Hundreds admire tranquillity of hospice gardens during open day

Young visitors enjoying the water garden and fountain at The Hospice of St Francis
Young visitors enjoying the water garden and fountain at The Hospice of St Francis

More than 350 visitors flocked to The Hospice of St Francis’s second open gardens event, enjoying its beauty and tranquillity over cream teas and cake.

Garden lovers from all over Hertfordshire made the most of the glorious sunshine to visit the Berkhamsted-based charity on Sunday, September 7 – one of only four hospices across the UK to open its gardens under the National Gardens Scheme.

Visitors enjoying the sensory gardens at The Hospice of St Francis

Visitors enjoying the sensory gardens at The Hospice of St Francis

Clare Hearnshaw, the hospice’s director of care and clinical development, who served tea to guests throughout the afternoon, said: “It was wonderful to see so many people spending an hour or two enjoying the gardens, which have always been a magical part of our care - an oasis of calm and beauty and a therapeutic space to heal the anguish that people face during the uncertainty of illness.

“We are a bright, colourful, happy place and our gardens radiate this warmth and happiness, lifting the spirits of everyone who visits and we’re delighted to be working with the NGS once again to open them to the public. I’d like to thank everyone who came for their interest and support – many of whom were visiting us for the first time.”

Originally built on a brownfield site in 2006, the seven-acre gardens have been lovingly planned, planted and nurtured by a dedicated 37-strong team of volunteer gardeners to provide a tranquil and therapeutic environment for hospice patients, their families and friends.

Visitors of all ages enjoyed everything it has to offer, from its wild flower meadows and sensory garden, with its raised flower beds specially designed for wheelchair users to its oriental healing garden, combining eastern plants and a stunning water feature, designed by Chelsea Flower show Gold Medallist, David Stevens.

Ian and Joan Pearse with daughter Emily, 9, from Hemel Hempstead, at The Hospice of St Francis garden opening.

Ian and Joan Pearse with daughter Emily, 9, from Hemel Hempstead, at The Hospice of St Francis garden opening.

The patients’ gardens, with their beds planted twice a year to give lots of colour and attract insect life were also accessible, as was the woodland trail, with its elements of surprise for children and Storytellers’ Chair, hidden in a clearing in the woods.

Joan Pearse, 47, a sales adviser for Marks and Spencer, from Cedar Walk, Hemel Hempstead, attended the event with her husband, professional gardener, Ian, and daughter Emily, nine, after seeing it advertised on the NGS website.

She said, “This is our first visit to the hospice and the gardens are absolutely beautiful – they’re so homely, peaceful and very therapeutic – we’re completely taken with them.”

Ian, 48, said: “The planting schemes are beautiful. The way it’s maintained is amazing – it just looks like it’s been done by a professional team – and it’s totally weed-free. I take my hat off to the volunteers who have created it from nothing – what they’ve done is quite remarkable.”

Mbali, 3, who visited The Hospice of St Francis gardens with her grandparents Marianne and John Streeter.

Mbali, 3, who visited The Hospice of St Francis gardens with her grandparents Marianne and John Streeter.

Retired primary school teacher Marianne Streeter attended the event with her husband John, a retired architect, and granddaughter Mbali, three.

Marianne said: “This is our first visit and the gardens are a revelation. There is something for everybody and I never realised the hospice offered supportive care services for children.

“Mbali absolutely loved the Storytellers’ chair, which we sat on while I read her a story and she was thrilled to see all the woodcarvings of rabbits, owls and squirrels on the Woodland Trail – we’ll definitely come again.”

Voluntary services co-ordinator, Gillian Van Der Merwe, said: “I can’t thank our volunteers enough for the incredible time, generosity and willingness with which they supported this event to make it ran so smoothly. I’d also like to thank local cafes and bakeries who donated cakes for the event and Smiths Coffee for providing refreshments.

“We had glowing compliments and some fantastic feedback and we hope to hold many future events in our beautiful gardens.”