Havens House Childrens Hospice, Woodford Green, Essex
In 2019, I was honoured to be appointed by Greenfingers Charity https://www.greenfingerscharity.org.uk to design a Garden of Reflection within the grounds of Havens House Childrens Hospice in the heart of Epping Forest.
Havens House Childrens Hospice is a charity in Woodford Green providing support to children and young people who have life-limiting or life-threatening conditions. The services include respite and end-of-life care and the support extends to the wider family of the children in our care.
The White House is located within four acres of protected woodland and gardens which includes an arboretum of ornamental trees.
Although the grounds surrounding The White House are extensive, there is a need a need for an area of quiet tranquillity and reflection. This new area required a level of privacy whilst maintaining a connection with the main Hospice.
The upkeep of the garden areas is almost entirely undertaken by volunteers.
Tom first visited the hospice on a cold day in early spring and was given an extensive tour and incite to all the wonderful work that goes on within a childrens hospice. It quickly became apparent that an outdoor space was needed for many different reasons: for the children but also for their families, carers, staff and teachers. It would also be used as a place of remembrance and is regularly visited by bereaved families. We realised the space needed areas for solitude and private prayer as well as places for gathering.
Despite the restrictions imposed by Covid, Tom interviewed children and their siblings, parents (some of whom were bereaved), carers and staff, with a view to assisting in how best to create the garden of Reflection. Some really interesting ideas came from these meetings, for example: seating areas should accommodate wheelchair users so that they can sit within a group of people and not confined to the edge i.e. leave gaps between benches. The importance of experiencing jeopardy: no matter what life limiting condition the child may have, it is healthy for them to experience challenges. This could be something as simple as a bumpy ride in a hospital bed or the negotiation around a patch of stinging nettles to look at a beetle bank.
But the common thread was the desire to be as close to nature as possible – to smell it, to hear it, to feel it.
The Garden Design
Havens House is right in the middle of Epping Forest, with wonderful mature oaks almost up to the back door. Our solution was to create a space that, no matter what your ability, one could get into the woods and experience them first hand. We designed a series of decked areas varying in size and privacy linked by easy and not-so-easy routes. To encourage stargazing, the layout is similar to that of the Great Bear constellation.
To protect the fragile forest floor, we kept everything off the ground using screw-piles. As for planting, native woodlanders were encouraged to re-populate. This included brambles, nettles and piles of decaying wood to attract all forms of life. Closer to the hospice, we created a more ornamental naturalistic effect using woodland plants kindly donated by Stewart Landscapes from their recent Chelsea Flower Show Garden.