Hospitals throughout the country are transforming green spaces into allotments, orchards and peaceful gardens, as well as woodlands and native wildflower meadows with NHS Forest, an initiative run by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare charity.

NHS Forest is a hub where healthcare sites can come together for training on introducing more green spaces. Hospitals interested in starting a kitchen garden or allotment are connected with other sites with gardens up and running to gain advice and guidance. Miriam Dobson from NHS Forest says, “How hospitals transform their green spaces depends on resources, time and the number of volunteers available. It could be as simple as growing a few herbs in pots on the windowsill or a huge horticultural project with polytunnels – it varies enormously. Don’t discount any tiny pocket of green space. If you think you don’t have any green space, you’re probably wrong. Start with small steps – just a few pots growing herbs outside a ward can not only support pollinators such as bees, but also connect patients with nature.”

Developing green spaces has a wide range of advantages including growing produce for use in the kitchen and engaging staff and patients. Studies have long-proven the benefits of access to green space for both mental and physical health.

Two years ago, NHS Trust secured funding for a one-year pilot project hiring Nature Recovery Rangers to work with hospitals and develop green spaces. The scheme now receives independent funding and continues to successfully transform and develop gardens across the NHS.

At Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in West London, Billy Styles works as Nature Recovery Ranger on several projects at the hospital. He says “My role is to open up green spaces and get people involved. It’s early days, but these projects are an opportunity for staff and patients to connect with nature.”

The hospital’s Forest Garden grows fruit and nut trees, perennial shrubs and edibles. Billy says “With most perennials, you don’t have to disturb the soil so that’s building biodiversity.” Another project underway at Mount Vernon Cancer Centre is the “Huglekultur” mound. This is a horticultural technique where a mound is constructed from fallen trees, branches, turf and other compostable plant materials. Billy says “At the top is compost where seeds are sown – anything from beans, cucumber, tomatoes. The mound provides a great environment for insects and bugs which break down the matter.”

A 10ft by 30ft polytunnel has recently been built which is not only used to grow plants, but is also therapeutic. It’s where complementary therapies for patients are held as well as activities such as tai chi. Billy also holds workshops here for staff, students and patients on topics such as making compost and propagation. The long-term plan is to involve the catering team and supply the hospital kitchen with as much produce as possible.