The Queen opens therapeutic hospital roof garden designed by Nigel Dunnett

The Queen opens therapeutic roof garden

The Queen has opened a therapeutic hospital garden designed by Professor Nigel Dunnett. The garden is located on the roof of a new Emergency Care Centre at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (ARI), Europe’s largest campus hospital. Its aim is to aid the recovery of even the most unwell or seriously ill patients, who can be taken outside, whether walking, in a wheelchair, or in a bed, to experience fresh air, nature, and water.

As part of the opening ceremony, Nigel showed The Queen around the garden and pointed out the main features.

The project was initiated in 2012 and Nigel was approached soon after by the NHS Grampian Trust to advise on the design and planting of the roof garden because of his extensive experience with researching and implementing naturalistic plant mixes for green roofs and roof gardens. At the time, Nigel was also planning and designing a show garden for the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2013. The concept for that garden, which was sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada, was for an ‘eco’ city roof garden that included wetlands, a rain garden, and rain-water harvesting; drought-tolerant planting; biodiversity and habitat features; and living walls. Nigel suggested that Aberdeen Royal Infirmary might wish to relocate this garden in a modified form after the Chelsea Show – an offer that was taken up with enthusiasm.

Nigel won a Gold Medal at the 2013 Chelsea Flower Show for this garden, and the high profile and publicity around that garden enabled ARI to launch a fund-raising campaign to raise the £650,000 required to install the modified garden.

Anderdeen Royal Infirmary roof garden Anderdeen Royal Infirmary roof garden
Anderdeen Royal Infirmary roof garden Anderdeen Royal Infirmary roof garden

“I had to completely re-design to make it work in the hospital setting”, says Nigel. “The trick was to keep the main recognizable features from the Chelsea garden, but to re-work it in a way that met the hospital brief. The garden and all of the plants had to be transported to Aberdeen, and stored for two years while the new hospital building was constructed, and the funds for the garden were raised. The biggest challenges were to create enough spaces for hospital beds to be wheeled in an out of the garden, and to install the water-feature – any sort of open water on a hospital roof creates a lot of issues around health and safety”.

The garden contains a wide range of opportunities for different uses – with open gathering spaces for groups, but also places where individuals are able to gain privacy. The pavilion from the Chelsea garden, with its own ‘biodiverse’ green roof again is the main feature of the Aberdeen garden. As much seating as possible is integrated into the retaining walls around raised planters (including some child-level seating), and the planting is designed to be very natural and informal in character, with flowering from early spring through to autumn, and evergreen and textural elements for the winter. A large number of the plants used are aromatic and scented. The water-feature of a large circular concrete disc with a bubbling fountain at its centre creates a constant soothing background noise and calming movement, and the drought-tolerant living wall from Chelsea was re-shaped to be included in the hospital garden. Aberdeen granite paving was used as one of the hard surfaces. The garden is overlooked on all sides by hospital wards and so it was important that it looked good from above. It’s also very visible from inside the building and is lit with LED lighting set into the edges of the raised planters and with uplighters beneath the trees, so that it is usable and visible at night-time.

“It was a very special experience and a huge honour for the garden to be opened by The Queen”, said Nigel. “She remarked on the soothing sound of the water bubbling, and how important it was for patients to feel calm and relaxed, and she also pointed out that many of the plants she saw were ones that people would be familiar with, and that it would also allow people to feel at home in the garden.”

“I’ve seen the evidence myself for how important the garden is to patients, families, carers and staff, and how it is used throughout the day, everyday. I’ve been told so many stories about how loved and how hugely beneficial this garden has become. Having it opened by The Queen was a very special occasion, and I hope it will highlight how gardens such as this need to be seen as essential elements in the therapeutic, healing and recovery process.”

habitat pannels habitat pannels

The original Chelsea Flower Show garden was made with the help of undergraduate and postgraduate students in the Department of Landscape. In particular a group of students, led by Camilla Allen (now a PhD student in the Dept) designed and constructed the ‘Tree of Life’ habitat panels that went onto the garden pavilion, and which have also been relocated into the roof garden at Aberdeen.

This video shows the story behind the garden, and the building, construction and planting of the garden.