As the annual Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show gets underway, one garden of particular note is the ‘Feel Good Garden’. The garden, designed by Matt Keightley, and built by Rosebank Landscaping, is intended to promote the positive wellbeing of those who visit. Both the design and layout of the garden, as well as the plants used, aim to create an atmosphere conducive to relaxation and ‘feeling good’.

Background to the garden

In celebration of the NHS reaching its 70th anniversary later this year, there are many initiatives happening to promote health and wellbeing.

One of them is the RHS collaborating with the NHS in order to highlight the many benefits of gardening, and being in green spaces, on wellbeing. The RHS’s vision “is to enrich everyone’s life through plants and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.”

In designing the garden, Keightley has drawn inspiration from his work with the armed-forces charity, Help the Heroes. He created a Help for Heroes garden for the RHS Flower Show a few years ago which is now located at one of the charity’s recovery centres. Both that garden and this year’s effort, are intended to be calming, therapeutic green spaces that can encourage soothing feelings for those who visit them. Work is also underway on a larger-scale wellbeing garden for RHS Garden Wisley.

In describing the design of the Feel Good Garden, Keightley has commented that “there are no straight lines, it’s very organic and natural in form, and the reason for that is that we don’t want visitors or guests that move through the garden, to feel forced through the garden; they need to feel at complete ease, relaxed as they walk through it.”

The garden was opened by British musician, Professor Green, and a number of high profile guests have already visited including the Queen, other members of The Royal Family, and the Prime Minister, Theresa May.

Future of the garden

Once this year’s RHS Flower Show is over, the Feel Good Garden will be moved to the grounds of Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust.

The garden will be used by the patients and staff of one of the inpatient psychiatric facilities managed by the Trust – Highgate Mental Health Centre. This location was chosen as the result of a competition to which almost 40 Mental Health Trusts applied.

The winning Trust’s Recovery Service Manager has said of the forthcoming relocation of the garden, “An attractive and well-maintained outdoor garden area will be invaluable in contributing to [patients’] recovery. It will also give these very vulnerable individuals a rare opportunity to interact with an outdoor environment.”

Inspired to get gardening?

If creating a Feel Good Garden sounds interesting, Keightley has suggested some tips which could be applied.

He recommends growing plants which have different textures and using aromatic plants like herbs to engage the sense of smell as well as vision. He also suggests creating pathways to encourage exploration and engagement with the green space. In growing plants attractive to wildlife and including bird feeders or bird-baths, the garden is made further conducive to creating a ‘feel good’ atmosphere. More of his ideas can be found on the RHS’s website.

Gardening is not the only leisure pursuit that is beneficial to wellbeing; research suggests that art is too. The charity, Painting in Hospitals, is currently running an initiative in an effort to spread awareness. Similarly to the RHS, Paintings in Hospitals is doing this as a celebration to mark 70 years of the NHS.

Each day a new benefit of the arts to health is being revealed.

With recently published reports from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Mind suggesting that stress is at high levels in UK workplaces, in addition to not enough being done to help those experiencing mental health difficulties in the workplace, it is good to be aware that hobbies and interests can play a part in contributing to better general wellbeing and mental health.

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show runs until the 26th May.