The little-known medical history of hospital gardens has been the topic for a unique installation at the Chelsea Fringe Festival, 18 May-5 June 2015. ‘Taking a Turn’ has been developed by gardening therapist and garden designer, Rebecca Smith, to explore the mental health history of hospital gardens over more than 200 years.
Supported by a People Award from the Wellcome Trust, the installation uses historical archives and contemporary patient narratives to tell the story of how horticulture can be part of a therapeutic regime.
‘Taking a Turn’ brings together medicine, history and horticulture, and has been developed by Smith in partnership with Kings College London, and Bethlem Royal Hospital at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM). Current patients at the Royal Bethlem Hospital participated in the project by reflecting on how they experience being in the hospital gardens. These reflections are embedded within the walls of the installation, alongside the rarely heard voices of past patients from the archives.
Rebecca Smith said: “It has been an exciting and delicate time to be able to creatively explore such a hidden history and discover unheard voices from these institutions. The psychogeography of locating the installation in Bedlam’s original site adds a subtle layer to the project, for me.”
The garden installation is built around an early ‘airing court’, for visitors to take therapeutic fresh air. It is constructed of a healing plaster cast, with voices from patients past and present in its walls. Surrounding the airing court are gardens representing past medics’ ideas of ‘cheerful and tranquil’ hospital gardens, of ghostly white planting echoing the site’s historic setting. Miniature farm machinery and gardening tools can be seen hidden in the planting, referring to asylum farming and gardening in Victorian times.
A series of public talks around the themes of mental health, hospital gardens and therapeutic horticulture have also been held at the installation throughout the festival.
As part of the project, London primary schools are invited to participate in a series of workshop running the academic year 2015/16 around Gardens and Mental Health, examining the legacy of asylum gardens and the impact gardens have on mental health.
Now in its fourth year, the Chelsea Fringe Festival is an alternative sister event to the RHS Chelsea Flower show. It runs from 16 May to 7 June 2015 and showcases a wide range of work from professionals and enthusiasts, both from the gardening world and beyond.
About the Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. We provide more than £700 million a year to support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine. www.wellcome.ac.uk
About the Chelsea Fringe
Entirely independent of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show (though acting with its support), the Fringe explodes out of the showground geographically, demographically and conceptually. Its events encompass everything from grassroots community garden projects to avant-garde art installations. Our open-access principle means that just about anything goes – as long as it’s interesting and legal, and on the subject of gardens, flowers, veg-growing or landscape.
The Chelsea Fringe is a community interest company (CIC) and was founded by Festival Director Tim Richardson. All progress to date has been achieved by a team of dedicated volunteers donating their time and money. www.chelseafringe.com
About South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust provides (SLaM) the widest range of NHS mental health services in the UK. We also provide substance misuse services for people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Our services include the Maudsley Hospital and Bethlem Royal Hospital. We work closely with the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London. We are part of King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre. www.slam.nhs.uk
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