Visit a garden: ‘It’s a renewal of yourself’

Male carers enjoying making new connections during their National Garden Scheme visit

As part of our Gardens and Health programme we offer free garden visits for the service users linked to our beneficiary charities. Offering a few hours respite in a beautiful garden with a cup of tea, a piece of cake and good company really can help lift the spirits.

While it’s not always easy to arrange visits for those being treated for life-threatening conditions, all the visits organised in 2019 received rave reviews. One beneficiary, Carers Trust, took the concept to a whole new level by offering small grants from their National Garden Scheme funding to help cover travel arrangements. Sadly, the restrictions in place in 2020 have stalled the arrangement of visits but as soon as we are able we will be organising new trips – the benefits speak for themselves as these stories from 2019 demonstrate:

“When you’re a full-time carer, organising time for yourself can be really difficult so we wanted to try and make the visits as accessible as possible,” says Svetlana Kirov, Director of Fundraising and Communications at Carers Trust.

In June, carers from Hillingdon Carers centre in West London visited Swakeleys Cottage. This opening was particularly exciting for Carers Trust as one of their supporters, Lady Joyce Singleton-Booth, is the garden owner.

Talking about her experience one carer said: “I learnt a few names of plants and we had a good natter afterwards. Thank you for encouraging me to go; it’s lovely to get out of the four walls and meet new people.”

Hanna and Josephina with garden owner Susan Bennett at 5 St Regis Close © Carers Trust

In August, 20 carers from Carers Network in London visited the beautiful North London garden at 5 St Regis Close. The garden owners, Susan Bennett and Earl Hyde were wonderful hosts, and the feedback from all the carers who attended was extremely positive.

“It’s just a renewal of yourself. I can think about myself and speak to people … it boosts your morale. Because sometimes you get so down that you don’t even think about yourself,” said Josephina.

“The visits are something to look forward to. I love gardening and it’s just a chance to escape for a few hours from my role.”

“Being outside helps me relax, it increases my sense of wellbeing and you just lose yourself in the garden, in nature. It’s a wonderful feeling,” added Hanna.

In September, eight people from Carers Support West Sussex visited Fittleworth House and enjoyed a tour of the grounds by head gardener Mark Saunders followed by homemade cake, tea and conversation. The carers exchanged ideas and shared their issues, grateful to find others who understood what they were going through.

“It was a few hours in a gorgeous garden and it felt like I was on holiday,” said Nicola.

Further north, Carers Resource (Harrogate) visited Birstwith Hall garden with a group of male carers (illustrated above © Carers Trust). Men with caring responsibilities are typically much harder to engage in support activities so trips like this are really important. The participants get the opportunity to meet other carers in similar situations and to build support networks.

Blackpool Carers Centre plan on making two trips to Lytham Hall with a group who care for people with poor mental health. The first trip took place this October and the second will be in February to see the snowdrops. The response from the autumn visit was overwhelmingly positive.

“It was such a wonderful treat.  Tea and cake at Lytham Hall.  Beautiful surroundings and great company.  Thank you – from a very grateful carer!”

“Thank you for an enjoyable break from my caring role, and a chance to meet up with others and have a chat and a laugh.”

Care for Carers East Sussex had a wonderful visit to Great Dixter House and Gardens in September with a flood of lovely feedback from carers including one who said:

“I’m just writing to say thank you so much for this outing. I hadn’t realised that I haven’t been anywhere simply for pleasure for a very long time.”

With such great feedback it’s not surprising that Carers Trust are keen to organise a number of other visits as soon as its possible.

“Not all the visited gardens had ticked the box at registration saying they were interested in taking part in Gardens and Health visits,” says National Garden Scheme Communications Manager, Vicky Flynn. “But we knew a few gardeners who were keen to help so we did a bit of match-making. It’s not always possible, or easy, to make the visits happen but you can see from the results that they are hugely beneficial to all involved.”

Carers and cared for visiting the garden at Fittleworth House in September with head gardener Mark Saunders (left)

As head gardener and host on the Fittleworth House visit, Mark Saunders said: “It’s the most joyous thing to share the garden with all our visitors. To see the interactions during the Carers Trust visit – not only with the garden and the dogs – but between people sharing some of the stresses and strains of their roles as carers was really wonderful. That a garden can provide respite, even for a few hours, is hugely rewarding.”

Thank you to all the garden owners who supported these very special visits during 2019.

If you are a garden owner and would like to offer your garden for beneficiary visits next year (and did not tick the Gardens and Health box during registration) please send your details to [email protected] 

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