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January 19, 2010

Hospital switch to horticulture

The recent enthusiasm from communities to take on responsibility for planting and tending commonly owned gardens seems to be limited only by the availability of land. Health chiefs in Edinburgh have shown a bit of enlightened self interest recently by agreeing to make available some vacant hospital land for conversion into community gardens. The health benefits of working the land are well known

UP TO 30 community gardens are to be created at a city hospital, it has emerged.

NHS Lothian has set aside land at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in Morningside to create the green spaces, which will be used by local people, community groups and patients.

It follows on from a commitment from the health board’s chairman Dr Charle s Winstanley last summer to turn vast amounts of unused land into community use.

The move has been welcomed by mental health charities, which believe that horticultural therapy is extremely useful when it comes to treating patients with mental health problems.

Dr Winstanley said: “NHS Lothian recognises the role gardens play in creating a pleasant environment for patients, their families, visitors and the staff in our hospitals.

“These community gardens are particularly special as they differ from allotments.

“They bring members of the local community and patients together as they work alongside each other to grow things.”

The health board has teamed up with the charity Cyrenians, who will oversee the creation and development of the gardens at the psychiatric hospital, on what is currently wasteland, with the help of some horticultural experts.

Plans for the area include fruit and vegetable growing spaces, herbs and flower cultivation, and the possibility of common areas of grass for use by all.

Previous horticultural projects at the hospital have been found to improve the wellbeing of patients, and have raised thousands of pounds for charity.

Members of Cyrenians will now liaise and consult with members of the local community, with the first of the gardens to be created later this year.

Des Ryan, chief executive of the organisation, said: “NHS Lothian has shown great vision in making this land available for the community gardens project.

“Turning the vision into reality is going to take a lot of hard graft and we’re looking to bring together a wide range of people from the local community.

“This is a great opportunity for local gardeners, community groups and businesses to get involved at an early stage in something new and exciting that promotes a better 21st-century way of life.

“We would also love to hear from people offering their time to help make it happen.”

Those successful in negotiating a plot will be given the gardens on a 12-month rolling contract.

Dr Winstanley has already said he would also look at land on other NHS Lothian sites, especially in areas awaiting development, such as the acres around the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

The establishment of the gardens will also go some way towards easing the city-wide shortage of allotment space. There are currently around 2,000 people in Edinburgh on the waiting list for a council allotment.