ICU Secret Garden Concept Art 1

Looking across the garden to a sunlit bench backed by a raised garden bed, with decorative iron work and bunting in the sun.

The ICU Secret Garden

An outdoor space, safe and private, with full ventilation so that critically ill patients could feel the sun on their faces and experience the healing green of a garden was the dream. On the 1st of December 2022 it opened with a fully equipped rehabilitation room complete with a glass wall of doors, skylights, and mood lighting.

The whole concept was developed after former patient Andrew Heveran, who was critically ill in the Intensive Care Unit, became desperate to see the outside world. The space needed to be private, so that he didn’t feel completely overlooked, yet there was nowhere that anyone could think of to take him. Kate Tantam, Critical Care Specialist Rehabilitation Sister, took on the challenge.

‘Our patients and their loved ones tell us that being in critical care is like a bomb going off in your life, that everything is blown apart. Our job as a multi-professional team is to support them in rebuilding their lives.

‘Part of supporting people with their recovery journey after critical care is getting to know them as individuals and exploring with them what they most want out of their future. For many it is simply time with loved ones, time to restore relationships and play with children and grandchildren in non-clinical environments. It was the desire to support this that the ideas for the Secret Garden at University Hospitals Plymouth was born.’

Kate approached Plymouth Hospitals Charity, University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust’s official charity, for a grant which we were extremely happy to support, and with the Trust match funding the Charity’s contribution, and £50k from NHS Charities Together towards the garden the project was completed in 2022.

Mark Lane, the UK’s first garden designer in a wheelchair, designed the fully inclusive and accessible garden. Mark had himself spent months in a critical care unit after a serious car crash giving him a unique connection to the project. 

“Outdoor, green spaces are enjoyed by many, but when your life turns a different corner and you end up in ICU, like I did after my car accident, you become completely unaware of the changing seasons, whether it’s sunny or raining outside and, if like me, you’re fortunate to be able to go outside again the first thing that hits you is the sun on your face, the breeze and the colour green. 

'So, when I was commissioned to design this garden for Derriford I felt truly honoured to be able to create a space for patients to enjoy, to improve their physical and mental wellbeing by introducing a Secret Garden. Yes, it’s an awkward space with high walls around all four sides, but this lent itself to a nurturing woodland-style of garden with pops of colour here and there. I wanted the patients to feel the plants and enjoy the textures, engage with the garden, whether that be passively or actively getting their hands dirty during rehabilitation and have a space to reflect. I know, because of the incredible staff, and their amazing fundraising activities, that this garden will flourish over the years and make a huge difference to people’s lives, patients, visitors, and staff.”

With space for beds and wheelchairs, walking frames and sticks and a self-binding gravel surface which is slip resistant and anti-glare it’s perfect for critically ill patients to touch plants, to feel the sun and experience this woodland-like environment. As the garden has chance to mature it will flourish into the special healing space that brings a little touch of nature back to people who have been surrounded by a clinical environment and remind them of the world outside.