the space. 

The bins will be screened from the view of patients and their families, while the current clothesline, which no longer functions well, will be ‘updated’ with a traditional Hill’s hoist. This will allow therapy staff to continue their important work helping longer-term patients with every-day tasks like hanging out their laundry. 

The space already has electricity, and Steven plans to tap into that to light the artwork in the new garden. 

In addition to existing blinds, mirror-film will be used on bedroom windows to maintain privacy as needed, allowing views out over the garden but not in.

There’s a refreshingly playful element to Steven’s concept for the garden. The draft design bears the working title, “The Triffid Garden”, a reference to the giant flower sculptures to be installed, made from recycled 44-gallon drums. 

triffid flower
An over-sized salvaged-metal flower already graces the entry to the sensory garden. Photo: Austin Health

These fabulous sculptures will serve as the main focus for the new garden, forming a field of over-sized bulbs. By playing with the concept of scale, Steven fully expects the garden to prompt a double-take: oh - it’s a garden, wait, is that a giant flower?!  Smaller versions of the sculpture will continue the theme. Steven explains that the salvaged metal in the sculptures could be used to introduce colour if need be, any reds providing a nod to the surrounding brick buildings, with possible pops of other colour here and there.

The idea is to deliver the unexpected, intensifying the garden’s impact, and prompting conversations around it. He even plans to bring an element of surprise and artistry to the clothesline with a metal hanging planter “peg basket”, alongside the real one.

Steven’s looking forward to hearing patient reactions when they look out the window, and how their conversations change from being about their pain or their treatment, to being something quite different. 

“As one patient described it, often when they’ve spent time in a garden, they feel less defined by their illness,” he says. 

He explains that while the average stay in the facility is two to three weeks, some patients may stay for months, even up to a year. Many of these patients are recovering from acquired brain injury. For these patients, away from their home environment for significant periods, seasonality in the garden is an important link to the outside world, and can provide further inspiration for conversation. 

Steven’s also keen to hear how the garden impacts staff in the adjacent seminar room. 

“I’m kind of looking forward to hearing how they get distracted in their meetings!” he says. 

The need for high impact on the one hand and sustainability on the other will dictate plant selection. 

Established pink flowering cape myrtle will be retained, with old plantings of diosma making way for low ground cover at footpath level.  Taller underplantings of lomandra interspersed with ixia will naturalise the flower sculptures. Purple statice and similar plants will provide drifts of colour throughout. The existing patch of lawn will be replaced by a grevillea groundcover. Elsewhere, plantings of giant bird of paradise, Strelitzia nicolai, will create a tropical feel consistent with the ‘over-sized’ theme, and attract some birds into the garden.

View over wavy Lomandra in another garden at Royal Talbot. Photo: Austin Health

The next step is for further consultation with patients and staff, followed by a tender process. Steven expects the garden to develop rapidly from there. 

The plans for the garden are inspirational, particularly Steven’s scale-playing strategy to metaphorically pull the viewer out of the sterile ward into the natural environment outside. 

Steven is excited about being able to convert this space into something that will improve patient experiences. It’s incredibly exciting for OGV too - seeing the results of our open gardens put to work for patients while they recover in hospital, not to mention the families and staff who support them. 

A giant, or should that be, ‘over-sized’ thank you to the whole OGV community for making the development of this garden possible!

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