Publish date: 13 May 2021

Throughout Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May), we’re sharing inspiring stories of how service users and our staff are supported through nature. Today, we hear how Cassel Hospital's garden has become a vital tool of rehabilitation for those staying there.

Sarah Heaton joined the Cassel as a gardener in 2012, having just before been qualified with an RHS certificate in horticulture. When she joined the hospital, she noticed the bigger task she had at hand. “The garden really wasn’t well looked after,” she said.

At that point, patients hadn’t been involved in the gardening process. This had changed rather quickly afterwards where a meeting between Sarah and the nurses at the Cassel spoke about the potential benefits the garden would have on those who particularly had more complex ‘personality disorders’.

“When we first introduced the idea of gardening as part of the patients’ rehabilitation, I was pleasantly surprised by how genuinely interested they were to get involved. Nine years on, it’s so satisfying to see the enthusiasm they have in maintaining the grounds, planting seeds and adding their personal touch,” Sarah says.

The impact gardening and the garden itself have had on patient’s path to recovery has been significant. Below are thoughts from a few of them:

‘’I like watching things grow and seeing the progress. I also like looking after things. It’s calming, relaxing and peaceful. It takes my mind off all my mental health issues.’’

‘’It’s a nice, calming space. I like seeing the wildlife that lives in the garden itself. Nice to have a space that is in tune with nature. It’s a good space to go to clear my head.’’

‘’I like that the grounds are big enough to walk around and look at the different wildlife that is present. It’s nice to explore the secret garden and imagine what it was like in the past. I also enjoy sitting in the garden to read as it is peaceful listening to the birds and looking for the squirrels and foxes. It gives me time away from the stresses of the therapy and allows me to focus on something positive. It also reminds me that things are always changing and that I too can grow and develop.”

According to a clinician at the Cassel, “I feel that staff and patients alike are lucky to have this space to pause from moments that are often very emotionally intense. Our patients come from a variety of backgrounds and it’s amazing how they’re able to enjoy the beautiful, natural space which they were deprived of before coming here. The garden is symbolic in the way that patients are able to see plants, trees and wildlife grow, similarly the way they hope to grow as individuals during treatment here at the Cassel.”

This September marks 100 years since the Cassel was established. See how you can get involved in marking the event by going to the Cassel Hospital Charitable Trust website.