What gardens mean for people living with cancer

The cancer voices community at Macmillan brings together individual people with personal experience of cancer, which they are willing to share to help achieve change. In partnership with Macmillan, cancer voices share their diverse lived experience to influence Macmillan’s work across many different projects and activities. Some people from the cancer voices community shared what gardens mean to them and how gardens, and gardening, have supported their wellbeing throughout their cancer experience.

When asked how being in a garden helps with wellbeing during the cancer experience, the responses were universally positive.

Paulette said: “It’s therapeutic and good for my soul. You can escape day to day worries and enjoy being outside in the fresh air.”

For Nicola being in a garden is a place of calm. “It’s peaceful and helps to calm me. Also, growing plants from seeds gives me hope and a sense of achievement.”

During her recuperation after chemotherapy, Nicola found solace in her garden with the calmness helping her to come to terms with what she’d been through.

“Seeing the life cycles of nature and how plants adapt to their surroundings helps me realise that there’s more to the world than my immediate problems.”

“I feel that when you have cancer and your body isn’t working properly it’s good therapy to try and help create plant life and see it grow properly. It gives me hope that nature can be kind too.”

For Lorraine, time spent in her garden lifts her mood and gives her a sense of fulfilment and pleasure.

“When I was first diagnosed, I found myself very busy in my garden. When treatment comes up, I focus on a task that needs doing in the garden and it keeps my thoughts elevated. I plant new flowers to develop new life to look at or buy a new ornament to smile at. Last year I developed a veggie patch so I can eat more healthily too.”

The pleasure of watching things grow, seeing the birds visit the garden and making changes which are in her control – like transforming an area or adding a new shed – are all positive factors to improved wellbeing for Lorraine.

“I enjoy the physical aspect of feeling I’ve worked hard and achieved my goal set for the day, however big or small,” she says.

For Lindsay, the garden gives her the chance to ‘step off the merry go round’ to have a break in nature and to ground herself and reconnect.

“The best thing is the fresh air, peace and calm. Nature is such a great calming resource to me,” she says.

For Sandie gardens and plants throughout the seasons are uplifting; “Especially snowdrops, they are a sign of hope and that spring is on the way.”


But it is the complexity and simplicity of nature that she loves the most: “I enjoy listening to birdsong, watching the wildlife, the sound of water, the scents coming from the flowers, exploring areas and coming across a beautiful view. Just wandering along paths and admiring magnificent trees, some of them whose foliage in autumn display stunning colours. There is always a peaceful and lovely place to sit, to just admire the surroundings and relax.”

But her garden is also a way of keeping active. “During the first lockdown I had to shield for 10 weeks and as I was not even allowed to go for a daily walk, I could escape to my garden. I would do digging to keep the soil loosened, cut the grass, tend to plants and water. I find both being in gardens and gardening beneficial. It’s about new discoveries and escaping from the normal daily routine that are uplifting.”

For Sarah spending time in the garden gives her time for herself, to be outside with nature, “It relaxes me. I’m growing things that we can eat and to do us good.”

“During my chemotherapy when I couldn’t go out, as I wasn’t well enough to go anywhere, my garden was so important. Being outside, listening to the birds, it’s something that I can do myself, it’s nice to have my hands in soil, growing something from a seed or a small plant to the end product – flowers or vegetables.”

For all the respondents, the power of gardens and nature to aid recovery and to bring calm and hope in unsettled times has been an essential aspect of their cancer experience.

The National Garden Scheme has been supporting the work of Macmillan Cancer Support for 40 years, donating over £19 million in that time. To find out more CLICK HERE

This article was originally published in The Little Yellow Book of Gardens and Health as part of Gardens and Health Week – read it here


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