Less a hospital with a green space, and more a vast green space that has a hospital within it, Bethlem Royal is both a hive of garden activity, and restoratively tranquil. Over the years, hundreds of patients have been involved in activities and vocational opportunities in the garden and orchard.

The oldest psychiatric hospital in the world, Bethlem was founded in 1247. It moved to its current 200-plus acre site in southeast London in the 1930s, and provides a huge range of mental health services, including for autism, eating and anxiety disorders, brain injuries and forensics.

Within the grounds is an orchard, planted in the 1940s and recovered from the dense woodland in 2010 with assistance from the Orchard Project. Today, 200 well-maintained trees supply apples and plums to the occupational therapy kitchen, with surplus sold to staff, the local community and visitors through the on-site Bethlem Gallery shop.

Nearby residents and staff are invited to enjoy waymarked walking trails in the extensive grounds, passing through a bluebell woodland, neat lawns and wildflower-filled meadows that attract bees and darting blue butterflies. The green walking routes are also incorporated into mental health recovery programmes for patients.

Bethlem OT Walled Garden's mosaic
Bethlem OT Walled Garden’s mosaic. Photo: Vicki Brown / Centre for Sustainable Healthcare 2021. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Volunteers restoring Bethlem's orchard
Volunteers restoring the heritage orchard at Bethlem Royal Hospital. Photo: Bethlem Royal Hospital. All rights reserved.

The Walled Garden is a thriving space, tended by two part-time garden instructors, with assistance from patients as part of horticultural therapy programmes. With its polytunnels, vegetable beds and climbers, the garden produces everything from beans and rainbow chard to apricots and grapefruit. Insect hotels and a small pond, as well as the un-weeded, wilder edges of the plot, encourage biodiversity.

Patients’ drawings of plants are displayed on the garden walls as part of the ‘Art in the Garden’ project. Creative initiatives involve the garden in inspiring ways; in 2016, dye plants were harvested to create pigments, from which service users produced unique eco artworks and textiles, while another year, patients crafted a huge display of pompoms to complement globe-shaped flora as part of the Chelsea Flower Show’s Chelsea Fringe festival.

In late 2023 they planted a further 30 trees thanks to the Nature for Climate fund.

Top photo: Maudsley Charity. All rights reserved.

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