How can orchards be used in healthcare settings?

Steve Oram from The People's Trust for Endangered Species, has written a short blog on how beneficial orchards can be in healthcare settings. The blog also discusses some examples of where this Orchards have been planted and how you can get involved.

There is little room for doubt that a setting of leafy greenery, birdsong and open air fosters better physical and mental health for us all, and accelerated recovery for the sick with an improved long-term prognosis. Bethlem Royal has embraced this with the restoration of their old hospital orchards where patients can visit, pick fruit and even help out with maintenance. Their orchards include four impressive rows of huge old Bramley’s Seedling trees. Orchards were once a familiar, almost obligatory feature, of hospitals built around the turn of the 20th century up until WWII, reflecting the built-in self-sufficiency of the day. When these fell out of use and the NHS centralised, unused land and redundant sites were sold for development and many were lost to housing, but some have been retained and incorporated into the landscape and now serve as community orchards. A significant example of this is Fairfield in Beds. Two large orchards remain at the heart of the new estate after the old psychiatric hospital was developed.

The concept of healing through nature is being realised through initiatives like the community orchard and wildlife-friendly landscaping being done at University Hospitals Birmingham. Outside of the NHS, wellbeing gardens and orchards are proliferating. Just a few examples are the gardening charity Thrive who help people living with disabilities or ill health, Emmaus Cambridge are a charity for the homeless to help them through their problems, and Gardening Leave helps veterans with PTSD.
At People’s Trust for Endangered Species we have been working to preserve, conserve and promote the traditional orchard habitat for over ten years. As part of this work I created a map of potential remnant hospital orchards on land owned by the NHS Trusts (email the NHS Forest for more info). Our interest in orchards is driven primarily by the biodiversity value of orchards, but to only think of orchards in terms of wildlife would be to neglect their raison d’être. Orchards are of course about fruit and horticulture, but they’re mostly about people. As an entirely man-made habitat they are fully dependent on our stewardship to exist and thrive.

A fruitful orchard is equally good for people and wildlife. Unlike modern intensive orchards, a traditional orchard will have few or no chemical treatments to eradicate pest species – simultaneously extinguishing their natural predators and the entire food-chain. They normally hold a wide range of varieties and types of fruit to provide fresh food from the early season cherries in June through to the late-keeping apples and baking pears in winter.

Perhaps there’s a spare corner or a quiet green on your site where staff, patients or visitors can eat their lunch in the summer. Imagine it now with a few fruit trees with apples ripe for the picking dripping from the branches, or the buzz of pollinating insects in the spring blossom and the chirp of nesting birds. Doesn’t that lawn look just a little empty now?

The PTES website has lots of information about planting orchards, local varieties, and managing for wildlife among other things, and we also run a grants programme to help purchase trees for open-access orchards, so please get in touch if you would like more information or call our orchard specialists for a chat.