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CUH gardens – caring for our planet, patients and staff

Gardeners at Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie have created beautiful green spaces amongst the hospital buildings, re-wilding areas and nurturing pollinator-friendly plants to create a happier, healthier environment for patients, staff and nature.

Alliums blooming in the outpatients garden
Alliums in the Outpatients Garden.

Greenery, gardens and wildlife help improve the quality of the air we breathe, reduce noise pollution and boost people’s physical and mental health.

At Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH), we're taking steps to develop nature friendly planting.

From formal spaces like the Diamond Jubilee Garden and the NHS 70 award winning Bali garden, to quiet outside seating areas and wild grassy banks, the gardens provide a therapeutic space for relaxing closer to nature.

Blue grape hyacinth flowers blooming in the Golden Jubilee Garden beside the lawn. In the background you can see one of the gardeners, but they are blurred so you can not distinguish their features.
Grape hyacinths blooming in the Diamond Jubilee Garden are attractive to spring-flying pollinators.

They also help increase biodiversity – that’s the variety of plants, fungi and animals living in a habitat.

Since the 1970’s, over 40% of UK species populations have declined.

Together with human made climate change, this loss poses a huge risk to the long-term health of our population and our planet.

Neil Redwood, building and grounds delivery manager, supports a team of eight who look after the gardens and outside maintenance.

The team are passionate about caring for our green spaces and use their gardening know-how to create beautiful, wildlife friendly areas for staff and patients.

We've started to move to a more country cottage style approach where you might have things like lavender as a backbone or shrubs complemented by herbaceous borders.

Neil Redwood
Neil Redman and Steve Chapman standing in outside in the Golden Jubilee Garden.
Neil Redwood, building and grounds delivery manager and Stephen Chandler, gardening supervisor.

Neil has been with CUH for more than ten years and told us that one of the first things he introduced into the gardens was mulching.

Wood chippings from essential tree works were previously seen as waste. But by reusing these, the gardening team can provide a better growing environment for plants.

Mulching helps with water retention to the flower beds. It also helps with weed suppression. Then the organic matter rots down to provide nutrients, meaning healthier plants and more flowers to attract pollinating insects.

Neil Redwood

In the UK, our native bees and other pollinating insects are declining because of habitat loss and climate change.

Yet almost 90% of wild plants and 75% of leading global crops depend on animal pollination, so protecting them is vital.

Insect friendly planting is a top priority for the team and our gardens include a variety of spring and summer bulbs, flowering shrubs as well as native hedgerow plants and trees to help provide a habitat for wildlife.

Bee feeding on nectar on pink cherry tree blossom
Our native bees and other pollinating insects are in decline.

The garden team are thoughtful about caring for the existing plant stock and in propagating and reusing plants on other parts of the hospital grounds.

This has helped the team enrich planting in other areas, such as the Rosie courtyard garden.

Plant pots with young plants, sitting on a shelf in a greenhouse.
New plants being brought on in the CUH gardeners’ yard greenhouse.

The garden team are also putting away the mower and allowing more lawns and grassy banks to grow freely and create flowering meadow areas around the site.

97% of UK wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1970s, so by leaving the grass to grow, the team are allowing plants a chance to set seed and encouraging nature to return.

Close up of lawn containing grass with seed, daisies and other plants in the Golden Jubilee Garden
Grass lawns are left to set seed to encourage biodiversity.

In the summer, you can see bee orchids growing on the site as these thrive on the dry chalky campus soil.

The bee orchids are protected by the gardeners and the areas where they grow are maintained as wild grass.

Once you're protecting one species, it's then very easy to encourage others. And what we're now starting to see is other specimens that are popping up that we weren't aware were there before.

Neil added:

"What’s also nice is that our in-house garden team have championed it and they've started to go and plant more bulbs and things like that into our wild grass areas.”

The garden team cares for the big plants as well as the small – including more than 1,300 trees and large shrubs that are growing across the site, from maple, oak and birch to hawthorn and hazel.

In 2020 the team commissioned a tree survey, giving each tree a unique number and a plan to help improve its health.

Close up of the trunk of a birch tree showing its tree identification number as per the tree survey
All the trees have been logged as part of a tree survey and each has its own unique number.

Neil explains:

”This gives us a condition survey and guidance on how we can best manage and support the healthiness of each tree. And it helps us look out for any early signs of trouble, such as ash dieback, so we keep the trees safe and healthy.”

Since then, work has been done to shape the trees, remove dead and diseased wood and raise tree canopies so that they are not overhanging roads and patient areas.

Healthy trees look beautiful, provide a habitat to a wide range of creatures and play a vital role in absorbing carbon dioxide (C02) from the atmosphere that contributes to global warming.

Close of up lavender planting with a bike rack in the background.

Climate change and the loss of biodiversity pose a major threat to the natural world we live in.

At Cambridge University Hospitals the trust is taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint and increase biodiversity as part of its green plan.

This sets out how the trust will save more than two thousand tonnes from its direct carbon emissions by 2024 and become a net-zero organisation by 2045.

To find more about CUH's Green Plan, click here.

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