Explorer and Churchill Fellow opens NHS healing garden

Explorer and Churchill Fellow opens NHS healing garden

We are very pleased to share the news that the Critical Care Healing Garden at the Royal Cornwall Hospital NHS Trust in Truro has opened underneath the critical care unit. One of our Churchill Fellows, and explorer, Robin Hanbury-Tenison OBE (1971) played a key role in making this happen and opened the garden.


In March 2020 Robin became critically ill with Covid-19 and was rushed into the intensive care unit of Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital. His condition was severe and at one point his family were told that he had a less than 5% chance of survival. Robin experienced organ failure and lay in a coma for five weeks.

The nurses in his unit took him into Derrifords’s rehabilitation garden which proved to be the breakthrough that he needed. Robin says “It’s so ironic that I have spent most of my life campaigning and fighting for rain forests and other wilderness areas in the world as I believe they are important in their own right and my life was saved by waking up from a coma in a healing garden. I could feel the sun and smell the flowers in the garden, and I believe that the healing power of nature saved me.”

Robin was advised that his recovery would be slow and may not be complete, but he persevered with his rehabilitation. He was very keen to ensure that others could experience the healing power of these gardens. So exactly five months after he left hospital he climbed Cornwall’s highest summit, Brown Willy to raise funds for a healing garden in a NHS hospital in Cornwall.

Even though the climb took place on the day Storm Alex hit the country and Robin and his fellow climber fundraisers were pelted by rain and 60 mph wind they reached the summit. Their efforts exceeded the target of £80,000 and they raised over £150,000.

Robin says “It is so important to have a goal to work towards, especially during the rehabilitation time. It really does help people who have been very ill and inside for a long time to go into a healing garden and see that there is life outside intensive care.”

Robin is delighted and grateful by the generosity of so many people who donated money and plants. He said that the Lost Gardens of Heligan donated tree ferns, some of which are over 300 years old and that these “give you a sense of being in a forest”.

This garden is one of the first in the country to have piping installed for medical gases that critically ill patients depend on, allowing them to spend time outside in nature to experience the healing powers of the garden. It was designed so that it could be a sensory garden, with flowers and plants providing smells and visual displays year-round.

Surrounding wards all have a view into the garden, which will benefit other patients. Plus, medical, and other hospital staff now have a peaceful place to relax in. Robin hopes that people will continue to support the healing garden as there will always be running costs and improvements to be made.

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